HomeInternational conference on "Literature and geography: the writing of space throughout History", Lyon 3, 12-13 march 2015

International conference on "Literature and geography: the writing of space throughout History", Lyon 3, 12-13 march 2015

« Littérature et géographie : l'écriture de l'espace à travers les âges »

*  *  *

Published on Monday, February 24, 2014 by Rémi Boivin


Analyser l’écriture de la Terre (« geo-graphia/graphein ») est une façon de confronter l’écriture littéraire à la référence et à la représentation du monde. Etymologiquement, la géographie est l’écriture de la terre : « Geos-graphia : c’est la terre, l’écriture : la terre rapportée en un monde de signes scripturaux ». Cette écriture du monde peut incorporer le discours référentiel, mais aussi le discours fictionnel, dans le cadre de l’écriture littéraire, et cet entrelacement entre fiction, non-fiction et référence spatiale pourra faire l’objet de communications dans ce colloque, notamment pour souligner le rôle de la géographie comme formidable outil pour le réalisme formel (Watt, 1957) des récits. Au-delà de la référentialité, c’est la textualité qui sera convoquée et l’on pourra s’interroger sur la façon qu’a le texte de tout mélanger.



Reflecting on the writing of the earth (geo-graphia/graphein) is a way of confronting literary writing to reference and representation. The etymology of geography tells us it is the writing of the earth: “Geos-graphia: it is the earth, it is writing: the earth related through a world of scriptural signs”.[1] In the context of literary productions, that writing of the world may include the referential discourse, but also the discourse of fiction: that intertwining of fiction, non-fiction and (spatial) reference may be the object of papers for that conference, particularly to underline the role of that formidable tool that is geography for what Ian Watt called “formal realism” (1957). Referentiality, but also textuality, will be dealt with, in order to understand the way a text mixes different methodologies, perspectives and approaches.[2]

While some produce narratives in the confined space of their office (cosmographers), others explore the world (periegesis) in the 18th century, which is the period of long discovery travels, both on the earth and on the sea. These travels participate in a will to map the world – a will that is itself highly modern. When one wants to analyze the contribution of the narrative or fictive discourses to geographical knowledge, two types of narratives have to be distinguished: on the one hand, the narratives of traveling writers (who are field-explorers as well as models for geographers), and on the other hand, “closet geographers”, whose activity is more commonly known as “armchair travelling”. Defoe is one of them, as he almost never traveled outside Great-Britain and yet wrote narratives whose action took place around the world. However, the eighteenth century was an intense period for geographical explorations and intellectual activities. Writing travel narratives was used in order to satisfy scientific curiosity. There were different types of travels in Britain in the 18th century: travels of explorers like James Cook, of reformers like Arthur Young, or of women such as Wollstonecraft, but also enquiries (Defoe’s Tour), imaginary voyages (Jonathan Swift) etc. The common point of those different types of travels is the will of their authors to show their itineraries, to map the world, to classify the places they visited within the accounts they wrote. The connection between travelling and narrative or between cartography and narrative may also be interesting and fruitful points to study.

Is geography a science? In the 18th century, the answer seems to have been no. Even in the 19th century, geography was absent from Auguste Comte’s tree of knowledge. Who wrote geography in the 18th century, in the 19th century and today? Geographers? journalists? writers? travelers? According to Withers and Mayhew, in the 18th century, “there was more geography being done than there were geographers doing it”.[3] Interrogating geographical practice and writing in a century whose epistemological delimitations were somewhat blurred, but also in the centuries that followed, will enable us to tackle their evolution. A diachronic approach will be essential to situate the current debates, to see the big picture, and to consider the theoretical evolutions and the different practices from the 18th century to our days. This conference wishes to enable researchers with a common interest in the English-speaking world to be able to exchange on such issues. But it does not exclude propositions from other cultural areas, as an intercultural approach will enrich the reflection on those theories and practices.

