Mapping Lifestories

As argued by a growing body of scholars interested in "deep mapping", there is a broad recognition of the importance of mapping stories for understanding places. What is less clear is how to turn these stories into maps. This project focuses on the multiple methodological and conceptual challenges raised throughout the process of turning highly personal and emotional life stories into abstract databases in order to map them. For this project ten life stories of people from Rwanda and Haiti displaced by violence were selected from the Montreal Life Stories Project, housed by Concordia’s Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling. These ten audiovisual stories in the form of interviews were then manually translated into databases using two different approaches: the first is more quantitative and is inspired by what Franco Moretti called a “distant reading”, while the second is a more qualitative one, a close reading, which relies on an analyst’s active interpretation of contextualized story elements. Throughout the mapping of the results of these two approaches, we emphasize the pros and cons of each of them in terms of accuracy, efficiency and relevance to mapping life stories and to extracting spatial meaning from these stories. We also identify the spatial structures of the different stories, as well as places associated to memories, to violence, and places of importance for different storytellers.


[Right] Ten interactive stories that were mapped using AtlasCine 3. At the storytellers' request, they are identified by their respective initials and aliases.

[Below] Several examples of aggregates of these lifestories.

Place-mentions by all ten storytellers.

Instances of "violence" from the five stories of Rwandan origin.

Instances of explicit "negativity" from the five stories of Rwandan origin.

Instances of explicit "positivity" from the five stories of Rwandan origin.

  • Funding

  • FRQSC: Fonds de Recherche du Québec – Société et Culture (2014-2017)
  • SSHRC: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (2016-2021)
  • Principal Investigator

  • Sébastien Caquard
  • Geomedia Team

  • Stefanie Dimitrovas
  • Emory Shaw
  • Jose Alavez
  • Co-investigator

  • Steven High

C.T.

E.P.

J.M.

F.V.

A.P.

B.N.

E.K.

O.G.

E.H.

Gisimba