Category Archives: Historical Geography

Collecting Natural Selection: The multi-sensory collecting journeys of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace

by Dr. Janet Owen

The collecting journeys of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace were undertaken to remote parts of the globe. They were, hazardous, multi-sensory journeys of heat and cold, tempest and calm. They were intense physical and mental encounters with alien environments: natural as well as cultural. They involved intense fear and diseases that brought them close to death. Throughout these travails they wrote how it was their zeal to collect natural history which helped them cope and gave them the will to live. For both men these journeys were uniquely memorable and life-changing. My research explores these complex experiences in more detail by focusing on two of the remotest locations on the European nineteenth-century world map: Tierra del Fuego and the Straits of Magellan which Darwin visited in 1832-3 and 1834, and Dorey in New Guinea which Wallace visited in 1858. They are places where both naturalists made rare acquisitions of human cultural artefacts as well as prolific collections of natural history specimens. Collecting specimens from the human and natural worlds provides a rare opportunity to gain a fresh perspective on the drive to collect which Wallace and Darwin embody. That these took place in two environments and cultures that could hardly be more different provides an opportunity to explore concepts of deep mapping and place this in an appropriate sensory framework.

I am currently writing an article for submission to the British Journal for the History of Science about these historical, multi-sensory journeys. As part of my research methodology, I travelled to these past theatres of collecting and captured my own sensory data, which helped me to ask new questions of the historical data left behind by Darwin and Wallace. I plan to prepare an article about these travels in due course, and am working on the idea of a long-term research project which centres on the interactive digital mapping of Darwin and Wallace’s collecting journeys.

 

Film: returning from Cape Horn 9th February 2016, in waters where HMS Beagle sheltered from storms in January 1833

Film: Wulaia Bay 9th February 2016. Where Darwin collected geological specimens, Yaghan body paints and other items for his zoological collection. 

Dr Janet Owen is currently an honorary research fellow in the Geography department at Royal Holloway. With an original background in archaeology and anthropology, she works in the arts/ museum sector and is the author of ‘Darwin’s Apprentice: An Archaeological Biography of John Lubbock’. All film content is author’s own.

CFP: Networks of Knowledge: Communicating Geographical Knowledge in the Long Nineteenth Century

Call for Papers
RGS-IBG Annual International Conference, London, 29 August–1 September 2017.

Lecture Theatre

Networks of Knowledge: Communicating Geographical Knowledge in the Long Nineteenth Century

Sponsored by the Historical Geography Research Group

Convened by: Benjamin Newman, Royal Holloway, University of London & Royal Geographical Society (w. IBG) & Innes M. Keighren, Royal Holloway, University of London.

The long nineteenth century witnessed a spike in the production and dissemination of geographical knowledge—a consequence of imperialism and scientific exploration on the one hand, and of improvements in the technologies of print and visual illustration on the other. Whether in the guise of thrilling accounts of heroic “discovery”, or more mundane records of empirical observation, such geographical knowledge was communicated to growing popular and professional audiences through books, periodicals, illustrated lectures, and exhibitions. The development of geographical societies and disciplinary periodicals during this period facilitated the dissemination of knowledge through institutional networks.

In recent years, historical geographers and historians of science have been concerned with the role of institutional networks in the circulation and consumption of knowledge, and with how local circumstances influence the mobility and reception of ideas (Finnegan, 2016; Keighren, 2010; Ogborn, 2010; Rupke, 1999; Secord, 1999; Withers, 2010). It is in relation to such work that we invite historical geographers and allied scholars to present current research concerned with the dissemination of geographical and related knowledge. We welcome papers that consider, among other things, geography’s nineteenth- and twentieth-century print culture, its performed oral traditions, and the technological advancements that encouraged the spread of knowledge to domestic and international audiences, both lay and specialised. Papers dealing with the role of speech, print, image, and object are particularly welcome.

Please submit abstracts (250 words max) to Ben Newman (benjamin.newman.2010@live.rhul.ac.uk) and Innes Keighren (innes.keighren@rhul.ac.uk), along with a title and author details, by 10 February, 2017.

Geography in Review: Historical Perspectives, Practical Advice.

Governing our scholarly output, the peer review system is a much-discussed component of the academy’s publishing nexus. Following our Easter break, Surgeons reconvened to explore the history of peer review as it manifested itself in the Royal Geographical Society’s Journal, before benefiting greatly from some excellent advice given by staff emerging from their experience as reviewers, editors, and authors.

