Monthly Archives: November 2012

HGRG Postgraduate one-day Conference and what cultural geography Masters students can take from it

The MA Cultural Geography students ‘networking’ in the pub

Co-authored by Giles Lindon and Hannah Awcock

On the 7th November, 2012, the cultural geography masters students, accompanied by our faithful guide, Innes Keighren , went to the HGRG’s Practicing Historical Geography one day conference for Postgraduates in Hull (oh Hull, City of a thousand dreams- not to mention cream telephone boxes). In this blog, we are going to focus on the two historical geography workshops that took place during the day, and see what themes might be useful for us as masters students.

Sonic Histories and Aural Geographies

Geography has often been critiqued for being a visual discipline; both for a focus on studying the visual, but also what we might call a visual ontology- colonial gazes, the geo-political all seeing view achieved with maps etc. This workshop looked at how we might extend the purview of geographical research into the auditory.
Kevin Milburn discussed his research into how senses of particular places are portrayed in music, and more generally, how certain music and musicians portrayed a sense of ‘urban-ness’. In particular, we looked at Frank Sinatra, and how through certain songs (‘New York New York’ being the most obvious) created a sense of Frank Sinatra and the urban-man, and also how a certain urbanism was mediated through these songs. This brings to the fore how we can use music as a sort of archive to help us more fully understand people’s responses to the urban, as well as developing a more complete understanding of people’s sensory lived worlds.
However, in the discussions at the end of the workshop, we also highlighted limitations of this approach. Namely, by using music as another ‘text’ to be ‘read’, we start coming across the same sorts of problems that have been aimed at, for example, ‘reading’ landscapes. We suggested that we could research the somatic elements of music, or engaging with non-representational theory liminal responses to it.

Loving historical geography

This session looked at how to use our enthusiasm for Geography to engage and transfer knowledge with the public. Dr Hilary Geoghegan (who counts enthusiasm as one of her areas of expertise) used her recent work with the Science Museum on a project to return a switch board to its original community ( ) as a way of introducing the idea of how we can get our research out into the public sphere.
This question of engaging with the general public and sharing findings with non-academics, beyond our (often publicly funded) ivory tower is a goal that is relevant and, in our view, admirable across Geography and beyond. Quite apart from the question of the public benefitting from their investment in us, it ties into more general questions of research only taking things and not giving anything back.
For us masters students, this issue has come up when looking at Participatory Action Research, and also with looking at ‘Sound walks’, particularly with the work of Toby Butler. A sound walk opens up all sorts of possibilities for geographers trying to present information about places in a novel, interactive way.
We split into groups to discuss the relative methods, strengths and challenges of engaging with the public. One of the key factors that came out of our discussion was it is important that the particular public you are trying to engage with knows roughly what they are letting themselves in for. If they are expecting the wrong thing they may be disappointed, or simply may not show up in the first place. This seems to us like a particular challenge for Geographers, as academic geography is so different to public perceptions and the geography taught in schools (the amount of times we’ve been told that what we study is ‘not geography’ testifies to this somewhat). However, sharing our enthusiasm with a similarly enthused ‘public’ sounds like something that would be both enjoyable and beneficial, so it is a challenge worthy of being overcome.

In short, what we learnt was that dialogue with the historical geography tradition, especially from that part of it which is leading research, is highly beneficial. Although the themes we’ve highlighted are probably familiar to many of us, it was really interesting having them discussed with a slightly different emphasis, maybe opening up avenues of thought we hadn’t seen yet.

Scenes from the M.A. Cultural Geography programme

Students "curate" the Queen's Building

In a session today devoted to object biographies, commodities, and agencies, the M.A. Cultural Geography (Research) group turned curators and offered an alternative narration of the Queen’s Building—home to the Department of Geography. Each student chose a site or object in the building which had a particular meaning or significance to them, and described its features and characteristics through an interpretative label. The Queen’s Building thus became, albeit temporarily, the Museum of Cultural Geography—encompassing everything from sociability and the geographies of time to corporeal waste.




Technology, Memory, and Place

I recently wrote a guest post for the blog Cyborgology about technology, memory, and place. It uses a series of images, in which photographs from World War II have been superimposed onto modern-day photographs of the same location, as a jumping-off point to explore the ways in which digital technology can potentially manipulate our sense of place:

A week or two ago, Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse’s ‘Ghosts of History’ project made the rounds online. Using Photoshop, Teeuwisse has blended photographs from World War II with modern day photographs taken of the same location. The images have been reproduced at the Atlantic, the Huffington Post, The Daily Mail, and The Sun, to name a few, and similar projects have been popping at regular intervals for awhile now – here are some different examples – so there’s evidently something compelling about this kind of series.

In an email interview, Teeuwisse tells the Atlantic’s Rebecca J. Rosen that she hopes her particular project will encourage people to “stop and think about history, about the hidden and sometimes forgotten stories of where they live.” About one image (in which World War II soldiers dash across the modern-day Avenue de Paris in Cherbourg; one of the soldiers hangs back, semi-transparent, and he appears to be fading, like a shadow growing dull as clouds pass across the sun, or a mirage) she says: “it to me sort of suggests the idea of someone being left behind, history hanging around and staying.”

The reason these kinds of images are compelling is because they present us with an opportunity to see what’s always there but has been made – by time, by forgetfulness – invisible. Here are (some of) the layers of history made visible again; here’s a kind of manifestation of place-memory; a new way of bridging whatever gap exists between then and now.

The full text is available online here.
Miranda Ward (Ph.D. candidate)