A Visit to the British Museum of Food

The notion of curation has expanded beyond the museum and art world, encompassing other cultural economic realms such as fashion and food. In my own research on exploring diasporic Iranian identities in commercial food spaces in London and Vancouver through the ways in which diasporic Iranian identities are marketed, curated and designed, and how these identities materialise through the foods themselves, I use the notion of ‘curation’ as a way of expressing a different relationship between commercial actors and the materialities of their retail spaces. Hunt (2015) explores this in further detail where shop keepers act as curators of the material culture of their stores. Furthermore, writing on how local foods are curated in the marketplace in Uppsala, Sweden, Joosse and Hracs (2015, p.207), “argue that curators are thus crucial in helping consumers to find products but create new ways of food sourcing”. However, more recently the worlds of food and museums have combined (it should be noted that food museums, focusing on a niche subject as the Cup Noodle Museum in Japan have been open for several years), with the opening of the Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD) in New York and the British Museum of Food in London.  Here the museums act as curators providing a pedagogic role in showing the wider roles and embedding of “culture, history, science, production and commerce of food and drink” (MOFAD, 2015). In this blog entry I will focus on my recent visit to the British Museum of Food.

The British Museum of Food:

The British Museum of Food opened in October 2015 and owned by Bompas and Parr, who are known for their culinary installations and experiments. The museum is located within the renowned Borough Market, further emphasising the prestige of the market and its role in London’s urban landscape. The museum features a range of interactive exhibitions embodying the motto “From Field to Table, Mouth…and Beyond” (Bompas and Parr, 2015). The exhibitions aim to showcase a journey of food through various ways in which consumers act with it. I will now take you, the reader through the five exhibitions hosted at the museum.

The Exhibits:

Be the Bolus:

This exhibit is film based where visitors are exposed to how food is digested. Here the visitor is exposed to the “science aspect” of food, which is equally as important in the consumption chain.


This is one of the more interactive exhibits where visitors are invited to partake in an experiment determining the correlation between taste and soundscapes. Four pods are set up each with different sounds, such as sounds of the rainforest. Here the visitor is asked to sample a piece of chocolate as they listen to the sounds to see if there is any difference between the four samples in terms of bitterness vs sweetness and creamy vs dry.

Atelier of Flavour:

In this exhibit the realms of art and food merge, in the sense that food is portrayed as art in the literal sense that is showcased as one would find, such as framed photographs in an art gallery. Here food was treated as an object of humour kitsch, for example a traditional English breakfast is presented as knitted piece of art.


Knitted full English breakfast

The British Menu Archive:

Menus can be treated as cultural texts as not only do they provide obvious information such as prices, meal structure and the foods available, but also form narratives around the histories and cultures of. Menus provide a rich insight into social relations between communities, in addition to the modification that occurs to dishes as they travel through time and space.  The collection includes a range of menus dating from 1907 to 2014.

A display of menu

The Butterfly Effect:

On the top floor there is a room which has a tropical aesthetic, filled with luscious green plants and lots of butterflies. At first I was unsure about the connection between butterflies and food; here the connection is pollination. There is a buzz (pun intended!) on the importance of bees and their impact on pollination, but less so on butterflies. This exhibit aims to focus the attention on butterflies and their importance in the global food system, especially in the propagation of bananas.

Feeding time!

Final thoughts:

Overall the British Museum of Food does what it sets out to do, by taking the visitor through a food journey “From Field to Table, Mouth…and Beyond”. The size of the space does limit what is on display, nonetheless the ways in which the materials are curated allows the museum to simultaneously becomes a pedagogic and entertainment space.


Bompas and Parr (2015). British Museum of Food. Retrieved from http://bompasandparr.com/projects/view/british-museum-of-food

Joosse, S., & Hracs, B. J. (2015). Curating the quest for ‘good food’: The practices, spatial dynamics and influence of food-related curation in Sweden.Geoforum64, 205-216.