The historical emergence of peer review and the value of considering the system’s historical development has been demonstrated in some excellent accounts by historians of science. The disparities of peer review’s emergence have been evidenced in the work of Alex Csiszar and Melinda Baldwin. Although Csiszar has dismissed suggestions that peer review began as early as the seventeenth century in the pages of Henry Oldenburg’s Philosophical Transactions, he has evidenced peer review emerging in the nineteenth century throughout London’s burgeoning learned networks and societies. Baldwin complicates the trajectory of peer review’s emergence by demonstrating how the respected scientific journal Nature eschewed a systematic approach to peer review until 1973. As such, the history of peer review is long, contested, and particular to disciplines and publications.

NPG D34914; George Bellas Greenough by Maxim Gauci, printed by  Graf & Soret, after  Eden Upton Eddis

George Greenough by Maxim Gauci.

I understand the term ‘peer review’ itself to be a twentieth-century creature. During the nineteenth century, reviewing, refereeing, and referee were the commonplace terms. George Bellas Greenough—a founding member of the Royal Geographical Society in 1830—is the gentleman whom Csiszar credits with introducing the term ‘referee’ to the scientific community, having done around 1817. Whilst Greenough is known for his work as a geologist, it was in his earlier training as a law student where he had first encountered the term. Throughout the 1820s, learned societies—including the Astronomical Society and Geological Society—had begun to experiment with reports on papers they received.

Given the Royal Geographical Society’s close and intimate relationship with London’s learned societies it is not surprising that reviewing existed in the Society’s publications from its establishment in 1830. The practice of reviewing papers submitted for publication in the Society’s Journal can be conceptualised in two distinct periods: 1830–1850 and 1850–c.1900. Quite how reviewing took place in the first twenty years of the Journal’s history is difficult to establish. Reviewers typically wrote a letter to the editor conveying their thoughts on the manuscript, some reviewers were involved in direct correspondence with authors asking them to answer a series of questions about their manuscript, and, I suspect, other reviews were delivered orally at the Council’s meetings. In this early period having a paper published in the Journal was not simply the product of receiving a favourable review—some manuscripts passed into the pages of the Journal without being subjected to independent evaluation. Even when receiving a favourable review, publication was ultimately decided on by the Council who voted on each paper. Reviewing at this point was largely in the hands of those closest to the Society, often council members themselves.

The arrival of Norton Shaw as Secretary of the Society and Editor of the Journal in late 1849 brought a change to the Society’s reviewing practice. Shaw proposed a so-called ‘referee’s circular’ at the Council’s meeting on 14 January 1850. The minutes of the meeting record that with “some alteration” it was to be printed. Shaw’s circular asked reviewers to evaluate the paper on the basis of four predefined questions that related, variously, to the manuscript’s originality, its potential for publication, its possible abridgement, and whether it should be accompanied by any illustrations. Now each manuscript—whilst still being reviewed by a single fellow of the Society—was subject to the same evaluation criteria. Before sending the circular to the reviewer, Shaw would write the title of the paper and the name of the author on the sheet, and as such any notion of anonymity was largely lost in this closed network of geographers.

Shaw’s circular and the increasingly formalised networks of review at the Society continue into the twentieth century. Here, then, we begin to see the emergence of system which resembles our contemporary practice—this also extends to author’s and editor’s frustrations and anxieties. One referee, George Long, returned his circular complaining that the manuscript that had been sent to him was too long and “had taken up a great deal of his time”. Occasionally authors objected to suggestions or corrections. On return of his manuscript marked with reviewer’s corrections, Robert FitzRoy penned a letter to the editor stating:

Some of your suggestions I have more or less adopted with thanks—but others I not only cannot concur in but should entirely oppose if I thought anyone would interfere in matters of opinion or statement for which I alone am responsible. We look at things through various glasses—& I may have reason for my views which do not occur to another person.

