The Conceptual Structure of Ossianic Space

Michael Gavin, Eric Gidal


This article describes computational methods for representing Ossianic space by building and analyzing a network of place names. We explore the fraught attempts by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century travelers, antiquarians, and statistical geographers to map James Macpherson’s controversial ‘translations’ of Gaelic myths onto the landscapes of a rapidly industrializing Scottish archipelago. To study these Ossianic geographies is to study how two modes of spatial discourse combined to produce a sense of Scotland as a modern, administered state, as a site of history, and as a repository of forgotten antiquity. We argue that such literary geographies are structured topologically, rather than topographically. Each link in the network represents a qualitative statement in the historical record that identifies a relationship of correspondence, containment, or proximity between two places. In this model, ancient and mythical places exist among others within a common conceptual frame. Because some of the nodes in the network can be mapped, all nodes become connected, however indirectly, to the spaces of Scotland’s official geography, making it possible to speak and write across Scotland’s otherwise distinct spatial modalities.


Spatial Humanities; Ossian; James Macpherson; Qualitative Spatial Reasoning.

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