Category Archives: Google

Fun with Google Maps: the 18thC book trade

Stationers’ Hall.

A few weeks ago I had the chance to take the annual Bibliographical Society Summer Tour. This year it was led by Professor James Raven and was a walking tour around the eighteenth-century London book trade. James Raven is well known in book history circles and this tour drew upon his research on the topography of the eighteenth-century book trade, the subject of his 2010 Panizzi lectures, and the focus of Bookscapes: Geographies of Printing and Publishing in London before 1800 (British Library, 2014). I’m not going to describe the tour here – although it was lively, thought provoking, and fun – but as we were walking from the area where Paternoster row once existed to Fleet Street, it struck me that the most appropriate way to record this event might be to map our walk. It had also occured to me that I hadn’t yet played with Google Maps and it might be useful a process to pass on to my undergraduate students.


So what you see here (click on map image) is a rough and quick map of our tour using Google Maps. I’ve dropped a few pins to locations and figures that were mentioned on the tour, although it by no means reflects that breadth of James Raven’s knowledge nor, indeed, the astonighly high concentration of booksellers, printers, and publishers in the areas around St. Paul’s, Fleet Street, and the Strand during this period. In throwing together a map of the tour, I’ve not gone into much detail: I could have written much more extensive notes to people such as Abel Roper or the Murrays or Strahans, given more time. I also limited myself by deciding that I would only pin-point items or people for which image existed (and that the image was free to use and without any copyright issues, so I’ve relied heavily on Wikimedia Commons). In this sense, the map reflects the limits of the basic Google Maps app: images can only be downloaded from the web, so I couldn’t use any of my own photographs (although I guess I could have upoaded them to, for example, flickr, and re-upload them from there). Of course, the other major limitation when using Google Maps for marking historical information is that it doesn’t reflect the original street layout. In this case, the most obvious anomaly is that the route we took from Stationers’ Hall to the East side of St Pauls, was attempting to trace what no longer exists: Paternoster Row, the historic focus of so much book trade activity up to WWII. But see this project to creat a virtual Paternoster Row at the University of Essex.

So, there are a number of lessons to hand on to students using Google Maps. But there are also significant gains to be had in the process of marking and annotating, in addition to the obvious visual impact of a map. I had fun imagining myself into the bookscape of eighteenth-century London. I hope you have fun with this map.


Fun with Google’s N-Gram Viewer for my C18th students

Just the other day I was preparing to teach Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey (1768). Usually, I ask students to try to historicise the meanings of the word ‘sentimental’, in effect placing it within the broader culture of sensibility. This year, wondering how I might emphasise how new and even fashionable the word sentimental became in the latter half of the century, I thought of Google’s N-Gram Viewer. I’d seen this in action in relation to the eighteenth-century on the Persistent Enlightenment blog. So  I thought I’d give it a go:


There’s a gratfyingly significant rise from around the 1750s (and a small dip around the 1790s when sentimentalism was perceived in Britain to be associated with the radical levelling tendencies of the French Revolution). Of course this does not give us insight into the meanings of the word, but Google also offers links to the word’s place in the source material so that I hope my students can look at the word in context. It’s also useful when used in context with title searches on ESTC.

On another note, and since my students also engage with eighteenth-century contextual material from ECCO, I’ve often warned that the practice of capitalising certain words did not necessarily indicate particular significance, and that this was more often a printer’s convention for certain nouns that gradually died away towards the end of the century. The N-Gram Viewer is case-sensitive, so to search for different cases I clicked ‘case-insensitive’ and searched for ‘virtue’ between 1700 and 1799:


It’s great to see that cross-over so clearly. Clearly, the idea of virtue wasn’t going out of fashion, but the fashion for capitalising it was.