Lost & Found: Mapping European Literary London

This blog has been contributed by Lucy Shackleton, Head of Public Policy and Partnerships at the UCL European Institute, University College London.

In search of ways to help highlight London’s longstanding and enduring relevance for European culture, UCL has developed the interactive digital map to bring to life the stories of the streets of London, through the eyes of European writers, artists and intellectuals through the ages.

What is the European Literary Map of London?

Developed by UCL European Institute, the Faculty of Arts & Humanities and the Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, the Map features more than 80 entries, in over 20 European languages, with each location the site of a real or imagined encounter with London by a European writer.

The project captures and explores the impact London has had on writers such as Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, who in his first encounter with London in 1847 referred to it as “the city of cities”, as well as a letter written by Vincent van Gogh, who lived in South London for three years in the early 1870s. Other names include Giacomo Casanova, Karl Marx, Victor Hugo and Joseph Conrad, alongside contemporary authors from Mauritius-born, France-based Ananda Devi to Cristina Marconi, from Italy.

“The gift that keeps on giving”

A product of the pandemic, this project was originally designed to engage and inspire students in the Faculty of Arts & Humanities unable to physically travel to UCL’s Bloomsbury campus in 2020, but the project has since flourished and developed in a range of directions.

The number and diversity of texts featured has expanded significantly as a result of a drive to draw not just on the UCL community, but to engage contacts in European Embassies, European National Institutes for Culture and partner institutions across Europe.

We have brought the online Map to life via an immersive, public exhibition on in UCL South Cloisters which runs until May 2024, and highlights London’s longstanding and enduring relevance as a hub for European culture, prompting reflection on the city as a place where people and cultures meet and are transformed. Alongside highlighting the Map, the exhibition also aims to initiate, and frame, a conversation about students’ experiences of London: recognising both its endless potential, but also the challenges it poses.

We have also commissioned the development of bespoke resources for teachers, to help teachers use both the Map and the exhibition to engage students learning modern foreign languages, as well as to initiate wider interdisciplinary conversations about identity and belonging, with a particular focus on engaging students from widening participation backgrounds.

As a new year begins, we look forward to hosting a European Writer in Residence in the Spring, with the objective of supporting new writing on London from a European perspective, and helping to diversify the voices represented on the Map.

We are also delighted to be exploring future possibilities for transferring the exhibition to new venues, in the UK and beyond, offering exciting opportunities to engage new audiences and partners.

In the words of HE Pedro Serrano, EU Ambassador to the United Kingdom, “This exhibition and the wider European Literary Map of London project illustrate beautifully the longstanding and enduring cultural connections between the UK and the European continent, and the important role of the written word in building cross-cultural bridges and expanding our collective understanding”.

Ways to get involved

The drive to expand and diversify the texts – and languages – featured on the Map is ongoing, and we welcome ideas for new entries – particularly by writers from diverse or otherwise under-represented groups via the online submission form.

You are also actively encouraged to visit the exhibition next time you are in Bloomsbury, to contribute your thoughts on how London has changed you via the hashtag #europeanliterarylondon, and to get in touch with us, if you are interested in exploring a visit, or collaboration.