Franco Moretti – Graphs, Maps, Tress Review

Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History by Franco Moretti

Franco Moretti – Graphs, Maps, Tress Review: Tiny Little Disappointment

I was eyeing Franco Moretti’s Graphs, Maps, Trees already from a while now. It was advised to me by one of my former Professors at Leiden University as an aid to help me develop the Digitized Medieval Manuscripts Maps further.

The book is described as follows (via Amazon):

In this groundbreaking book, Franco Moretti argues that literature scholars should stop reading books and start counting, graphing, and mapping them instead.

I must admit, right away, that the book was a bit of a disappointment.

What I was searching for was a book that would have explained me why “Visualizing” on graphs, maps, and trees was a suitable way for digital humanists to interpret big data. Unfortunately, from this point of view, I can’t say I was truly satisfied. The introduction briefly goes through the matter, but doesn’t address it completely. At the end of the book I was left with the same question i begun the book with: “why?”.

I have been addressed this question too, when promoting the DMMmaps: “Why interactive maps? We already have wiki and spreadsheets.” The very unorthodox answer that came to my mind would have been: “Who looks at the wiki and at the spreadsheets anymore? It’s 2014. It’s big data time! Try to talk to an audience that still has to discover manuscripts!”

Maybe this simply was not the right book to expect such answer from, and because of my expectations I wasn’t able to enjoy the book as much as I wished.

It must also be said that Moretti explains perfectly his cases: his examples are clear and help arguing his points. What his graphs, maps and trees help him discuss is clear, but how this can apply to other researchers is not.

Bottom line

The book is certainly worthy to be read, but it is not groundbreaking. It’s fascinating to see how one can use visualization for his own research, and maybe extract some inspiration from what Moretti has done. It is not the Bible that many reviews made us thought it was. I would recommend it to anyone who has an idea of representing his research in an original way, or believes that visualizing data would help.

Giulio Menna
Lover of: all things digital, humanities, and medieval manuscripts. I created Sexy Codicology and the DMMmaps Project and run them both with passion and love in my free time. I am an MA graduate in Book and Digital Media Studies at Leiden University. Still happily living in the Netherlands.
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