Monthly Archives: April 2013

Four days left on forest Kickstarter!

Ph.D. candidate Amy Cutler shares some of the images from the forthcoming exhibition on forests, memory, and history. A number of Landscape Surgeons will be working on the installation next month.

Write off the map

As there are only four days now left on the Forest Memory exhibition Kickstarter, I thought I would write a quick post about the project. We’re currently budgeting, so it would be lovely if people could keep sharing the Kickstarter at this point, and/or contribute if you haven’t (there are rewards!). For some of the new items we’ve confirmed for the exhibition, we’re navigating some extra fees for reproduction permissions, and also for the transport of certain wood pieces (particularly tricky with a one metre bog yew specimen!). So it will be great to make as mileage as possible in the last moments before the Kickstarter expires, at midnight on Tuesday the 30th April.

Some updates on the exhibition as we start putting everything into place:

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Julian Konczak has confirmed that he will be showcasing some examples from his series of works made as part of his project The Interactive…

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Here I was born … and there I died

Amy Cutler (Ph.D. candidate) discusses the theme of forests and dendrochronology in four film scenes, and also announces some upcoming cinema events run by Landscape Surgery’s Passengerfilms.

Write off the map

Apropos of the Screening Nature Network’s forthcoming weekend symposium and screenings at Whitechapel Gallery (eleven hours of natural history experimental cinema!), I thought I would put up some film related images which I’ve been coming across in my research.

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FILM CLIP: “Here I was born … and there I died”, in Hitchcock’s Vertigo

FILM CLIP: Sequoia tree trunk scene in Chris Marker’s La Jetée

FILM CLIP: Vertigo cinema scene in Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys

I’ve previously mentioned the redwood/ sequoia tree-ring reading scenes in Vertigo (1958) and in Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962), used again as a datum point in Sans Soleil (1983), Twelve Monkeys (1995), and even (at a stretch) in the recurring tree-stump scene in recent time-travel Looper (2012). The “Here I was born … and there I died” gesture – Madeleine (aka Judy) pointing at the concentric rings on the trunk, and pinpointing her birth and death – is…

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Summer 2013 Programme

Screen shot 2013-04-20 at 10.54.17

 Landscape Surgery Summer Session 2013

Unless otherwise indicated the sessions run, as normal from 2-4 in Bedford Square

30th April: The Celebratory one: “100+” Centenary of the entry of Women Fellows to the RGS, speakers include Katie Willis, Katherine Brickell and Innes Keighren. Readings to follow… 

7th May: The Presentation one:  First year PhD presentation day  11-4pm (nb. note time change, we will provide buffet lunch) titles to follow…

21st May: The Research one: Comforting Geographies, led by Laura Price and Danny Mcnally

4th June, TBC….

More informal events will continue over the summer… details to follow, please make suggestions/  plan events.

Also don’t forget the London Group of Historical Geographers seminar programme

Harriet

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Art and science in alliance

by Caroline Cornish

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Ranee Prakash reveals the flower models in the
Bernard Sunley Special Collections Room
at the Natural History Museum

Ranee Prakash, Curator of Seed Plants at the Natural History Museum, brought this amazing object to my attention recently.  It’s not currently on display at the moment, as it doesn’t really fit into the Museum’s current display strategies but is kept with the reference collections.  As a former keeper of botany at the Museum, John Cannon put it: ‘The models are of no scientific significance, but they are superb examples of miniature craftsmanship’.  But Dr. Mark Spencer, Senior Curator in the British and Irish Herbarium at the Museum, has a particular interest in material of this sort, and is keen to promote its historical and cultural value.

These 32 models of potted plants, housed in a wooden and glass case, were crafted in metal alloy in the 1920s by Beatrice Hindley of Chiswick, London.   They are set in plaster of Paris painted to resemble soil.  They were once on display in the Exhibition Gallery at the Museum before it sustained major bomb damage during the Second World War.

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Some of the models in close-up; water-lily (Nymphaeaceae) on the left, carnations (Dianthus sp.) on the right, approximately 5cm high.

Hindley was well-known as a maker of miniature flowers during her life-time.  One customer was Queen Mary who commissioned Hindley to design the garden for the famous dolls’ house originally exhibited at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley 1924-25, and now on display at Windsor Castle.  As she lived close to Kew Gardens, Hindley would study the plants there to ensure that every detail of her models was accurate.