MOFAD (2015). Vision. Retrieved from http://www.mofad.org/


Priya Vadi (PhD Candidate)

Introducing the MA Cultural Geography Students 2015/6

Chloe Asker
PastedGraphic-1Before finding myself at Royal Holloway, I studied human geography at The University of Southampton. Here, I began to cultivate my passion for cultural geography and the more-than-human aspects of the discipline. I completed my undergraduate dissertation on the gendered domestic geographies of dog keeping, and found my interest for nature-cultures and embodiment under the guidance of Dr Emma Roe.

Twitter | Etsy Store


Adam Badger

UntitledI arrived onto the MA cultural geography course having just finished my BA Geography degree at Royal Holloway earlier this year. My primary research interests concern social mobility/justice, the city and (rather differently) the digital world. I believe we now stand at a point where online worlds can interact with the built environment and provide the agency necessary for social change. In my opinion, part of our role as geographers is to research these issues in a democratic way to help towards creating a fairer society.


Ed Brookes

edHaving spent the past two years traveling and working abroad I have returned to the world of academia. I have a previous geographical background graduating from Southampton with a BA in Human Geography. I have developed broad interests in geographies of the home, memory and mobility. I am especially interested in the politics of home and memory spaces, and how individuals navigate the spaces in which they live, previously researching elderly experiences in sheltered accommodation.

Twitter | Blog


Georgina Collins

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 10.57.13I graduated from Royal Holloway in the summer of 2015 with a BSc in Geography. Throughout my undergraduate I became very interested in Historical Geography and the Geographies of Museums and Collections. My undergraduate dissertation involved engaging with objects from the V&A Indian collection to consider the changing attitudes towards displaying India from the Colonial and Indian exhibition 1886 to the present day Nehru gallery. This allowed me to explore the method of object biography; which I wish to investigate further during the Cultural Geography MA using material culture to explore the concept of cultural genocide.


Dan Crawford

557834_4866521881537_879988634_nI completed my undergraduate degree at Royal Holloway this year, and am now studying for the MA as part of an ESRC 1+3 studentship. Broadly I am interested in the relationships between architecture, religion, heritage, landscape and sacred space. My research aims to investigate the ways in which sacred spaces are understood and experienced in the contemporary city, how they undergo material change over different timescales, and how these changes are implicated in wider social and cultural processes.


Jo Howes
unnamedComing to higher education later than most, my journey was via horticultural training and practice, followed by a History degree. My research interests include the Victorian imperial networks of horticultural knowledge and exchange and the spaces that have permitted or restricted this flow of knowledge across gender, class and ethnicity.



Katy Lawn
After completing my undergraduate degree at Durham University, where I focused on cultural and literary geographies, I have joined Royal Holloway with a general interest in philosophies of living and emotional/psycho-geographies. Through a particular focus on the geographies of work and the workplace, I hope to uncover some of what it means to live a fulfilled life in a contemporary urban setting.


Athena Zhang 

mmexport1443952928294I am a visiting research student from South China Normal University. I major in geographical information science. And I have strong Interests in Cultural Geography. I focus on the intersection between Cultural Geography and GIS. At the moment my research is concentrating on the everyday practice of migrations in Guangzhou city, China. Using a qualitative GIS method.




On November 3rd 2015 I made a presentation to the Landscape Surgery group at Royal Holloway concerning a collaborative project between a geographer, Professor Gail Davies of Exeter University, and myself as an artist. The subject concerned the geographies of lab animals, specifically lab mice. The presentation was an attempt, as the collaboration is now drawing to a close, to situate the work in a wider context, within a set of histories.
Sadly Gail could not be present. However, I began by looking briefly at one of her papers to which she had drawn my attention early on in our long conversation, one I have found riveting, titled ‘Writing biology with mutant mice: the monstrous potential of post genomic life’ (Davies 2013).
In this paper Gail explores the ways in which the science around lab animals is subject to different forces: a version of science is at work, characterised as modernist – i.e. reductionist, spare, ‘pure’, looking for uniformity and repeatability on the one hand; and in contrast, a ‘post-modern’ version characterised by excess, undecidability, unforeseeability – what in Derrida’s terms might be called ‘the monstrous’. She writes:
‘Rather than searching for the normal, the ideal type, or the singular genetic code from which variations are defined, here difference is of central interest and value … it is monstrous in the sense that it is oriented to the production of a variety of possibilities, not all of which will become facts. It is open to the future – to the monstrous arrivant – in a way that the sequencing practices of human genome project were not…’

