Beirut publishes… / وبيروت تطبع

Beirut publishes… / وبيروت تطبع : Digital Spatio-Temporal Narratives of the Lebanese Publishing Industry (1920-present)

David Joseph Wrisley
American University of Beirut
Abstract : Books in Motion Conference (Beirut, May 2016)

Initial project site:

As the old adage goes, “Cairo writes, Beirut publishes, Baghdad reads.” This paper grows out of a project-based research spatial humanities seminar in the Department of English at the American University of Beirut entitled “Literature and Mapping” (ENGL 292/306V, Spring 2016) that explores spatio-temporality of publishing culture in Beirut over the last century. Scholars familiar with the work of Moretti will recognize the come-back of the map to literary studies, particularly as an organizing technology for thinking about data-driven studies of literary production. This project takes some of its inspiration from a recent attempt to map publishing and book selling in Cairo, but with a key difference: we aim not only to localize contemporary commercial book culture, but also to add historical and sociological depth for the case of Beirut. We know publishing institutions did not stay in the same locations over the course of time (Mermier), and scholars have documented the rise of certain sectors and kinds of book publishing in and around the city (Rosiny).

Planned data sources for this project include archival materials held in special collections at Jafet Library, IFPO and the Bibliothèque Orientale, extracted records from electronic library catalogs (Library of Congress, New York Public Library, Bibliothèque nationale de France), interviews with local publishers and booksellers as well as from mobile application data collection. From the LOC I have already acquired (scraped) the publication information for about 10000 books published in Beirut over the century. Other sources will no doubt emerge as the research continues.

One of the traditional problems in history and sociology is capturing simultaneously the spatial and the temporal complexity of a research problem, especially within traditional academic prose narrative. Digital mapping techniques provide an invaluable frame for spatio-temporal depth, but not without significant challenges. Inspired by theoreticians and practitioners in a branch of the digital humanities known as the spatial or GeoHumanities, we will create a set of interactive “thick” or “deep” maps that allow for a variety of factors in the data about Beirut publishing to be visualized. For example, we will explore the potential effects of war, gentrification and delocalization of urban cultural space on the sector. Whereas traditional methods of digital mapping rely upon spatial precision and computational analysis, the techniques need to be adjusted for the kind of data collection and representation we expect to carry out. Much of what we will acquire is rough and uncertain–in both space and time–with approximate dates of activity and only a building name or a post-office box for an address. We will discuss in particular how maps do not simply mirror the world, but tell multiple narratives about lived, built space. Maps are “unstable, fragile and temporary,” they are a “conversation and not a statement” (McLucas).

Unlike top-down models for mapping cities that promote state-centered views of culture or politics, bottom-up “neogeography” admits pluralism and democratic, even idiosyncractic or messy, access to the analytic space of the map (Warf). In one semester we will be able to collect considerable data, but humanities mapping never aims at a totality of the archive, but rather visualizes what we know as but one step in the process of discovering what we do not know (Bodenhamer). Mapping is never a “one-time thing” (Presner et al.). It is an iterative process. As such, the paper proposed for the Books in Motion conference, will be prose narrative delivered in a traditional panel time slot, but will be accompanied by map-based narrative that will illustrate some of the semester’s findings. Initial evidence points to a shift of printing and consumption of books away from the early 20th century souqs and reading clubs located in proximity to the various national embassies towards two cultural, language-divergent poles that developed in the 1920s around the “globalized” Catholic and American university presses, a familiar bifurcation as described by cultural historians (Kassir). Other initial findings point to mid-century and post-war clustering of publishers in new areas–Ain al-Tineh, Ghoberieh/Haret Hreik and Sin al-Fil. We would like to analyze these spatial migrations of the publishing sector in relation to the existence and development of other (confessionally-inflected) cultural institutions. The very basic map of aggregate data (as of yet temporally undistinguished) can be found at the project site.

Recognizing that the Lebanese book sector was deeply involved in not only publishing, but also distribution, printing and translation in and out of Arabic, French and English, the full story of connectivity of this sector is not to be found in Lebanon alone. As it is a new topic, and for the purposes of the initial investigation, the scale of the spatial narrative generated in the Spring semester will be the general metropolitan area of Beirut. This being said, ancillary data will no doubt be collected linking the publishing to other parts of the Arab world, Europe and North America. This data, if robust, may be used to analyze networks of publishers connected to Beirut, adding another dimension to the “mobility of books.”

Keywords: book publishing, book distribution, digital humanities, spatial humanities, spatio-temporal narratives, thick/deep mapping, sociology of literature

Initial project site:

Works Cited

Bodenhamer, D.J. “Narrating Space and Place,” Deep Maps and Spatial Narratives (2015).

“Cairo Bookstop” [accessed 1.12.15].