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The Daily Chronicle
24 March 1927

What bigger pictures does all this help to illuminate?  How women made their mark on the scientific landscape in the 19th and early 20th centuries, for one.  And it’s a very interesting example of where art and science meet in the museum.  These are boundary objects – ‘those scientific objects which both inhabit several intersecting social worlds … and satisfy the informational requirements of each of them’.[1]  Nineteenth-century museums were among the first to appropriate display techniques from a variety of spheres, including domestic, pedagogic, craft, and fine-art, to communicate scientific messages and to interest a broad constituency.  But what particularly strikes me about them is their undeniable appeal, the appeal of the miniature, and to some extent, the appeal of past and picturesque display modes.  One of the NHM’s most popular displays, after the animatronic dinosaurs of course, is the 19th century hummingbird case in the birds gallery which is always surrounded by visitors. 

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Hundreds of hummingbirds fill a Victorian display cabinet at the NHM. By permission of the trustees of the Natural History Museum.

Such displays tell us as much about historical aesthetics as they do about former attitudes to collecting and displaying the world.  Museums which have retained some sense of those aesthetics and attitudes – such as the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford – are of renewed interest to twenty-first century museum visitors, as museums of museums.  At a recent seminar hosted by the London Group of Historical Geographers, Nick Thomas of Cambridge University’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology presented details of Pacific Presences – a 5 year project funded by the European Research Council which involves a consortium of European ethnographic museums.  One of the project’s aims is to ‘analyse and compare [European] collecting histories and ask how and why these enterprises resulted in distinctive collections and museums’.  A second is to ‘propose new, powerfully historicised approaches to presentations of Oceanic art, and world cultures generally, appropriate to the European museums of the twenty-first century’.  Let’s hope that the findings of the first of these can be incorporated into the practices of the second, such that past contexts and modes of display and collecting are not lost to future audiences.

Caroline Cornish is an AHRC Cultural Engagement Research Fellow in Royal Holloway’s Social and Cultural Geography research group and is currently conducting research at the Natural History Museum and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew on the theme of ‘Re-enchanting economic botany’.


[1] Star, S. L. & Griesemer, J. R. 1989 ‘Institutional Ecology, “Translations” and Boundary Objects: Amateurs and Professionals in Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907-39’ Social Studies of Science 19 (3): 387-42

Nostalgia Forest

One of our Landscape Surgeons, Amy Cutler (Ph.D. candidate), has published a small poetry book drawn from her research into the historical geography of forests, out today from Oystercatcher Press.

Write off the map

oystercatcher

I am very excited to say my first publication is now available from Oystercatcher Press here.

Amy Cutler      Nostalgia Forest

ISBN: 978-1-905885-59-6    40pp   (£6 inc UK postage – postage elsewhere at cost)

‘Nostalgia Forest’ uses only text drawn from Paul Ricoeur’s Memory, History, Forgetting (2000). The diagrams are all sourced from dendrochronology (tree-ring reading) manuals. Cat-face scars, impact scars, and red-rot infection appear in the catalogue of figures for individual and collective remembrance, alongside a writing-through of Ricoeur’s text on the philosophical misfortunes of memory.

Amy Cutler edits the online series Land Diagrams, and has published poetry with Intercapillary Space, Renscombe Press, Lex-ICON, and The Bee Bole. She is currently completing a PhD in geography called ‘Language disembarked: the coast and the forest in modern British poetry’.

Amy Cutler’s works here are brain scans of arboreal memory, cones of time lapse poetry, fresh, useful, arresting paradoxes delivered direct to…

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The Las Vegas Affect

Welcome to the Desert of the Hyperreal...

Welcome to the Desert of the Hyperreal…

There has been a great deal of scorn poured on Las Vegas from the academy. From its low creative city ranking, its over-reliance on too narrow an industry base and its crippling ecological effects, Sin City has been attacked by urban, economic and environment geographers respectively. Baudrillard (1994: 91) has been equally as disparaging stating that the ‘liquidation’ of the mediated advertising architecture, and the “reabsorption of everything into the surface (whatever signs circulate there)… plunges us into this stupefied, hyperreal euphoria that we would not exchange for anything else, and that is the empty and inescapable form of seduction”. The city that seems to represent nothing but a simulacrum of itself and is awash with rampant hawkish capitalism, is designed in toto to rid you of as much financial, social and personal capital as is possible. Continue reading

Legacies of British Slave Ownership

Legacies of British Slave-ownership

Legacies of British Slave-ownership

 

On Wednesday 27 February 2013, a new searchable database of Slave Ownership was launched, based on records of the £20m compensation paid to slave owners for the loss of their ‘property’, following emancipation in 1833. The database may be accessed at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/

The website launch has had a remarkable impact, with over 70,000 hits in the first two days. It is easy to use and readily searchable (try searching some familiar names and addresses: Bedford Square, Gower Street, Kingston-Upon-Thames…).

