Eye of The Beholder – Visualising Text’s

For an assignment in college I had to visualise a text of my choice. Originally I decided to experiment with Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. After I worked on The Canterbury Tales I decided to make another map and do the same with my favourite novel, On The Road by Jack Kerouac. The tool which I used to visualise both of text’s was ‘Story Map’ at knightlab.com. I tried to use the timeline tool on ‘knightlab’ also, but I encountered trouble when working on it. The trouble mainly arose from the inclusion of Google Docs, which I personally dislike to use. I chose story-map as it allowed me to explore the ‘place’ and travel in the two texts. Both texts are about travelling, so I personally think using the mapping tool is an appropriate form of visualisation.

The Canterbury Tales – Chaucer

“Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage,

And palmers to go seeking out strange strands,

To distant shrines well known in sundry lands.

And specially from every shire’s end

Of England they to Canterbury wend,

The holy blessed martyr there to seek”

I created two story maps based around the tales told in the text and the historic pilgrimage route.  Firstly I made a quick map of the historic ‘Watling Street’ pilgrimage route as a preface to my main visualisation. There are debates among historians on what route the pilgrims took to Canterbury. The most commonly referenced routes are the ‘Pilgrimage Route’ and the ‘Watling Street’. I chose to visualise the later route.

Most maps online centring around the tales focus on the pilgrim route from London to Canterbury. I wished to take each tale individually and place the location of the tale on a map. I wanted to explore the variety and depth of tales shown in the collection. Almost half of the tales failed to mention a concrete location and some tales such as the Squires take place in a large area not present in 2015 – this can be seen in the Squires tale which take’s place in Tartary which is modern day Mongolia, Siberia, Volga-Ural’s etc. This was one of the main parts of my exercise. 

 I also wished to see if there was any correlation between the tales locations and the locations of the pilgrimage to Canterbury. Ultimately I found little to no correlation, but I found the exercise good in visualising the text. 

On The Road – Jack Kerouac 

On The Road is seen as the quintessential road trip novel. Set in post world war two America, On The Road chronicles the rise of the ‘Beat Generation’. It tells the story of the Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassidy, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs. To quote ‘Lonely Planet’ –

“The USA is a big country, and whenever anyone’s tried to define it – be they a Charles Dickens, a Mark Twain or a Stephen Fry – they’ve hit the road. So did the Beat Generation in the 1940s. They’d skip class to dig jazz and debate their place in Cold War America. And then they’d hit the road: crisscrossing the country in search of the new American dream – or just for kicks, music and women.”

A great novel, On The Road is a story of friendship, sex, travel, and jazz. In spite of this it is, at heart, a story about the road. Kerouac makes a number of trips throughout the novel, from 1947 to 1950. I chose to focus on the first trip in 1947 as it burns throughout with a nervous and explosive energy. Although this isn’t an English essay, I am incorporating literary references and quotes as I feel it will strengthen the overall visualisation experience. Below is the link to my map chronicling the trip taken by Kerouac in ’47.

I personally thought ‘On The Road’ to be a good text to visualise as it is a road novel. It’s a novel about the road and those you meet on the road. Due to this fact I decided to make a map chronicling Sal’s journey the the promised land, Los Angeles. The so called bible of the beat counter culture is still held in high regard, 65 years after it’s release.


I found this exercise to be an interesting one. As I am studying English as well, there is a great need for visualisation in order to understand the text. It was because of this need that I decided to visualise two pieces of literature rather than two critical texts. I found story map to be easy to use and a tool I could incorporate into future projects.