2 Arrows-1


There are some interesting parallels between these suggestions of ‘excess, undecidability, unforeseeability’ in post-genomics – characteristics of ‘the monstrous’ – and these qualities in some approaches to contemporary drawing. Crucially, in the context of the work which became Micespace, we might say that drawing which welcomes the not-yet-see-able partakes of ‘the monstrous’, understood in this way. Drawing research scholar Vinod Goel has suggested that, in certain phases in a design process, thoughts and their representations need to be ‘intersecting, undifferentiated and ambiguous’ (2014: 4) and that freehand sketches are useful because they facilitate lateral transformations (ibid., p. 218). Another leading drawing researcher, Steve Garner remarks: ‘Drawing is an immanence, always pointing to somewhere else’ (2008: 37).

Drawing as begetting the unfixed and ambiguous, the future-bearing – this seemed to offer fitting approaches for a project concerned with the begetting of ‘the monstrous’.

So, at Landscape Surgery I presented some works from Gail’s and my collaboration in the light of these earlier comments – not looking for closed conclusions but for further discussion. All the visual experiments were predicated on the idea that while there is an object of study, the lab mouse, there is no fixed agreement as to what kind of entity – or process – this might comprise. The visual approaches all began with some variety of drawing but ranged from a form of charting combining linear pen drawing with writing, to the most hands-on explorations with other materials, to dematerialisations of projected light.
Why so many approaches, so many methods? I think the answer lies somewhere in this: that materials and means radically inflect outcomes and their implications, so that working with different materials opens up a corporeally-imbricated, rich variety of ways of ‘thinkings-through’. Truly method changes meaning; and this became fascinating to me in itself.
Some interesting questions emerged from the session.
Many questions concerned the ‘lab diagram’, initially based on an American National Institute of Health recommended lab design. Instead of requiring people to look at this as a projection or even a series of fly-ins, the diagram, which contains a certain amount of text, was printed out and twenty copies handed round: superficially the work looks like a neutral architectural plan, but the labelling confuses categories. The labelling evokes hope and fear and finance, pain and ‘sacrifice’, ‘dirt’ and ‘purity’, suggesting the metaphoric, moral and emotional complexities of place. A question I need to consider further is why this particular diagram on paper was so productive of questions whereas the projected images in the powerpoint provoked some, but fewer.

3 Lab - the 'clean' and the 'dirty'The clean and the dirty

Various points were raised:

That the lab diagram drawing functions partly as a building plan and needs weighting for frequency of action
That text is a part of an aesthetic
That diagrams do things, capture and create positions – (the implications from this seem vast)
Leaving the questions arising from the diagram for those around the whole website, the question was asked, could the website develop into a form of drawing research?
In what ways are hyperlinks on a website, a version of direction-giving arrows? (Arrows in diagramming having come under discussion for their suggestion of highly selective ‘causality’.)
It was asked whether the tracks made by animals might be considered a form of drawing? – If so, what would the word ‘drawing’ mean in this context?
Could this kind of approach be used to map other human/animal relations, e.g. those with farm animals?
What is the difference, if any, between an unfamiliar hybrid and a monster?
What might be the viewpoint of any audience for this work? How might it be given voice?

Such questions continue to resonate for me.