Kassir, S. Histoire de Beyrouth (2003).

McLucas, C. “Deep Mapping,” [accessed 1.12.15].

Mermier, F. Le Livre et la ville: Beyrouth et l’édition arabe (2005).

Moretti, F. Atlas of the European Novel 1800-1900 (1999).

Presner, T. et al, Hypercities: Thick Mapping and the Digital Humanities (2014).

Rosiny, S. Shia’s Publishing in Lebanon: with special reference to Islamic and Islamicist publications (1999).

Warf, B. “Deep Mapping and Neogeography,” Deep Maps and Spatial Narratives (2015).

How did you make that (digital) literary geography?

How did you make that (digital) literary geography?
American University of Beirut
24 November 2015


At the invitation by IT academic services and the Center for Teaching and Learning at AUB, this short presentation will give an overview of some digital approaches to location-based literary phenomena (sociology of literature, modeling narrative, digital storytelling, map-text relationships, etc).

Outline of the presentation:

1  Introduction

Tomorrow’s Teaching and Learning (circulated by CTL, 19 Nov) – higher order thinking skills, spatial literacies, interdisciplinary co-learning, making critical arguments in a variety of formats, open geographic data, modeling data
Moretti’s Atlas of European Novel vs. national literary geographies (Ferre, Bartholomew, de Oliviera)
Miriam Posner’s blog How did they make that?
DHCommons Journal “How Did They Make That?” issue 1
GeoHumanities gallery Humanities GIS
starter bibliography
related workshop– Cairo October 2015 (with hands on component, not all literary)

pieces of a spatial project: locations, geographic coordinates, other relevant metadata, projection system, database, base maps, APIs

2  Advanced non-literary examples (born-digital data)

Obesity map @kyle_e_walker
What: visualization of open data about obesity in the US
How: fetching data on obesity from CDC, programming language R, processing data, pushing automatically to cloud web mapping (CartoDB), “abstract” base map

Wimbledon 2014
What: A map of tweets during Wimbledon final match
How: twitter mining, cloud hosting and visualization using torque (CartoDB)

2  (Mostly hand curated, non-born digital data) Examples from literature and culture

Pre-modern Spanish literature @RojasCastroA
What: A map of places mentioned in Spanish Golden Age works by Gongora.
How:  manual extraction and geoparsing,cloud hosting of data, use of color, unlabelled political map, info box containing snippets of text,web mapping (CartoDB), open data

Roman de la violette (vers vs prose) @DJWrisley
What:  mentions of places in a 13th c verse text and its 15th prose rewriting
How: manual extraction and geoparsing,cloud hosting of data, contrasting color and shape, unlabeled satellite view, web mapping (Google Maps), open data

French epic space-time choropleth vs torque @DJWrisley
What: mentions of places in a corpus of medieval French epic poems by date of composition
How: manual extraction and geoparsing, cloud hosting of data, unlabelled political map, web mapping and animation (CartoDB), open data

Exploring Place in the French of Italy @MVSTFordham @DJWrisley
What: exhibit built around mention of places in a corpus of medieval French texts composed in Italy, individual maps, weighted by place, composite map and essays
How: semi-manual extraction, geoparsing and counting, cloud hosting of data, embedded maps in Omeka (from CartoDB), open data

Dislocating Ulysses
What: locating objects from an exhibit about Ulysses within their geospatial context and historical context within Dublin
How: manual geoparsing, hosted in Google Earth (here viewed as video capture)

Slave Revolt in Jamaica, 1760
What: animated thematic map of Jamaica slave insurrection
How: manual extraction and geoparsing?, listed archival sources, “locational database”, historical base map, animation, timeline, Leaflet

Grub Street Project
What: “a digital edition of eighteenth-century London”, “both a real place and an abstract idea”
How: digital edition in TEI linked to map, manual extraction and geoparsing, web mapping, custom interface

Life of Maya Angelou
What: digital storytelling of places important across time for the life of Maya Angelou
How: manual extraction and geoparsing, Odyssey.js, cloud hosting of data, Markdown

Bruce Chatwin’s Utz vs Vichy
What: contrast of two novels by Chatwin and different narratological modes
How: ArcGIS?, fuzzy spaces as dispersion, color, not web mapping (static images)

Interactive Ibn Jubayr
What: a set of interactive exhibits from a class on Ibn Jubayr
How: manual extraction and geoparsing, Omeka, Neatline

Atlantic Networks Project
What: visualizations of data from the “logbooks of the merchant vessels that participated in an Atlantic commodity network”
How: manual extraction of data, ArcGIS, web mapping (ArcGIS), semi-open data