Other referees complained of being overworked or that the refereeing practice was antiquated. In 1845 one anonymous contributor to Wade’s London Review launched an attack on the reviewing system of the Royal Society (a system similar to that of the RGS). The Review saterised the internal reviewing culture of the Royal Society and the process by which papers were communicated and accepted. The critique culminated with a description of the possible fate of a manuscript in the hands of a reviewer:

The paper is referred, of course, to some person of the same class of pursuits, a rival for fame in the same line of inquiry, carrying on a similar course of investigation, meeting perhaps with obstacles which the ‘referred paper’ itself may have successfully removed; possibly, too, intending to make these topics important elements in his own communication to the society. The referee may be a man of integrity in general matters; he may have no personal animosity, no ‘green dragon’ in his eye; he may even soar above all personal feelings, and with a noble disinterestedness give a fair and candid report…On the other hand, he may be a very different person; he may be full of ‘envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness;’ he may, in fact, wish to ‘Burke’ or ‘Bank’ the paper which is submitted to him, and what is there to prevent him? His enemy is in his hands, the darkness of night covers the deed, no record can exist of the part he takes in the matter, and he is overcome by the temptation!

Following on from the discussion of peer review’s historical emergence and its nineteenth-century frustrations (which appear remarkably contemporaneous) we received helpful advice from around the room. Some of the top tips for academic authors included:

  • Before you begin writing think about the focus of your article, where you want to publish, and how the two fit together.

 

  • Keep your submission well within the word limit as it is likely that a revise and resubmit will require you to add words.

 

  • Remember that you do not have to respond to every comment made by reviewers. When you are responding to comments, remember what the core of your paper is to avoid making so many alterations you receive another R & R.

 

  • When first receiving feedback it can be helpful to bullet point the report to unpack the comments. This way you can make notes on the points you have addressed.

Reading

On the history of scientific peer review, see: Alex Csiszar, “Peer Review: Troubled from the Start,” Nature 532, no. 7599 (2016): 306–8.

http://www.nature.com/polopoly_fs/1.19763!/menu/main/topColumns/topLeftColumn/pdf/532306a.pdf

On the history of peer review in the journal Nature: Melinda Baldwin, “Credibility, Peer Review, and Nature 1945–1990,” Notes and Records 69, no.1 (2015): 337–352.

http://rsnr.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/roynotesrec/69/3/337.full.pdf

On contemporary frustrations of peer review as an editor, see: Stuart Elden, “Editorial: The Exchange Economy of Peer Review,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 26, no. 6 (2008): 951–3.

http://epd.sagepub.com/content/26/6/951.short

On the popular press and peer review, see: Elaine Devine, “Why Peer Review Needs a Good Going Over,” The Guardian (UK), October 28, 2015.

http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2015/oct/28/why-peer-review-needs-a-good-going-over?CMP=share_btn_tw.

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

Stress_popunder

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.

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).

Logo

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.

FD

‘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.

Tagged , , , ,

Stealing Geography

Old Bailey

“Old Bailey”. Plate 58 from The Microcosm of London (1808–10).

Whilst historians of geography have devoted considerable attention to the publication and reception of geographical texts, relatively little consideration has been given to the status of these books as commodities—desirable items to be bought or sold, accumulated or exchanged, kept safe or stolen. The Old Bailey Proceedings Online, 1674–1913, a wonderful on-line resource, provides a partial means of examining geography’s books in this last category: “hot” property.

A quick trawl of the database (below) highlights a number of occasions on which geographical books circulated as stolen property. Unsurprisingly for the period covered by the database, the majority of these books were geographical grammars or dictionaries. More interestingly, perhaps, is the evidence that the owners of these books spanned a wider social range, from a Spitalfields market tradesman (William Galloway) to a leading middle-class publisher (Thomas Cadell).

In all cases, however, the trial transcripts reveal the dire straits in which those who had resorted to stealing geographical books found themselves—ill, poverty stricken, unable to support their families. Those found guilty of stealing such works often paid a heavy price; whipping and transportation to a penal colony were not uncommon punishments.

On 4 December 1782 John Lewis, a hairdresser from Saint Domingo [now the Dominican Republic], was accused of stealing an unspecified “Geographical Dictionary”—along with four other books valued at 12 s.—from Mary Brooker. Lewis was found guilty of stealing one book only (the Bible) and punished with whipping.

On 3 June 1789 Richard Manley was accused of stealing seven books (valued at 20 s.) from the leading publisher Thomas Cadell. These books included “Blair’s Geography”—probably John Blair’s The history of the rise and progress of geography (1784). Manley would found guilty and sentenced to transportation for seven years.

On 6 July 1803 Charles Field was accused of stealing three books, including William Guthrie’s A new geographical, historical, and commercial grammar (1770), from the bookseller John Mudie and then selling them to the bookseller George Kindon. Field was found guilty and sentenced to whipping and six month’s detention.