Helen Scalway

4 Monstrous mouseprintMonstrous mouse print


Davies, G. (2013) Writing biology with mutant mice: the monstrous potential of post genomic life, Geoforum, 48: 268-78.

Garner, S. (2008) Writing on Drawing: Essays on Drawing Practice and Research. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Goel, V. (2014). Drawing as a Research Tool, Studies in Material Thinking, Vol.10, February.


Stress: Approaches to the First World War – exhibition and talks at UCL Art Museum


This series of events may be of interest to LS members: More details here

Remembrance Day Curators’ Talks

Wednesday 11 November 13:00-15:00

UCL Art Museum

“Stress: Approaches to the First World War” is an interdisciplinary, cross-collection exhibition curated by six PhD students at University College London which seeks to explore the effects the war had on minds, bodies, the landscape, and culture. On display in UCL’s North Lodge until the 20th of November, overlooked by the University’s monumental portico, this unique examination of the First World War includes objects as diverse as Magic Lantern Slides from Francis Galton’s eugenics laboratory to a preserved coal miner’s lung and from UCL’s pathology collection.

At lunchtime on the 11th of November four of the exhibition’s curators are staging a special event in UCL’s Art Museum to mark Remembrance Day. Each curator will give a short, informal presentation on how their research at UCL connects with the exhibition and provides novel perspectives on the First World War and its legacy, followed by questions and discussion with the audience. These presentations will cover a varied and singular range of themes including masculinity and the First World War; literature, trauma, and remembrance; the forgotten dead and human remains; and the staging of war in Greek drama.

Attendees will then be invited for refreshments in UCL’s South Cloisters where they can continue the discussion with the curators and visit the exhibition itself.

This is a free event and is open to all.  However, booking is required and places are limited.

Aids to navigating the interval of uncertainty

It was a pleasure to meet with PhD students recently to explore more of the issues I’ve been looking at during my residency; I’m grateful to them for taking time out of their research and writing to join me in the sometimes noisy space next to the Clore Ballroom in the Royal Festival Hall (coinciding with a throng of children on a break from a school outing on the South Bank).

Our discussion was productive in helping me revisit ideas from previous work and encounters and look to new opportunities. As some of you will recall, we looked at tentative ideas of an ‘anticipatory history’ approach to thinking about environmental change in a Landscape Surgery back in January. As I said in my blog post then, concepts such as anticipatory history are helpful to me because they offer an experimental tone and an exploratory approach. In particular, AH seems to suggest three angles of imaginative attack to the complex question of how people relate to the experience and prospects of environmental change as it touches us and our places:

  • possible tools, such as ‘reverse chronology’ that explores how change has been perceived in a place and how the future might have been imagined there in past times, help us examine plausible futures there now (a “looking back to look forward”);

  • a fresh look at the phrases and metaphors we use when we think about change, and how we often seem to talk past each other when using a common language;

  • opportunities for naming new or unfamiliar (and sometimes shocking) responses to environmental change as a means to provoke new perceptions of what could be possible, necessary or desirable.

I circulated six entries from the AH book ahead of our discussions at the Festival Hall: each – Monitoring, Art, Palliative Curation, Story-radar, Futurology, and Acclimatisation – with a different author but all created as part of an interdisciplinary research process into landscape and wildlife change. Together, the fifty or so entries in the Anticipatory History book offer a sort of glossary of possible interpretations of phrases that cropped up in their discussions. I selected these particular entries because they seemed to offer different ways in which we relate to change or the prospects of change. Very broadly, the different tactics that I see on offer here are: measuring and monitoring change; imagining and representing it; marking and mourning it; making, reinforcing and internalising narratives about it; predicting and warning (or else comforting ourselves) about it; and accommodating it in the ways we cope with living in the world.