Mapping the Lakes: A Literary GIS
What: an exploration of the places mentioned in Gray’s and Coleridge’s accounts of the Lake District, the emotions expressed in them
How: semi-manual extraction of data, ArcGIS?, not web mapping (static images) and Google Earth kmz download, semi-open data

Visualizing Medieval Places in Time @DJWrisley
What: mention of real places in medieval French literature by date of composition
How: semi-manual extraction of data, cloud hosting of data, third-party hosting of map, custom time slider written in Java

ReNom (Ronsard vs Rabelais)
What: Database, map visualization, people & places (real, mythical, imaginary) of two French authors
How: semi-automatic extraction of data, Drupal, filterable interface, web mapping and text interconnected

Rai’tu Ramallah @Randa_DH
What:  A visualization of the places mentioned in Barghouti’s novel about Palestine, contrasting places visited and not visited (created in Fall 2013 Intro to DH seminar)–other student projects here
How: manual extraction and geoparsing, color, web mapping (Google Maps), open data

Beirut publishes…  @DJWrisley
What: A thick map of the Lebanese publishing industry over the last century (under construction, course project)
How: Manual extraction from archival materials, cloud database, mobile data collection, web scraping of publication metadata, open dataset to be published (GitHub and Zenodo with DOI)

What: Project quantifying and visualizing the Lord of the Rings, map, timelines
How:  Grid built based on Tolkien’s map, image coordinate system, “infographics”, timelines

“Where are you in Beirut?”  @DJWrisley and ENGL 229
What: A response to Mapping a City without Street Names, visualizing crowd conceptions of location in Beirut
How: human-created data by-product of Mapping Language Contact in Beirut, data field in mobile data collection application (Fulcrum), cloud live hookup, web mapping (CartoDB)

“What do you tell the taxi to get where you are in Beirut?”
What: Another response to Mapping a City without Street Names, visualizing crowd conceptions of closest place for public transport mobility
How: human-created data by-product of Mapping Language Contact in Beirut, data field in mobile data collection application (Fulcrum), cloud hookup, web mapping (CartoDB)

3  Discussion

Exploring the Digital Humanities, American University in Cairo


cairo visa 2011 trip 2015


“Exploring the Digital Humanities” event

Exploring Space-Time Representation in the Digital Humanities Workshop
David Joseph Wrisley (AUB) @DJWrisley

American University in Cairo
30 September 2015

Download the event flyer here.

The workshop/presentation focuses on varieties of locative research and pedagogy.  It will introduce participants to some aspects of a sub-field in the digital humanities, known by many different names: geohumanities, spatial humanities, locative media-enabled/location-based research, thick/deep mapping.  It will have a presentation component and a hands-on component.

Topics that will be discussed in the overview of projects and hands-on session will include: the exploration of differential geographies, layered map visualizations, close and distant exploration of spatial data, community mapping, mapping as pedagogy and argument, the rhetoric(s) of visualization and the “contingency of looking” at data.

No previous knowledge is assumed.  The hands-on will go at the pace of the participants.  Participants should have a laptop, not a tablet.


To prepare:

Complete this survey.
Create an academy account at CartoDB (for students, faculty, researchers)
Check out the CartoDB map academy (time permitting)

Skills learned in hands-on:

  • -basic web mapping
    -JSON and CSV formats
    -inserting a link in html
    -simple SQL query to a geospatial database
    -bringing in custom map tiles
    -get geospatial data
    -using Google spreadsheet
    -calling data from one place to be used in another



Sample Projects (30 mins):

Basic questions: what is the data involved? how was it acquired? how is it visualized here? what are the tensions between content and tool?

Hypercities Egypt – an exploration of the spatial aspect of Cairene Twitter from 30 Jan-8 Mar 2011.

Visualizing Medieval Places – mapping the places mentioned in 4 centuries of medieval French, 250+ texts at present.  Specific finding.

Literary Geography of Christine de Pizan – mapping the places mentioned in a medieval woman author’s oeuvre (late 14th/early 15th c)

The Places of Rai’tu Ramallah – a student project on place and memory in the Palestinian novel by Mourid Barghouti @Randa_DH

Mapping Gothic France – exploring religious architecture and the seismic thesis.

Mapping Language Contact in Beirut – curation of written language data within the metropolitan area of Beirut, carried out by faculty, undergraduate and graduate students.

Digital Karnak Timemap and Google Earth – a spatio-temporal narrative and virtual reality exploration of the Karnak complex near Luxor.  KML file here.

Women in computing (timeline.js) – a time-focused media-rich timeline maker.  Tips

Cairo soundscape – a mashup of a soundscape map built on the fly 28-29 September.  (an example of Brussels)

Beirut publishes… – a planned historical map of Beirut publishing and book selling (Spring 2016)

Towards a Peer Review in the GeoHumanities – a community consultation to articulate concerns about what makes a good spatial project.