On 3 June 1824 Mary Wood, 30, was accused of stealing four books (valued at 5 s.), including an unspecified “geographical book”, from William Galloway, a potato seller at Spitalfields Market. Wood was found guilty and sentenced to one week’s detention.

On 4 April 1836 Edward Edney (17) and William Edney (18) were accused of pickpocketing two books, including “a catechisms of Geography” valued at 6 d., from a Mr Hotine at the Greenwich fair. Both defendants were found guilty. William Edney was sentenced to three months’ detention.

On 29 January 1838 Charles Cook, 31, was accused of stealing from Sarah Combley a box containing (among much else) 53 books, valued at £1 17 s. The books included “Goldsmith’s Geography”—probably A grammar of general geography (1819). Cook was sentenced to one year’s detention.

Innes M. Keighren

 

RHUL Geographers at the ICHG

 

From 5 to 10 July, London will be host to the 16th International Conference of Historical Geographers. A number of Royal Holloway geographers have been involved in the organisation of the conference, not least Felix Driver, Chair of the Local Organising Committee.  Veronica della Dora and Innes M. Keighren have, additionally, served on the Conference Advisory Group.

Ten geographers from the department—a combination of doctoral students, staff, and Honorary Research Associates—will present papers across a range of different sessions (and take a lead in two of the mid-conference study visits).

Role Session Paper
Arends Bergit Chair Field experiments: collaborative practices in art and environment (2)
Arends Bergit Convenor Field experiments: collaborative practices in art and environment (2)
Arends Bergit Chair Field experiments: collaborative practices in art and environment (1)
Arends Bergit Convenor Field experiments: collaborative practices in art and environment (1)
Awcock Hannah Author Contesting the capital: Historical geographies of protest in London London calling: The Capital as a focus of protest and dissent
Awcock Hannah Convenor Contesting the capital: Historical geographies of protest in London
Bide Bethan Author Materiality and historical geography (1) Unravelling the Fabric of the City: Using Worn Clothing to Narrate London Lives
della Dora Veronica Author Topographies of piety: maps, texts, icons and pilgrimage (2) Topographies of Piety and Optics of Truth: Vasilij Grigorovich Barskij’s Pilgrimages to Mt Athos (1725-1745)
della Dora Veronica Chair Topographies of piety: Maps, texts, icons and pilgrimage (1)
della Dora Veronica Chair Geographies of religion
della Dora Veronica Convenor Topographies of piety: Maps, texts, icons and pilgrimage (1)
della Dora Veronica Convenor Topographies of piety: maps, texts, icons and pilgrimage (2)
Driver Felix Chair The material image: the photographic archive in circulation
Driver Felix Chair Welcome and introduction to the ICHG
Driver Felix Convenor The material image: the photographic archive in circulation
Driver Felix Convenor British Academy geography lecture: Who reads geography or history anymore? The challenge of audience in a digital age
Driver Felix Convenor Welcome and introduction to the ICHG
Driver Felix Chair Making and mobilising collections
Driver Felix Chair Geography and enlightenment
Driver Felix Convenor Business meeting and close of conference
Haines Liz Author Institutional geographies of the photograph: Aesthetics, circulation and affect (2) Pseudo-photogrammetry and the touristic imagination
Haines Liz Author Materiality and historical geography (2) When form becomes content: drawing historical narrative from the paper of paper records
Haines Liz Convenor Institutional geographies of the photograph: Aesthetics, circulation and affect (2)
Haines Liz Convenor Institutional geographies of the photograph: Aesthetics, circulation and affect (1)
Keighren Innes Author Mobility and empire (1) William Macintosh’s Travels: colonial mobility and the circulation of knowledge
Keighren Innes Chair Geographical knowledge and ignorance
Owen Janet Author Making and mobilising collections Fuegian Face-paints and Papuan Wood-carvings: Moments of collecting by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace
Rooney David Author Architectures of hurry: Mobilities and modernity in urban environments (1) Technologies of Segregation on the Streets of East London
Santana Noeme Author Institutional geographies of the photograph: Aesthetics, circulation and affect (1) The S. Pearson & Son Malta Albums: institutional and corporate image(s)
Santana Noeme Author The material image: the photographic archive in circulation Materiality, corporate structure and global business: understanding and contextualising the Pearson photographic archive
Santana Noeme Convenor The material image: the photographic archive in circulation

 