Other responses are possible, of course – both to the experience or anticipation of change, and to these and the other texts in the book. I am therefore always keen to hear what others think of the entries – and of the gaps between them. My hastily scribbled notes from our conversation that day offer a highly fragmented account of my discussants’ comments and – along with the original entries and my own writings – contribute to an aggregating and intersecting text which will continue to spark ideas and ways to re-approach the originals.

As I was drafting this short post, an email arrived from a writer alerting me to a new exhibition he has helped curate at Brighton’s ONCA gallery. The exhibition theme – which is also the name of the community organisation he has been working with, Rewilding Sussex – brought to mind (of course) another of the entries in the AH book. Rewilding, after all, is also a response to change, and it touches the human inside as well as the more-than-human outside. In her Rewilding entry, Caitlin DeSilvey speaks of some areas within an ex-military site being “restored and adapted for reuse” while others, left to their own devices, were rewilding themselves, “tended by benign neglect”; however, she also points out a tension, as cultural authorship of sites that are deemed to be better off ‘going back to nature’ (and taking us back there with it) can also be a form of historical erasure, where “naturalisation risks negation.” It was DeSilvey who also penned the entry on Palliative Curation, drawing on the form of end-of-life care that can help people in the movement between life and death as a metaphor for how we could also attend to the transformation of natural landscape and heritage features. She cites the possible example of the lighthouse at Orford Ness in Suffolk and the “interval of uncertainty” it faces as the sea continues to erode the shingle it stands upon. Since that article was printed, the lighthouse has been switched off and the dangerous mercury in its lamp removed before it risked contamination of the advancing sea. An official review had already declared that the lighthouse was “no longer required as an aid to navigation” – but the concept of palliative curation and anticipatory history itself suggests that perhaps the new language which such intervals of uncertainty suggest – here, between first the light disappearing and then the lighthouse – offer their own aid to our navigation of change and our place within it.

My residency has now drawn to a close, and I am grateful to Harriet and all those who took part in the discussions at Royal Festival Hall, the Landscape Surgery and elsewhere and for the papers I was able to read and draw further ideas from.

Mark Bicton, Entrepreneur in Residence

Women, editing and geographical publishing

‘Women, editing and publishing: Ivy Davison and the Geographical Magazine in its first thirty yearsis the title of the 2015 E.G.R. Taylor Lecture by Felix Driver at the Royal Geographical Society on Thursday 8 October (6:30pm).


Eva Taylor was the first woman appointed as Professor of Geography in the UK in 1930, and remained Britain’s only female Professor of Geography until 1962. She was to be the single most prolific academic contributor to the Geographical Magazine in the three decades following the Magazine’s foundation in 1935 by Michael Huxley with the support of the literary publisher Chatto & Windus. That fact raises intriguing questions about the relationship between academic geography and popular publishing in the middle decades of the twentieth century.

This lecture explores the life and career of another woman associated with the Geographical Magazine – Ivy Davison, who served as its editor for six years during the Second World War, but whose name does not figure in any history of publishing or geography. A significant contributor to Britain’s leading literary magazines in the interwar period, as an editor rather than author, her name is also absent from the scholarly literature on women’s writing and journalism, even though she worked with many well-known authors including Virginia Woolf who employed her briefly in the early 1930s. The lecture suggests that Ivy Davison’s career as journalist, reviewer and editor sheds light on wider issues about women’s role in editorial work and popular geographical publishing during the twentieth century.


Regional Identity in Europe (or England!) at the RGS-IBG International Conference

A week ago, I chaired my first ever session at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) Annual International Conference, which this year was held at the University of Exeter.

As a part-time Masters student, the initial response within the Faculty of me applying to run a session was a mixture of “You’re Brave/I would never have done that as a MA student!”, and whilst, yes it has had a few fraught moments over the past seven months or so, I can only firmly recommend it to Royal Holloway’s new intake of Masters students.

