Deep Mapping

At Avery Gordon’s seminar during the question time at the end, Geoff was describing all the different methods we were using in order to identify social haunting and get at the utopian margins. He seemed to be struggling to sum it all up in a pithy way. But if we had mobilised a similar range of methods in exploration of landscape or place, as people have often done, then we might describe it as a deep map.

“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 …” Pearson & Shanks 2001. Theatre/Archaeology: p64-65

In one of the most famous deep maps, PrairyErth, William Least Heat-Moon explores the life of a single Kansas county, exploring its social and natural history, its people and places, its customs, traditions, folklore and gossip. His account is not overly theoretical or academic, rather it relies on his keen observation and almost obsessive attention to detail. As one reviewer pointed out, nothing goes unrecorded. And while that reviewer saw this as a flaw in the work, it is also its strength. To understand a place, we have to get to know it, we have to immerse ourselves in it. Many generations of landscape historians/archaeologists have said exactly the same thing: the ‘muddy boots’ school remains strong many decades after it was pioneered by people like W. G. Hoskins and M. W. Beresford. You can’t simply look at documents, they argued, you have to get out there. You have to see the landscape, the lie of the land, the innumerable hints to the past just waiting to be discovered by those who take time to look.

To me, our GhostLabs are the 'muddy boots’ method for exploring social haunting. And while we are lacking one crucial thing on this project, time, even just our short exploratory ventures, our excavations of the present, have begun to reveal things concerning the nature of haunting: its relationships with place, memory and emotion.

Toby Pillatt

Toby PillattComment