Chorography for A Frankenstein Atlas

William Camden. Brirannia. London: 1607.

William Camden. Brirannia. London: 1607.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, most learned individuals would have had one or more books of "choreography" in their library. In its simplest form, chorography was an approach to geography that focused on a region. While there was not singular formula for how to construct a chorography, early modern examples generally included maps, geographical and topographical descriptions, the history of the region, etymologies of place names, local natural history, and observations about local antiquities.

The English word "chorography" is an adaptation of the French word "chorographie" and the Latin word "chōrographia." It owes its origin to the Greek word "χωρογραϕία," which is a compound of χώρα [khṓra], meaning territory or polis, χῶρος [khôros], meaning place or locality, and γράφειν [graphein], meaning to write.

Ancient writers produced numerous chorographies. Ptolemy understood it as a mode of geographical inquiry that provided a qualitative description of a region. He wrote that

"Regional cartography deals above all with the qualities rather than the quantities of the things that it sets down; it attends everywhere to likeness, and not so much to proportional placements."

J. Lennart Berggren and Alexander Jones, Ptolemy's Geography: An Annotated Translation of the Theoretical Chapters (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), 58.

During the Renaissance, scholars from across Europe responded to ancient chorographical texts with modern versions. For example, Flavio Biondo’s (1392-1463) Italia Illustrata (1474), which compared ancient and modern regions, became influential because of its reliance on classical sources to make philological arguments.

To see the variety of approaches in early modern chorographical works, see

The first English language works to use the word "chorography" were geographical and antiquarian texts published during the sixteenth century. Among the most famous were John Leland’s (1506?-1552) widely circulated manuscripts, which were published in the following centuries, and William Camden's (1551-1623) Britannia, first published in Latin in 1586. During the 17th century, the number of chorographical texts expanded rapidly. And, while the term chorography began to fall out of favor in the following centuries, the framework created by scholars such as Camden and Leland continued to shape county histories—culminating most notably in the Victoria County Histories, begun in 1899. In fact, a book series such as the Pevsner guides owe their origins to these early modern chorographical predecessors.

In building A Frankenstein Atlas, our team has gone back to these early modern chorographical texts for inspiration. For each site that Mary Shelley describes in Frankenstein, we are creating a multilayer description that not only codes the novel (see A Frankenstein Atlas: Our Schema), but one which helps the reader imagine place as Mary Shelley and her readers may have conceived of it at the time of the book’s publication. In effect, we are creating what scholars in Historical GIS refer to as a “deep map.” To accomplish this, we are creating entries for each location in the atlas, which will include the following fields:

: these include the transcription of Shelley’s text that describes the location
analysis_textual: an analysis of a location in the context of the book’s narrative
analysis_intratextual: an analysis of a location in relation to other locations in the narrative
analysis_intertextual: an analysis of the ways in which external texts might help interpret a location in Frankenstein
analysis_extratextual: an analysis of the ways that Mary Shelley references other texts in order to describe a location
analysis_contextual: an analysis of how a location may have been perceived by readers in the context of current events
history: a historical description of a location
placename_origin: a historical description of a location’s place name
geography: a geographical and topographical description of a location
images: contemporary images of a location described in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
contemporary_descriptions: transcriptions that describe a location by contemporaries of Mary Shelley
sensory_descriptions: an analysis of how a location is described in terms of sensory experience by Shelley and her contemporaries
emotive_descriptions: an analysis of how a location is described in terms of emotive experience by Shelley and her contemporaries
notes: supplementary notes to elucidate Mary Shelley’s description of a location in Frankenstein

These descriptions will link to and supplement the coded data via the unique ID for each location in the text, all of which can be found in our Github data set.

Bibliography on Chorography

Barber, Peter. 2007. “Map Making in England ca.1470-1650.” In The History of Cartography: Cartography in the European Renaissance, vol. 3, edited by David Woodward. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Broadway, Jan. 2006. No Historie so Meete: Gentry Culture and the Development of Local History in Elizabethan and Early Stuart England. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Elrington, C. R., C. P. Lewis, and C. R. J. Currie. 1994. English County Histories: A Guide. Far Thrupp, Stroud, Gloucestershire: Alan Sutton. 

Mendyk, Stanley G. 1989. “Speculum Britanniae”: Regional Study, Antiquarianism, and Science in Britain to 1700. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Parry, Graham. 2007. The Trophies of Time: English Antiquarians of the Seventeenth Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rockett, William. 1995. “The Structural Plan of Camden’s Britannia.” The Sixteenth Century Journal 26 (4): 829–41. 

Rohl, Darrell J. 2011. “The Chorographic Tradition and Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Scottish Antiquaries.” Journal of Art Historiography 5: 5-DR/1.

Sweet, Rosemary. 2004. Antiquaries: The Discovery of the Past in Eighteenth-Century Britain. London: Hambledon and London.

Woolf, Daniel R. 2003. The Social Circulation of the Past: English Historical Culture, 1500-1730. Oxford: Oxford University Press.