In a period marked by the Spatial Turn[4], space is now considered as a central metaphor and topos in literature, and literary criticism has seized space as a new tool and stake. This conference will aim to tackle geography as a discipline and as a methodology. That endeavour has been conceptualized by Bertrand Westphal in his innovative work Geocriticism: Real and Fictional Spaces (2007).[5] Geocriticism is a new place for reading and literary criticism: it is an interdisciplinary analytical method that focuses on space, places and geographical workings. Textual and real spaces are at the core of the analysis and of the “spatial narratives” (De Certeau). This conference is not only aimed at specialists of the English-speaking sphere: we will favor a multi-disciplinary approach and geographers, cartographers, historians, sociologists, anthropologists are most welcome to submit a paper. This multi-disciplinary, hence plural and multifocal, approach will sometimes demand that we leave the realm of literature to make a detour in geography or cartography, in order to get a better understanding of literary processes and practices, in the way astronomers leave the Earth to see it better (Aït-Touati). Other multi-disciplinary approaches, such as ecocriticism or psychogeography, are encouraged – the common point of all those approaches being the cross-fertilization of various categories such as geography, ecology, psychology, history and literature, the way they interact and the way they work on the referential and mimetic level as well as on the poietic level by producing images and spaces.

Among the many potential thought-provoking suggestions, it will be interesting to explore the following tracks:

  • reference and literariness
  • travel narratives and/or “closet-geography narrative”
  • how to situate geography between science and literature
  • space and narrative
  • cartography and narrative
  • the writing of space, landscape, nature
  • literature and reference
  • literature and science
  • space and gender (the traveling woman, the woman-geographer, the writing woman)
  • the evolution of the writing of space
  • the contribution of writers to the geographical culture and the contribution of geography as a discipline and a language to the literary production (“cross-fertilization”)
  • literature as a way of thinking space
  • geography as a way of understanding the intellectual culture of a period
  • the truthfulness and truth of geographical data in literary texts
  • geocriticism, ecocriticism, psychogeography.

Submission guidelines

Please send your proposals (title + 20 to 40-line summary, preferably in English), along with a short bio-bibliographical note, to Emmanuelle Peraldo (emmanuelle.peraldo@univ-lyon3.fr or emmanuelleperaldo@yahoo.fr) before 15 May 2014.

The conference will take place at Lyon 3 University, 12-13 mars 2015.

Scientific committee 

  • Bertrand Westphal, comparative literature, Université de Limoges
  • Marc Brosseau, Geography, University of Ottawa (Canada)
  • Jess Edwards, English Literature, Manchester Metropolitan University (UK)
  • Gerd Bayer, English Literature, Erlangen University (Germany)
  • Benjamin Pauley, English Literature, Eastern Connecticut State University (US)
  • Isabelle Lefort, Geography, Université Lyon 2
  • Yann Calbérac, Geography, Université de Reims
  • Jean Viviès, English Literature, Université de Provence
  • Catherine Delesalle, English Literature, Université Lyon 3
  • Emmanuelle Peraldo, English Literature, Université de Lyon 3

[1] Vincent Broqua, in La Géographie dans le monde anglophone : espace et identité, 120 (my translation).

[2] Jean-Michel Berthelot ed. Figures du texte scientifique. (Paris : PUF, 2001) : Berthelot tackles the specificities of the scientific text.

[3] Charles W. J. Withers & Robert J. Mayhew, “Geography: Space, Place and Intellectual History in the Eighteenth Century”, Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, Vol. 34, N°4, 2011, 446.

[4] See Edward Soja, Postmodern Geographies (1989) and Michel Collot and Julien Knebusch, « Vers une géographie littéraire ? », http://geographielitteraire.hypotheses.org/474

[5]Bertrand Westphal, La Géocritique. Réel, fiction, espace. Paris : Les Editions de Minuit, 2007, translated in English by Robert Tally (Palgrave MacMillan, 2011).


  • 6 cours Albert Thomas
    Lyon, France (69008)


  • Thursday, May 15, 2014


  • littérature, géographie, épistémologie, géocritique, psychogéographie


  • Emmanuelle Peraldo
    courriel : emmanuelle [dot] peraldo [at] univ-lyon3 [dot] fr

Information source

  • Emmanuelle Peraldo
    courriel : emmanuelle [dot] peraldo [at] univ-lyon3 [dot] fr

To cite this announcement

« International conference on "Literature and geography: the writing of space throughout History", Lyon 3, 12-13 march 2015 », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Monday, February 24, 2014, https://calenda.org/277296

Archive this announcement

  • Google Agenda
  • iCal