A Week in Leipzig: From censored punk portraits to Johann Sebastian Bach’s motets on Saturday afternoon, 18 April 2015

view from Zweckverband Abfallwirtschaft Westsachsen waste deposit site, April 2015

View from Zweckverband Abfallwirtschaft Westsachsen waste deposit site, April 2015

April 2015

April 2015

I had spent time over the Easter break with the family at my parents’ place in Eastern Frisia on the Dutch-German border (I am German, from the former West). My train ride to Leipzig took me on a journey from West to East starting at Emden via Oldenburg, Bremen, Hannover, Magdeburg, and Halle, to Leipzig in the former German Democratic Republic. Leipzig has been very visibly renovated since the ‘Wende’ in 1989, a term for the reunification that has crept into everyday use but is criticized by some as a flawed term in as much as it implies some form of restoration. For others that time of change is characterized as the Friedliche Revolution (Peaceful Revolution).[i] This study trip afforded me insights into the city’s complex past beyond the recently gilded and contemporary glassy facades.

My doctoral research, provisionally entitled ‘Experimental Fields: Curating Art and Environment Projects in the Age of the Anthropocene’ considers the relationships between humans and the natural environment with particular attention to field and expeditionary practices, to the co-production of knowledge, and to re-enactment.

One of my case studies is the photographic album ‘Kohle unter Magdeborn’ (Coal beneath Magdeborn), 1976, by photographer Nguyen The Thuc (b. 1949 in Nam Dinh, Vietnam). During the time of the German Democratic Republic he documented the environmental and the social impacts of the intensifying coal mining in Espenhain, near Leipzig. The historic village of Magdeborn was only one of many swallowed up by the expanding open-pit brown coal mine, but seemed to have attracted the most attention. Its around 3500 inhabitants were decanted to nearby villages or the newly-built ‘Plattenbauten’, buildings made from prefabricated concrete slabs, on the outskirts of Leipzig. Thuc accompanied this process over a period of a few months, creating a unique documentation of the bulldozed buildings and the displaced life.

The Espenhain surface mine scored deeply into the landscape to unearth the crumbly brown coal between 1937 and 1994 and was closed after having extracted coal to depths of 60 to 100 m. The site was transformed into the Störmthaler See, which began to be flooded in 2003, creating a lake with a sailing and other leisure facilities. The re-cultivated area and its futuristic landscaping was photographed last year by Leipzig-based photographer Christiane Eisler. Both artists, Thuc and Eisler, were educated at the famous Leipzig Academy of Visual Arts or Hochschule for Grafik und Buchkunst (HGB), where they studied photography. My attention was drawn to the Magdeborn project by Thuc and the retake by Eisler through the exhibition ‘Freundschaftsantiqua’, curated by Julia Blume and Heidi Stecker for the Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst, which marked 250 years of the school in 2014. The curatorial proposition was to show works by foreign students at the Academy of Visual Arts Leipzig as a much neglected chapter of international art in the GDR, with a special focus on photography. Interestingly these students often worked on themes that were not officially recognized or were subversive, selecting themes that were taboo in the GDR at the time.[ii]

You can see some works and exhibition installation shots here Freundschaftsantiqua

Thuc documented the people of Magdeborn. A lot of the inhabitants had small holdings, and Thuc recorded details of their everyday lives, their festivities, and their religious celebrations. His photographs became particularly poignant knowing that it was forbidden to talk about the process of ‘decanting’ and the problems of environmental transformation and of pollution. In fact, religious groups in particular started to draw attention to the toxic environments around Leipzig at the time, contributing to the dissidence that led to the change in the late 80s.

Eisler (called Schwenn at the time of her studies) has taken a long-term interest in documenting social environments of marginalized individuals under an oppressive regime and those affected by a changing society. Her portraits of East German punks of the 80s were considered undesirable and were censored. She contributed to the ‘Freundschaftsantiqua’ exhibition with her photographs of defunct sites of labour, the immigrant situation of Leipzig’s Eastern district and by revisiting the former Espenhain site, in whose depths lie the remains of the Magdeborner Heimat (homeland).

Through these photography projects I have started to explore a critique of a utopian societal and economic model. Thuc’s intercultural encounters within the ‘closed society’ of the GDR afford subtle and subversive observations of the dramatic changes in the industrial landscape and the effects on people. I am beginning to explore how Thuc’s transcultural perspective from the 1970s, and Eisler’s existing and commissioned photographs, were reframed through contemporary curating practices.