My own particular research area of Cornish Culture & Identity can often seem a bit like ploughing a lone furrow, as I am diverging greatly from a lot of the excellent research going on in our own immediate community – however, by looking at my immediate context and connecting it to present events around Europe – in particular Scotland, Catalonia and Veneto – I was able to attract a wide and diverse range of speakers for my session entitled ‘The Contemporary Growth of Regional Identity in Europe’.

Unfortunately, as these things often turn out, as the day of the session drew closer, several of my overseas speakers contacted me to withdraw, which left the session without papers on the important situations regarding devolutionary or independence movements in the North of England and Veneto. Consequently, I drew on my links with the burgeoning Cornish academic community, and my session was transformed into an affirming range of papers which dealt with the contemporary sense of what Hechter (1999) termed as ‘Internal Colonialism’, which has gained greater impetus since April 2014 when Cornwall was designated with National Minority Status under the Council of Europe Framework Convention.

The other major consideration with the RGS-IBG International Conference is its sheer scale – it is a conference attended by over 1,400 delegates from all around the world, and around 25 sessions run at the same time, hence you are competing strongly for an audience – unlike on previous occasions when I had made presentations on my research elsewhere where there was only ever one auditorium! I was absolutely delighted that the session drew a large audience of students and academics from all four corners of the globe, and it was exciting to see that Cornish Culture & Identity, plus the inherent sense of ‘difference’ between Cornwall and England was receiving such high profile attention.

Aspiration for One and All? Andrew Climo from the University of Oxford spoke about Cornwall’s historic devolution demands; summarising the fact that up to the late 1990s, calls for Cornish devolution were inchoate, but in 2002, the Cornish Constitutional Convention published its prospectus called Devolution for One and All, which acted as a nexus for the various competing views on future governance. His paper discussed what such a document might look like and how public engagement might be developed.

Julie Tamblin of ‘Learn Cornish in Cornwall’ then presented a historical overview on the three linguistic forms which characterize Cornish culture – Kernowek, Cornu-English and English and made connections between voices from Cornwall and Cornish voices writing back from the diaspora, showing the global influence of Cornish culture.

Mike Tripp, who recently retired from the Institute of Cornish Studies at the University of Exeter presented a paper entitled ‘Where there were two Cornishmen, there was a “rastle”: Cornish Wrestling & Identity’. Dr. Tripp’s paper covered the development of the sport into a widespread ‘traditional’ activity, deeply rooted in the local culture and, prior to the birth of Rugby Union, was Cornwall’s most popular sport. When, in the second half of the nineteenth century the Cornish economy suffered a catastrophic collapse that precipitated large numbers of people to leave Cornwall to find work abroad, the Cornish stuck together in distinct ethnic communities sustaining a strong sense of identity which manifested in the Cornish dialect and wrestling in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand

Finally, and very timely given the recent publication of his outstanding new book, Will Coleman, a bard of the Gorsedh Kernow presented an exceptionally lively paper entitled ‘Plen an Gwari: places of Play, Inclusivity and Resistance’. In this work, Coleman examined how in many places and cultures throughout history, performance has been used to articulate and strengthen the aspirations of minorities and to represent narratives resistant to dominant cultures. Driven by the ‘powerhouse’ of Glasney College in Penryn, the Gwari Meur culture of medieval Cornwall flourished for several hundred years and reached profound levels of artistry in its drama and literature. Related forms also developed elsewhere across Europe but “Cornwall was to do it better, and more intensively, than anywhere else” (Kent, 2010). The Gwari Meur culture was “a vital part of that strategy of resistance [… to Anglicization]” (Spriggs, 2004). It was international in its outlook yet intensely parochial in celebrating its sense of place. It was rebellious, unorthodox, irreverent, profound and a lot of fun. As a cultural totem the plen an gwari is the perfect foundation for the territory of Cornwall as we rebuild our inclusive, forward-looking and celebratory sense of Cornish nationhood.

