Deep Mapping

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Deep Mapping the West Cork Coast

Jeremiah Joseph Callanan’s long poem, ‘The Recluse of Inchidoney’ voices the perspective of a young man who longs to give the fullest possible expression to the sights and sounds he experiences when looking over the beach at Inchidoney. He longs to ‘gaze on’ the coast ‘without control’ even as his thoughts range from his own artistic ambitions to the plight of the local peasantry. He also drifts eastwards to Greece, where the cause of independence and the recent loss of his hero Lord Byron seem to merge with his own ‘sea of life’.

A challenging work of early nineteenth-century literature written in Spenserian stanzas, Callanan’s poem allows us to introduce the aims of this web resource. The poem reminds us that individuals experience places in varied and multiple ways. Just as a very specific spot in West Cork gives rise to a range of memories and thoughts, carefully phrased within the literary conventions of the day, so we continue to experience the coastline in highly particular ways. It is of course impossible to fully capture such layered responses over centuries but the Deep Map of West Cork presented here aims to renew our sense of the depth of meaning associated with places over time.

Deep Maps express our complex relationship to the places that we live and visit. They help trace the relationship between the abstract spaces we see on a traditional map and the places that we experience in three dimensions. Consider the different meanings of the terms ‘space’ and ‘place’. Essentially ‘place’ refers to a space that is imbued with meaning.  In the words of Tim Cresswell:

Place is how we make the world meaningful and the way we experience the world. Place, at a basic level, is space invested with meaning in the context of power. This process of investing space with meaning happens across the globe at all scales, and has done throughout human history.  

(Cresswell, 2015, p.19)

Trying to compress, encapsulate or visualise these multiple layers of meaning can be difficult, however, and this is where the concept of deep mapping comes in.

What is Deep Mapping?

Deep mapping is an approach by which artists, scientists and scholars attempt to capture the different meanings and experiences that are associated with particular places. David Bodenhamer provides just a few examples of the kinds of things one might want to say about a place:

In its methods deep mapping conflates oral testimony, anthology, memoir, biography, images, natural history and everything you might ever want to say about a place, resulting in an eclectic work akin to eighteenth and nineteenth-century gazetteers and travel accounts. Its best form results in a subtle and multi-layered view of a small piece of the earth.

(Bodenhamer et al, 2013, p.27)

Deep mapping can be driven by visual, digital or written forms: it is not restricted to a single method. Different types of deep mapping all demand innovative ways of thinking and presenting varied stories:

The deep map presents the multiple histories of place, the cross-sectional stories of natural and human history as traced through eons and generations…Such complex deep mapping demands innovative, layered storytelling.  

(Naramore Maher, 2014, p.10)

Deep Mapping: the Irish Context

Place has always been important in Ireland:  ‘In a country where the importance of dinnseanchas, or ‘place lore’ remains a significant contemporary component, a reading of place regularly features across the multiple strands of Irish Studies’ (Foley and Murphy, Breac, 2017).

Most famously, perhaps, Tim Robinson’s work on the Aran Islands, the Burren and Connemara can be regarded as a practice of deep mapping. Presented in cartographical, literary and film format, his depiction of place is multi-disciplinary, drawing on archaeology, cartography, geography, literature, and place-name study (Cronin, 2016).

Irish artists too have also embraced deep mapping as an approach. Baltimore-based artist Ginny Pavry explains ‘My process is a form of “Deep Mapping” of an area, where every aspect of a place is considered.’ Her approach draws on Pearson and Shanks’ view of the deep map as:

...reflecting eighteenth century antiquarian approaches to place, which included history, folklore, natural history and hearsay, the deep map attempts to record and represent the grain and patina of place through juxtapositions and interpenetrations of the historical and the contemporary, the political and the poetic, the discursive and the sensual; the conflation of oral testimony, anthology, memoir, biography, natural history and everything you might ever want to say about a place. (2001, pp.64-65)

Dr Silvia Loeffler is a Dublin-based artist, researcher and educator in Visual Culture.  Much of her work deals with the deep mapping of spaces.  This includes A Deep Mapping of Dún Laoghaire Harbour  and Transit Gateway: A Deep Mapping of Dublin Port.

About our Deep Map

 In Deep Maps: West Cork Coastal Cultures, we add to this tradition of deep mapping by uniting academic disciplines often divided within the modern university. Within our team we have knowledge of archaeology, art history, marine biology, cultural history, digital humanities, environmental science, historical geography, literature and social history. We have also worked with the local community, environmental organisations, local historians and tourism organisations to ensure that we interweave our research with their deep knowledge of West Cork.

The end product is the Deep Maps website, a digital environment which itself serves as a kind of new map – within it you will find  stories of the West Cork coast, both past and present. Told from a range of perspectives, they highlighting the interwoven, complex nature of human experience and interaction with the landscape, as this diagram of our methodology shows. [link ?] We have aimed to make the website easy to navigate so that users can follow a set path to discover more about the West Cork coast, but we also encourage you to stray down your own paths and find the aspects of the West Cork coast that are most meaningful for you.

Within the website we have created the Deep Map of West Cork. Drawing on GIS technology current at the time of the project we have created a layered visualisation of the coast that incorporates text, imagery and sound. The website can be explored without direction. For those who prefer to be guided, we have created some instructions for how to use the map.

A final word:  place is not a constant – it is fluid and ever-changing.  Our map can never be complete, it can never be comprehensive and there will be aspects that you feel we have missed. This is the nature of Deep Mapping: a process rather than a finished product. Despite this provisionality, we hope to have captured something of the essence of West Cork, and that our website will strike a chord with anyone that lives there or has visited there.