At the launch event, which included a lecture by Catherine Hall entitled Towards a new past: the legacies of British Slave-ownership, I was asked to comment on the significance of the project. Below is a summary.

Public histories

This remarkable project raises far-reaching questions about the purposes and functions of history in the public domain. It is an exemplar of a genuinely public history, engaged in public communication and exchange of ideas not as an afterthought but as integral to the business of history-making. Public history, however it is defined, encompasses various varieties of historical knowledge, offical and unofficial, national and local, academic and popular, biographical and family; and, at its best, it enables and encourages dialogue between them.

If the language of ‘public history’ can sometimes have a somewhat impersonal and even bloodless air, this project shows us just how far it can engage with the life experience of individuals and families; and can be very much alive and in the present, of substantial public interest. There are many other words which, historically, have been used to convey that ‘presentness’ of history-making – heritage amongst them – but perhaps after all ‘public history’ is the best term we have to describe what is necessarily an active and a shared project.

The age of enumeration

As a large-scale database project, this is necessarily a team effort. At its core lies the quantitative data originally generated by the process of making compensation to slave-owners deprived of their ‘property’ by emancipation in 1833. The project seeks to situate these financial transactions in multiple contexts – economic, social, geographical, generational – so that networks and flows can be traced across space and time. In the process, it promises to reconnect the body of data with the lived and material realities of slave ownership both in Britain and in the colonies, notably in the Caribbean. This requires the combination of a variety of different kinds of expertise.

The award of £20m in compensation to the owners of slaves represented a huge expenditure of government moneys, and naturally it was carefully accounted for in parliament, with payments to named individuals registered in pounds, shillings and pence. Of course this record enumerates property, not suffering; its very existence depended on a sense of entitlement, not loss. Each slave, whether old or young, man or woman, able-bodied or infirm, had their price, which also varied across the colonies. Alongside the record of compensation, the Commissioners charged with administering the process accounted carefully for their own expenses, including the costs of paper, furniture and provisions, and the wages of their servants. This was after all an accounting exercise, typical of its time – what Bentham might have called the age of enumeration.

If the original process of enumerating the value of slaves required a certain sort of teamwork, evidently the reinterpretation of this data (its form as well as its content) required another. The Legacies of British Slave Ownership project brings together a wide variety of expertise in aspects of finance, law, trade, social, cultural and political history. Turning numbers back into a living history is necessarily a collective effort.

Social science

The first phase of this project was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC); the next phase is co-funded with the AHRC. It is worth highlighting the large-scale and long-term nature of this support, for more than routine reasons. It is funding of this kind, from the public purse, that is enabling an excellent team of historians to work in classically historical ways, bringing their scholarship to bear on questions of importance both to academic researchers and to a much wider community.

At the heart of this project is a fundamental commitment to the idea of the social in social science – to social history, in fact. This is a commitment which consistently underpins the work of Catherine Hall herself, from her co-authored book with Leonore Davidoff on Family Fortunes (1987), focussing on gender and middle class formation in industrializing Britain, to her more recent concerns with culture and empire on a larger stage. Here ‘the social’ is no longer locally or nationally bounded: in a world of connected histories, it is the interdependence of British and colonial histories that really matters. And in this project, we see a very material realization of that concern with connection, from the local to the global.

The enumeration of the value of the property held in the bodies of slaves, a precursor to the payment of large sums of taxpayers’ money in compensation to slave-owners, was an integral part of the process by which slave emancipation came to be approved by the British parliament in 1833. Subsequently, in the retrospective glow of British anti-slavery, the significance of that vast transfer of wealth was lost. Its recovery and transformation into a useable and accessible form of historical evidence today – in the form of this remarkable online database – reminds us that behind ‘our island story’ there are many others, some near at hand and some far distant. Making the data available is a vital step to reconstituting some of the connections that have made our society what it is today.

Felix Driver

31 March 2013