MA students visit the RGS-IBG

MA students in the archive

On 5 February, the MA Cultural Geography (Research) students were introduced to the holdings of the RGS-IBG. Following a series of talks from current (and recent) CDA researchers, the students spent time investigating the journals and logbooks of Foley Vereker. In what follows, the students offer their reflections on their experience.

To me, the most striking element of Vereker’s journal from October 1878 to January 1880 was quite how visual the content was. The Journal of his 18-month cruise around South Americas had around 154 watercolour paintings, over 40 photographs and 6 pages of dried flowers and leaves. The journal also has diary logs giving it something of a ‘scrapbook’ feel, memorialising his trip and giving the work a historic and nostalgic quality. Below are six images that capture something of the visual richness of the source.

By Verity Bell

At first glance, the log book seems irrelevant to contemporary modes of travel logging, particularly with the explosion of travel blogging, Instagramming, and Facebook locations that have become incredibly prevalent of late. However, after a closer look, our inner cultural geographers spotted that these new technologies aren’t too distant from Vereker’s practices of logging. From detailed visual representations of the sublime, to intricate cartographies of canal depths, Vereker relies upon documenting his experience solely through the visual. In an attempt to update this method we began to think about how a cultural geographical approach could utilise modern technologies to produce a sensory 2018 version of the log book. Google Maps, for instance, has the ability to transport you across the globe without leaving your seat, just as Vereker’s log books do within the archive. Equally, panoramic cameras capture the sublime beauty of the landscape in a single click and video can record sounds unfathomable in paintings and maps. By updating the source, is it possible that we can enrich the existing wealth of data by engaging with all of our senses, not just the visual?

By Megan and Elodie

Vereker himself becomes engrossed with artistic and whimsical descriptions, curating his journal like a children’s storybook. As the letter on page 56. shows he cared little for the truth (fake news?) completely misreporting details an eruption on the Filipino island of Camiguin according to ‘Illustrated London News’. He seems to be striving for an image of the archetypal masculine explorer, simultaneously liked by all but in complete control of the narrative. His beautiful paintings that accompany the journal seem to capture idealised versions of ‘exotic’ places, depicting landscaped vistas, bringing into question the accuracy of his own observations. At the same time, parallels can be drawn between Vereker’s prioritising of the affective and contemporary approaches in cultural geography which also attempt to get at and drum up the affective, albeit with very different apprehensions of positionality, situated knowledge, and constructions of scientific knowledge and objectivity.

By Anna and Carwyn

Building on Innes’ lecture on Close’s controversial address at the RGS in 1911, we decided to speculate on the value of the visual material in Vereker’s Journals. On the one hand are the lithograph maps that were printed on arrival back in England. Created from the data points recorded in the log books, these maps epitomise the quantitative and objective research indisputably valued as scientific. In contrast are the landscape watercolour paintings that were done on site; capturing a subjective response to a landscape in a moment in time. In many respects, the aerial views of the maps may have been seen as holding more ‘value’ in comparison to the supporting visual cues of the paintings; a debate still pertinent today.

By Katie and Will

Included in the 1883 – 1884 Journal, here Vereker first uses photography to aid his documentation of expeditions covering South East Asia. The depictions of landscape in his attempts of using photography differ greatly to his romanticised watercolours, and a sense of depth of emotion is lost with the use of photographic images. Pastoral scenes engaged with indigenous representation, seem to only be used to allude to scale. His watercolours lack any engagement with people themselves or collective cultural identity – which is not his focus on ethnographic art – thankfully. The watercolours do include aspects of local dress that pertain to place making. The portraiture photography later becomes apparent as a tool with which to capture more speculative encounters, rather than depicting landscapes – which photography failed to function as much as his paintings. This veering towards portraiture allows subtle revelations, sub text and hidden unspoken narratives surrounding the relationships and interactions between indigenous rulers/peoples with European powerful elite, to be excavated. This is evident in the photograph of the Sultana and Sultanate of Sulu (Phillipinnes) and the Kettlewells (below).

By Raisa

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