If you would like to find out more, I recommend the list maintained of Humanities GIS projects maintained by the GeoHumanities SIG of the Association of Digital Humanities Organizations.


COME JOIN US!    Digital Humanities Institute – Beirut and CFP


Questions and Discussion (10 minutes)

Possible Hands-On Exercises (80 minutes)

1  Some JSON data self collected this September.  Time as choropleth, time as torque.  (CartoDB, Json and CSV)

Save this file to your laptop (it is a json file located in my dropbox). Imagine the Dropbox visualization of the data.  Open CartoDB.  From dashboard, select “your datasets.”  Drag and drop the file to the box. Click “connect dataset.”  Look at the data view.  Look at the map view.  From the wizard (in map view) explore ways of visualizing facets of the data.  Save this file and notice the difference in format (CSV). Try some different views.  What views show meaningful aspects of the data? Notice that torque does not work.  Why do you think this is?

2  Animating Mapping Gothic France data (data scraped using Kimono as API)  (CartoDB, CSV and html)

Save this file (CSV).  Examine it in data view and map view.  Explore what kinds of meaningful visualizations you can make.  What aspect of the data is show in each of them? What can we say about data being incomplete?  Try to make a spatial animation according to date built and another according to date destroyed.  

In map view, select info window. Select click and choose the metadata you would like to show up in the info box.  Go back to map view and check your work.  In info window mode click on the </> for “change html”.  Insert the following line of html into the very end of the code, just before the last </div>:

<a href=”{{url}}” target=”_blank”>View original page</a>

Go back to map view to see what has happened.  Change the string “view original page” to your own words.  Check the map view again.

3  Filtering large data set to get at aspects of data (language contact data)  (CartoDB and SQL)

Save this file.  Examine it to see what it contains and how its features might be visualized.  In map view, using the wizard try to use color to indicate certain features.  Can you change the random colors proposed?

From map view, click on the SQL tab.  After SELECT * FROM mlcb, insert this query

WHERE general_context = ‘Advertising’

And click on apply query, go back to map view and check what happened.  Now try

WHERE scripts_used =’Arabic script’ AND languages_used_=’Arabic’

Did all examples of advertisements and Arabic script and writing show up on the map? If not, why not?

4  Notice that the tab “data library” in map view.  This is a library of open datasets you can call up and layer with any data you have.

5  Creating a digital story with a map (Odyssey with Markdown)

Go to Odyssey.  Choose a style of story.  In the sandbox, change the name and creator. Notice what happens as you customize.  Try changing the mapbase to{z}/{x}/{y}.png

Markdown is a simple encoding schema that allows basic instructions about a text to be rendered (even easier than html).

Change the center to 33.898962, 35.471529 and then the L.marker to the the nearby coordinate of your choice. To insert a picture use this

![name of pic](

Make sure you use the URL of the picture itself, not of a page on which it is found.

You should also be able to insert a json file from CartoDB. For example, go back to either our MappingGothic or MLCB file in CartoDB.  In map view and the wizard, create a simple view. In the upper right hand corner click on “visualize” (and again on “create a map”) and then again on “publish”.  Copy the right most js link.   This can be inserted using the following lines:

cartodb_filter: “column=’VALUE'”
vizjson: “http://{user}{your-viz-key-here}/viz.json”

The hashtag # creates a section division.  What follows the hashtage will be the title of the slide, the text inset after the coordinates is the page text.  Try inserting another slide, new coordinates (get them from Google Maps) and a new pictureWhen finished, the story can be downloaded as an html file and then viewed in the browser C: or saved in public_html in your server space and viewed live.

6  Creating a timeline.js (Knightlab)


To read more:

I compiled a reading list after the Spatial Humanities workshop at the Digital Humanities Institute – Beirut 2015.

Some studies I referred to in the workshop:

Burdick, Anne, Johanna Drucker, Peter Lunenfeld, Todd Presner, Jeffrey Schnapp.  Digital_Humanities (Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 2014). Open access download here.

Guldi, Jo. “What is the Spatial Turn?”  Spatial Humanities: A Project of the Institute for Enabling Geospatial Scholarship (U of Virginia). Web.

Kretzschmar, William. “GIS for Language and Literary Study,” Literary Studies in the Digital Age: An Evolving Study (New York: MLA). Web.

Presner, Todd, David Shepard, Yoh KawanoHyperCities: Thick Mapping in the Digital Humanities (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard UP, 2014). Print.

Travis, Charles BAbstract Machine: Humanities GIS (Redlands, CA: ESRI, 2015). Print.

Wrisley, David Joseph.  “The Spatial Humanities: an Agenda for Pre-Modern Research,” Porphyra 22 (Dec 2014): 96-107.  Web.