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Cultural Routes and Digital Representations

NETCOM : call for papers
Marta Severo


This issue of Netcom is dedicated to digital representations of cultural routes. Recently recognized as cultural heritage, routes and trails have played a key role in the history of the humanity. From routes of commerce to pilgrimage paths, from natural trails to urban pathways, this phenomenon has taken on different forms across the centuries and revealed its multifaceted – social, political, geographic, economic, religious, cultural etc. – nature. Recently, routes have also become important tourist destinations. More and more travellers are choosing these complex tourist options that allow a combination of not only several locations but also different experiences within a unique trip. People are more attracted by the Routes of Santiago de Compostela and the Silk Road than by a traditional, stationary vacation at the seaside.

There are two features that these routes share : (i) the fact that they generate movements of people across national boundaries, thus facilitating the sharing of values and intercultural dialogue ; and (ii) the fact that the shared values are generally related to the tangible and intangible cultural heritage present along the route. As a consequence, such routes become tools for sharing “values as a common heritage that goes beyond national borders” (ICOMOS, 2008). Indeed, the routes are attractive mainly because they are cultural routes. Cultural routes constitute today “a new framework for interpreting heritage” (Berti, 2015). What makes this new heritage really interesting is its complexity : “the concept of Cultural Route implies a value as a whole which is greater than the sum of its parts and gives the Route its meaning” (ICOMOS, 2008). Moreover, such complexity is enriched by the fact that many different people, mainly walkers and inhabitants, participate in the everyday redefinition of the symbolic heritage represented by these itineraries, and that everyone participates by bringing his/her personal interpretation of his/her cultural, social and spiritual background.

The recent success of cultural routes has prompted several international bodies to define a legal framework in order to manage and protect them. Cultural routes have acquired particular importance at the European level. The Cultural Routes programme of the Council of Europe was adopted in 1987. Since 1998, the European Institute of Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe has been playing the role of technical agency for supporting, coordinating, and promoting the Cultural Routes programme. Following its definition in the Enlarged Partial Agreement on Cultural Routes (2010), the label cultural route identifies “a cultural, educational heritage and tourism co-operation project aiming at the development and promotion of an itinerary or a series of itineraries based on a historic route, a cultural concept, figure or phenomenon with a transnational importance and significance for the understanding and respect of common European values”. Until now, 33 itineraries (e.g. Way of St. James, Via Francigena, Via Regia, etc.) have been awarded this European label.

Although thousands of walkers are attracted to these itineraries every year, studies on cultural routes have only developed very recently and they have been generally disciplinary. Some focus on the religious aspects, notably related to pilgrimage ; others focus on the specific cultural and natural heritage of individual cultural routes, analysed from the viewpoint of art history, history or geography. More recently, scholars in economics and tourism studies have shown an interest in cultural routes through analysis of their potential and actual impact on tourism. Furthermore, until recently, empirical studies on cultural routes were rate and limited to a single itinerary or a portion of it. Indeed, very few empirical data were made available on these routes and in particular about the behaviours and motivations of walkers. However, today the availability of new data sources, especially in digital format, offers innovative ways of analysing these cultural objects. On the one hand, there are new perspectives offered by open data sets concerning the areas traversed by the routes that can be interestingly crossed with more conventional fieldwork. On the other hand, since walkers make a more and more extensive use of their mobile phones and tablets for sharing their experience on social media platforms or through ad hoc applications, the analysis of their interactions on the Web can provide a real-time picture of what is happening along these trails.

Through this amount of data available, cultural routes now have a digital presence (Cameron and Kenderdine, 2010). The institutions that deal with them have set up procedures for digitizing and sharing information concerning these cultural objects : from national databases to archives, from museum catalogues to inventories of Unesco or other institutions on any territorial scale. All these digital documents now facilitate the study and conservation of cultural heritage. Moreover, heritage bearers can rely on new media to share their cultural practices or to create new ones by publishing their photos on Instagram, exchanging their experiences on a Facebook page, enriching a Wikipedia page, etc. Obviously, this phenomenon concerns not only routes but affects the cultural heritage in general.

The digital data’ deluge has resulted in a renewed effervescence towards the possibilities of cultural heritage representation. Projects such as the Google Cultural Institute platform or Stanford’s ORBIS project (Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World) or the various projects related to Europeana are good examples of such enthusiasm. The most important novelty introduced by new technologies in the context of heritage management is certainly the fact that they make it possible to create a single digital space (the documentary database) where physically dispersed documents are gathered and made available regardless of their original cultural context. This technical opportunity has opened unexpected perspectives for the analysis and representation of heritage, such as studies developed in the contexts of the cultural analytics (Manovich, 2007) and the digital humanities (Berry, 2012).

This enthusiasm has favoured the research on new forms of digital representation of our cultural objects. On the one hand, web-based atlases and geographic information systems (WebGIS) are available on the Internet, enabling us to navigate between local heritage objects on a more global scale. Cartographic contextualization of a geographical area becomes interactive, multi-scale, connected and enriched with new sources and layers of information. On the other hand, we are witnessing the emergence of new solutions of information visualisation : from word clouds to relational graphs, to 3D renderings and more complex visualization platforms that integrate and interface several representation techniques.