To some Cornwall may be a county which is quite nice to go to on holiday. Delegates from around the globe left this session with a new sense of the immense pride that the Cornish have in their land. Gaging from questions that were directed to myself and my presenters, renowned focus on this particular ‘peripheral’ appendage of South-West England is about to take place…

Ben Gilby, MA Cultural Geography (Research) Part-Time (2nd Year)

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Materialities of Protest: Tarpaulins and Tents at Occupy Wall St.

Hannah Awcock:

This post was written by Royal Holloway Undergraduate Laura Shipp, based on her field work in New York as part of her second year this March. I think she’s a strong contender for future Landscape Surgeon!

Originally posted on Turbulent London:

Laura Shipp is a Second Year Geography undergraduate at Royal Holloway. She is particularly interested in Political Geography and is currently undertaking dissertation research surrounding emotional geographies and perceptions of security in everyday circumstances. Following on from research carried out on an undergraduate fieldtrip to New York, she considers the ways that protest camps can entangle objects, change their associations and recreate their meanings.

My own photo of Zuccotti Park along the Occupy Wall Street Tour in late March. My own photo of Zuccotti Park along the Occupy Wall Street Tour in late March.

In September 2011, Zuccotti Park, Lower Manhattan became overtaken as the home of Occupy Wall Street. A unique ephemeral environment was established which can only be described as a protest camp. From this picture, the park now has no physical marks of the camp’s existence and yet it had contained a temporary city with its own newspaper, food supply chain and Wi-Fi (Chappell, 2011).

Feigenbaum, (2014, pp.35) defines protest camps “as…

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Upcoming event: Lives Off the Grid

Originally posted on passengerfilms:

Lives off the grid poster - final-page-001

When: Saturday 5th September, 7pm – 10pm

Where: The Actors Temple, 13-14 Warren Street, London, W1T 5LH (directions)

How much: £5 at the door – please reserve a place here.

Join us for a unique event that explores the everyday lives of people living off the grid, featuring two brand new documentary films: Off the Grid (2015) and Life off Grid (2015).

Being off the grid in today’s fast-paced world is a challenge, it involves complete isolation from state utilities and has an enormous impact upon people’s lives. These two films explore both those who pursue this lifestyle and those who have no alternative to it in two different communities across the world. Off the Grid is as short documentary by Meghna Gupta and Raihana Ferdous set on the remote island of Sandwip in Bangladesh. The film documents the arrival of solar energy to the…

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‘Geography Flies’ Through Years of International History

By Benjamin Newman and Hannah Awcock

ICHG Name Tag and Programme

The International Conference of Historical Geographers took place from the 5th to the 10th of July at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) in Kensington (Photo: Ben Newman).

As the International Conference of Historical Geographers drew to a close, amidst bids from St Petersburg and Warsaw to host the next meeting of the conference, Innes Keighren took to twitter to write that it was:

This, of course, was true in every respect. Over the previous six days, historical geographers from around the globe had come together in a frenzy of papers, plenaries, field-trips, lunches, dinners and a general hum of enthusiasm for historical geography. There was more to celebrate than just a successful conference with ICHG observing its 40th anniversary, and it was on that subject that Alan Baker (University of Cambridge) was invited to give the first plenary talk of the conference on the opening Sunday inside The Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)’s Ondaatje Theatre. His plenary would serve both as a celebration of the evolution of the meeting of British and Canadian Historical Geographers in Kingston, Ontario 40 years previous, and also as a reminder of the barriers to participation in historical geography, both at the conference and in the Journal of Historical Geography. His talk and invited contributions from international scholars left much to muse over at the welcome drinks reception that followed.

2015-07-06 16.42.26

Professor Catherine Hall gave an excellent plenary about British slave-owners (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

Monday would see the conference officially begin with eleven parallel sessions offering a feast of historical geography for delegates to enjoy. It would be difficult to summarise the diversity of the contributions, from urban historical geography, feminist historical geography, and GIS, to historical geography of extreme weather, war, knowledge, instruments, books, architecture, photography and many more. As the full first day of the conference drew to a close delegates excitedly gathered in the Ondaatje Theatre to listen to the first of three evening plenary sessions. UCL-based Professor Catherine Hall spoke to the title: Rethinking Slavery and Freedom. Professor Hall took a novel approach to slavery, focusing on the slave-owners rather than the slaves themselves. Thinking about how slave-owners constructed their world and justified their ownership of human beings allows us to put slavery back into British history.

