Monthly Archives: August 2012

Former Royal Holloway Ph.D. student Hilary Geoghegan (now ESRC Future Research Leader) reflects on her time at Landscape Surgery.

The Culture of Enthusiasm

In October 2003 – I attended my very first Landscape Surgery – as a PhD student and member of Royal Holloway’s Social and Cultural Geography Group. It was in this fortnightly meeting of the SCG that staff and students shared experiences, interests and research in the areas of cultural, historical and social geography. Landscape Surgery would start just after 2pm in RHUL’s buildings in London, either Bedford Square or Gower Street. The session would commence with a ‘newsround’ – an opportunity for each member (seated around a very long table) to update the rest of us on what they’d been doing in the last few weeks – attending conferences,  attempting to write, or out in the field. Some people have suggested this must have been intimidating, we aren’t all productive all of the time, but for me it was one of my favourite bits of Landscape Surgery. Sharing the excitement…

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The Passage to Cosmos

Alexander von Humboldt

In June the Historical Geography Reading Group discussed Laura Dassow Walls’s 2009 The Passage to Cosmos: Alexander von Humboldt and the Shaping of America (University of Chicago Press). One Group member, Innes M. Keighren, has recently contributed to a roundtable discussion of the book for the H-Environment discussion network (part of the H-Net organisation). Other contributors to the discussion include Felipe Fernández-Armesto (University of Notre Dame) and Michael F. Robinson (University of Hartford). The roundtable is available for download.


Passengerfilms profiled by the NCCPE

Recent Passengerfilms posters

Recent Passengerfilms event posters.

Passengerfilms—the award-winning cultural geography film series, run by postgraduate students in the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London—is profiled today by the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement.


Earth-writing and film

Like the English summer and the Central Line, this post comes slightly delayed; nonetheless, a recent Passengerfilms event is worth recounting, especially because it launched a new chapter for our Department.

On the 19th of July, a crowd at Roxy Bar & Screen celebrated the new Master’s program, jointly run between Geography and English at Royal Holloway. The MA Creative Writing: Place, Environment, Writing, is the first of its kind and captures the current renaissance of place-based creative writing.

Passengerfilm’s founder & PhD Candidate Amy Cutler introduces the evening (photo by Rupert Griffiths)

David Gilbert spoke briefly about the much-anticipated program before introducing former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion, who read ten short poems, setting a reflective, if somewhat wistful, tone for the evening.  Along with his tender writings, Sir Motion shared his enthusiasm for the program, its applicants, and the evening’s rich program.

David Gilbert invites Andrew Motion to the floor (photo by RUpert Griffiths)

Heather Yeung, co-organiser of WALK, introduced our first film Little Sparta, a visual ode to Ian Hamilton Finlay’s renowned garden.  The film pensively meanders through the epigrams and historical witticisms inscribed into the landscape at varying states of (in)completion, reflecting Finlay’s belief that “a garden is not an object, but a process”. Many of us agreed we want to see the garden in the flesh and at one point David Gilbert could be overheard reminiscing about days past when, behind the wheel of a mini-bus, he took postgrads on road trips.  Could a tour to Little Sparta be in the cards?

Ian Hamilton Finlay’s “Little Sparta” (photo by Rupert Griffiths)

Head Curator Jamie Andrews promoted the British Library’s current exhibition Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands, which exposes the storied relationship between British landscape and literature.  This was followed by UCL’s James Kneale who joined us to introduce the Literary Geographies blog, which promises to be useful for geographers and writers alike – required reading for new MA students perhaps?

The evening’s feature was introduced by the film’s co-producer, and author in his own right, Gareth Evans.  Gareth said he thought the film Patience (After Sebald) (2012) captured the spirit of this enigmatic writer.  We couldn’t agree more.

Crowds enjoying Grant Gee’s “Patience (After Sebald)” (photo by Rupert Griffiths)

Grant Gee’s meditative film weaves through W.G. Sebald’s walks and meditations around coastal East Anglia and around his masterpiece The Rings of Saturn (1995).  The moving work charts Sebald’s influence on other practitioners, including Tacita Dean, Robert Macfarlane, Katie Mitchell, Rick Moody, Andrew Motion, Chris Petit, Iain Sinclair, and Marina Warner.  Visually and aurally compelling, the film captures the complexity and melancholy of Sebald’s work and illustrates how a writer’s imagination, experience, and creativity imbues place with life and meaning.  Even in David Gilbert’s mini-bus, we may never find Sebald’s East Anglia.

From “Patience (After Sebald)” (photo by Rupert Griffiths)

Sebald’s work is sure to inspire the place-based writing of incoming MA students.  Indeed, we all left the cinema with both a reverence for his work and an excitement for the work to come.

Mia Hunt (Ph.D. student at Royal Holloway)