OSL Seminar 2016-17 – The Spatial Turn and Beyond: New Perspectives on Literature and Space

Organisation: Dr Alberto Godioli (RUG) & Dr Stephan Besser (UvA)
Venue: University of Amsterdam, see below
Teaching Period: Sept – Nov 2016
Opent to: PhD Candidates and RMa students, OSL members will have first access 
Registration will open July 14, 2016

The term ‘spatial turn’ designates an increased interest in space, place and spatiality across various disciplines from the social sciences to cultural studies, as first exemplified by a number of highly influential authors from the 1950s and 1960s (Bachelard, Foucault, Lefebvre, Braudel, etc.). Such an interest in space has significantly developed over the last 20 years through a series of groundbreaking studies, many of which brought about remarkable innovations in the vocabulary and methodologies of literary studies – think, for instance, of the growing use of maps and atlases to study the literary imagination of real places (e.g. Moretti 1998, Piatti 2008), the recent applications of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to the humanities, or the ever-expanding fields of geocriticism and ecocriticism.

This seminar will provide a broad overview of the most recent developments in the spatial humanities, with particular (but not exclusive) regard to literature. By so doing, we will engage with two complementary questions: How can the study of space shed new light on the interpretation of literary texts? And conversely, what can literature tell us about the ways human beings experience spatiality  in different cultural and political contexts?  In order to tackle these questions the participants will familiarize themselves with different kinds of spatial literary studies After a preliminary discussion of the spatial humanities as a field and the key notions involved in it (Week 1), the meetings will be structured as follows:

Sessions 2 and 3 will be devoted to the interplay between real places and their literary representations, forming the multi-layered cultural object that has been defined by Edward Soja as ‘thirdspace’, or ‘real-and-imagined space’. Session 2 will focus on the application of such notions to close reading practices in specific contexts, while session 3 will deal with practices of distant reading and the use of Geographic Information Systems as a tool for corpus analysis.

Session 4 will tackle spatiality in the light of cognitive studies, in order to illustrate the ways in which the visualization and mapping of literary space is achieved in the minds of readers. Particular attention will be placed on the so-called deictic shift, i.e.the shifting of the reader’s focus from the actual space in which the reading happens to the imagined space visualized by the text.

Lastly, in session 5 and 6 we will move from the literary framing of specific places to the connections and movements between places, and to their interconnectedness within the ‘world system’ (Jameson) as a whole. More specifically, session 5 will address the notions of mobility and border crossing, with particular regard to travel writing. Session 6 will focus on how literary texts can shape our ‘environmental imagination of the global’ (Heise), thus giving us a sense of the planet as an interconnected whole. While wrapping up our overview, this last meeting will also represent an prelude to the 2017 Ravenstein School on ecocriticism and the environmental humanities.


  1. Introduction: The Spatial Turn in the Humanities (Dr Alberto Godioli, RUG & Dr Stephan Besser, UvA) – Sept 9, 13:30-17:00*
  2. Street Life in Postcolonial Bombay (Dr Caroline Herbert, Leeds) – Sept 23, 13:30-17:00
  3. Distant Reading & Corpus Analysis: Mapping the English Lake District – a Literary GIS (Prof. Ian Gregory, Lancaster) – Oct 7, 13:30-17:00
  4. Sense of Place and the Place of Mind: Narrative, Space, and Embodiment (Dr Marco Caracciolo, Freiburg) – Oct 28, 13:30-17:00
  5. Off the Grid: Mobility, Vagrancy and the Representation of Being Lost (Prof. Henk van der Liet, UvA) – Nov 11, 13:30-17:00
  6. Figures of the Global (Dr Esther Peeren, UvA & Simon Ferdinand, MA, UvA) –Dec 2, 13:30-17:00

* starting times might be subject to change


  • Sept 9, 13:30-17:00 – PC Hoofthuis room 4.11, Spuistraat 134, Amsterdam
  • Sept 23, 13:30-17:00 – BG2 Room 0.08, Turfdraagsterspad 15-17, Amsterdam
  • Oct 7, 13:30-17:00 – University Library, Belle van Zuylenzaal, Singel, 425 Amsterdam
  • Oct 28, 13:30-17:00 – University Library, Belle van Zuylenzaal, Singel, 425 Amsterdam
  • Nov 11, 13:30-17:00 – OMHP Room E0.13, Oudemanhuispoort 4-6, Amsterdam
  • Dec 2, 13:30-17:00 – OMHP Room E0.12, Oudemanhuispoort 4-6, Amsterdam