The common feature of these new methods of visualizing cultural spaces lies in the contextualization of information, in particular by combining topographic and topological elements. Here we mean, by topology, the study and representation of spatial relations, such as discontinuity, connectivity and accessibility, that is, the analysis of relations between groups of elements. This approach, used today in several contexts, has been developed especially for graphs analysis. With the notion of topography, we refer again to spatial relations, but this time, they are considered in relation to the geographical space. The topographical map can be defined as a “scaled-down model representing the relief determined by altimetry and the human settlements of a geographical area in a precise and detailed manner on a horizontal plane”(IGN), built according to conventions which in France are established by the IGN. Conversely, the new cartographies (Moretti, 2005) not only do not correspond to any standard, but they are based on the fusion of elements related to different semio-logical conventions (Bertin, 1973). The visualization of the digital information based on graphs, such as a map of the web, or a graph of Facebook friendships or of retweets, a map of social actors or a graph of word co-occurrences assemble topological (relational) and topographical (contextual) elements in a digital spatial representation.

This issue of Netcom, entitled “Cultural Routes and Digital Representations”, calls for an update of the scientific achievements concerning cultural routes reflecting a series of recent works based on the investigation of new data corpuses, in particular digital ones. In particular, we invite contributions that explore the digital representations of the cultural itineraries generated by these data. Empirical studies will be preferred, although papers with theoretical advancements are also expected.

These elements of the context of this call for papers identify two main fields :

  1. The first one explores the object “cultural route”. Studies that rely on new corpuses of data are supposed to clarify the understanding of this complex and recent heritage object. Articles with an interdisciplinary approach are particularly welcome. What elements contribute to create the value of a route ? What are the motivations of walkers who undertake this type of journey ? What are the elements of this complex heritage system that affect the walker’s experience and constitute shared values ?

  2. The second one questions the new ways of representing cultural routes through digital data. Particularly appreciated are contributions proposing to investigate the specificities of the two topological and topographical approaches and existing interconnections between them. Where appropriate, are also appreciated contributions that propose a topological-topographical approach adapted to the understanding of cultural routes while taking into account at the same time their link with the space and the new connections generated by their digital presence.

Submission of scientific papers

Papers should be 15 to 20 pages long, should include, on the first page, the author’s (or authors’) complete details, a title, an abstract and keywords in French and English.

The papers will be assessed by means of a double blind review.

Submission of scientific notes

In addition to scientific papers, this category contains research notes that do not have the status of the double-blind review paper but which nevertheless present an interest as to their innovative character or for the quality of the issues raised and the approaches considered. These are shorter texts than the papers (5 to 10 pages) either between 10000 and 15000 characters which must add a useful complement to the subject thematic of this special issue. This type of paper is also welcome in order to enable the reader to understand the issues or the interest in furthering reflection within the scope of future research.

Instructions for authors

Scientific papers and scientific notes may be published in French and/or English.

Papers should be sent to Marta Severo, Guest Editor (

Format guidelines can be found on:

More information about the journal:

Indicative timetable

31 March 2017 : Submission of proposals.


Berry, D. M. (Ed.). (2012), Understanding digital humanities. London : Palgrave Macmillan.

Berti, E. (2012), Itinerari culturali del consiglio d’Europa tra ricerce di identità e progetto di paesaggio (Vol. 123). Florence: Firenze University Press.

Berti, E. (2015), The cultural context: fundamental resolutions and conventions at the European and international level ». In Council of Europe, Cultural Routes Management: from theory to practice. Strasbourg : Council of Europe Publishing.

Bertin, J. (1973), Sémiologie graphique : Les diagrammes-Les réseaux-Les cartes. Paris-La Haye: Mouton and Co.

Cameron, F., Kenderdine, S. (Eds.). (2007), Theorizing digital cultural heritage: A critical discourse. Cambridge, MA: Mit Press.

Connor, S. (2004), Topologies: Michel Serres and the Shapes of Thought. Anglistik, 15, pp. 105-107.

Council of Europe (2010), Resolution CM/Res(2010)53 establishing an Enlarged Partial Agreement on Cultural Routes.

Council of Europe (2011), Impact of European cultural routes on SMEs’ innovation and competitiveness, provisional edition, Strasbourg: Council of Europe Publishing.

Council of Europe (2015), Cultural Routes management: from theory to practice, Strasbourg: Council of Europe Publishing.

Eade, J. & Albera, D. (2015), International Perspectives on Pilgrimage Studies: Itineraries, Gaps and Obstacles, London: Routledge.

Ghitalla, F. (2008), La « Toile Européenne » Parcours autour d’une cartographie thématique de documents web consacrés au thème de l’Europe et à ses acteurs sur le web francophone. Communication & langages, 158, pp. 61-75.

ICOMOS (2008), Charter of Cultural Routes.

Manovich, L. (2007), Cultural analytics. Software Studies Initiative, 30.

Majdoub, W. (2010), Analyzing cultural routes from a multidimensional perspective. Almatourism-Journal of Tourism, Culture and Territorial Development, 1(2), pp. 29-37.

Martorell Carreño, A. (2003), Cultural routes: Tangible and intangible dimensions of cultural heritage. In 14th ICOMOS General Assembly and International Symposium: ‘Place, memory, meaning: preserving intangible values in monuments and sites’, 27 – 31 oct 2003, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

Moretti, F. (2005), Graphs, Maps, Trees, London: Verso.

Timothy, D. J., & Boyd, S. W. (2015), Tourism and trails: Cultural, ecological and management issues, 64, Channel View Publications.

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