Tuesday would be another busy day of all things historical geography, with Landscape Surgery’s first speaker, David Rooney. He got the Surgeons off to a good start with a paper on ‘Technologies of Segregation on the Streets of East London.’ He would be the first of a large number of Surgeons who participated in the conference, with Liz Haines, Noeme Santana, Hannah Awcock, Bergit Arends, Bethan Bide, Janet Owen, Innes M. Keighren, and Veronica della Dora, all involved in either convening, speaking, or both. And of course our own Felix Driver was Chair of the local organizing committee! Tuesday’s plenary was a landmark session with Felix chairing the inaugural British Academy Lecture in Geography, welcoming Bill Cronon (University of Wisconsin-Madison) to talk under the provocative title: Who reads Geography or History Anymore? The Challenges of Audience in a Digital Age. His talk discussed the death of the book length monograph, reading practices in the digital age and challenged the academy to consider the potential of various non-traditional outputs.

The RGS-IBG provided a perfect backdrop for lunch in the sunshine (Photo: Sophie Brockmann).

The RGS-IBG provided a perfect backdrop for lunch in the sunshine (Photo: Sophie Brockmann).

Conference delegates may have embraced Bill Cronon’s calls for academics to engage with social media a little too enthusiastically with the appearance of the @Geographyfly twitter account. The tweets were supposedly by a fly who liked to participate in proceedings by crawling around on the projector in the Ondaatje Theatre during plenary sessions. There was a certain amount of ‘buzz’ about who the genuine culprit was.

On Wednesday there was a break from formal sessions for a series of field trips. A series of 17 trips, ranging from the historical geography of hop picking in Kent to a musical tour of Soho, proved that historical geographers do far more than just sitting in the archive. Surgeon Innes Keighren was one of the organisers of a trip to Maritime Greenwich. We both thoroughly enjoyed our field trips, and the general consensus was they were all well organised and informative.

The field trip to the site of the 1862 Great Exhibition also included a tour of the Albert memorial in Hyde Park (Photo: Ruth Mason).

The field trip to the site of the 1862 Great Exhibition also included a tour of the Albert memorial in Hyde Park (Photo: Ruth Mason).

Thursday’s tube strike—minus some sore feet from walks across London—did little to dampen the atmosphere as parallel sessions kicked off again after Wednesday’s hiatus. That evening the final plenary of the conference was given by Professor Simon Schaffer (University of Cambridge), on the topic of ‘Astronomy at the Imperial Meridian: The Colonial Production of Hybrid Spaces.’ It is of note that none of the plenary speakers (apart from Alan Baker) identify as historical geographers, which reflects the truly interdisciplinary nature of the subject. In the opening plenary on Sunday evening Professor Mona Domosh (Dartmouth College) had suggested that maybe it doesn’t matter so much whether scholars call themselves historical geographers. Rather, what matters more is that people are doing historical geography in new and interesting ways, and after attending the ICHG it would be very hard to argue that it is anything less than a vibrant and dynamic discipline.

Historical geographers work hard, and they play hard! (Photo: James Kneale).

Historical geographers work hard, and they play hard! (Photo: James Kneale).

On Friday morning the finish line of this six-day marathon was in sight, but sessions continued unabated. The conference drew to a close with delegates choosing the hosts of the next ICHG. We would personally like to thank the Local Organising Committee and the RGS-IBG for doing such an excellent job of organizing and running the conference, and then all that remains is to say see you in Warsaw in 2018!

by Benjamin Newman and Hannah Awcock.

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