During my stay, I interviewed one of the exhibition curators, other artists who had photographed the changing landscape, and inhabitants of the extinguished Magdeborn. One day was spent driving and walking the outline of the 1-year old Störmthaler See, which was opened for public use last April. My site-visit started on the Grade 3 waste deposit that now covers part of the former mining site, from which vantage point I could oversee the lake. It was the hottest day of the week when I climbed this ashen mountain of waste.

The GDR in the 1980s was the world’s leading producer of brown coal. The Federal Republic of Germany still ranks among the most significant extractors of the remains of the carboniferous forest, and is engaged in mining sites from West to East. Despite the Energiewende (energy transition) and heavy investments in alternative energies, Germany still relies on coal, the more so since its stepping away from nuclear power following Fukushima. A layered model of an anthropogenic Earth would picture the gaping holes in the land left by coal extraction, a transformed society through energy generation, and an atmosphere laden with CO2 caused by burning coal. How do artists critically represent our hunger for energy? Can we afford to be sentimental about the loss of Heimat as the cost of the energy demands that underpin our standard of living? Does our understanding need the top of a waste heap from which to look down onto the moonscape of a surface pit or the turquoise mirror of a leisure lake?

On my last day in Leipzig I went to the motet in the protestant St. Thomas church, where Johann Sebastian Bach, was cantor. Every Saturday at 15h the motets are sublimely sung, this time with the world-famous St. Thomas boys’ choir. 70 years earlier to the day, the American troops had entered Leipzig in the last throes of the Second World War. Back home in London I had a heated debate with a German friend about which verb to use for the advancing and the retreating armies and the German population caught up in these battles. Were the Germans in Leipzig ‘liberated’ or were they simply ‘defeated’? The pastor speaking from the pulpit in the St. Thomas church related that the Americans were in Leipzig until 1 July 1945. When American troops withdrew as agreed with the Soviet Union, Leipzig was taken over by the Soviet army. During the time of the GDR the official story was that the Soviets had liberated Leipzig, thereby erasing 10 weeks of American rule from history.

I will use the research material gathered during an intense week to trace the layers of the living archive south of Leipzig. The photographic representations and the narratives evolving around these images are my primary sources. The artists’ works appeal to social justice in their portrayal of the individuals within the different states, which is something I will particularly draw out.

I am exploring landscape as a palimpsest of human interventions and the agency of nature. Artists’ representations of environmental change can draw on the fields of economy, science and technology, and culture. In my thesis research I study and trace these through a number of artists’ works including photographer Chrystel Lebas, installation artists Mark Dion and Hu Yun, and painter Daniel Boyd. Their explorations led them to the re-enactment of archives and to working in the field to create their art. The current debates around the geological age of the ‘Anthropocene’ serve as a framework to analyse and interpret these works afresh. I will look at the understanding of time in nature and humans and the complex role humans assume within nature by being passive observers and active agents.

Bergit Arends

2nd year PhD candidate in Geography and Drama, Reid scholar

I would like to thank the Social and Cultural Geography Research Group in the Department of Geography and the Department of Drama at Royal Holloway, University of London for the support of this study trip.


[i] Simon, A, (2014) ‘Wende? Revolution!’, Die Zeit Online, No. 44

[ii] ‘Freundschaftsantiqua. Ausländische Studierende an der Hochschule fὒr Grafik und Buchkunst – ein internationals Kapitel der Kunst in der DDR’ exhibition curated by Julia Blume and Heidi Stecker at the Galerie fὓr Zeitgenössische Kunst Leipzig, 1.2.2014 to 1.6.2014, and accompanying Journal #2, issued by the HGB

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Unreal City: Discovering London through the Archive (by Hannah Awcock and Bethan Bide)

London is a complex, vibrant, and diverse city to study (Source: The Guardian)

London is a complex, vibrant, and diverse city to study (Source: The Guardian)

London is a fascinating city, a buzzing metropolis with an incredibly rich history. It has been the subject of an untold number of academic studies, as well as an almost infinite assortment of films, books, poems, pictures and other cultural products.

 

London is obviously a fantastic city to study. It is the economic, social, political and cultural centre of Britain, and during the heights of the British Empire it served this role for huge swathes of the world. It has a population of over eight million people, who speak over 300 languages. This quantity and diversity of people, organisations and events provides fertile ground for huge numbers of research projects. As well as this, it is almost unrivalled in terms of the archives available for use, and being the focus and inspiration of so much academic and cultural output means that there is a wealth of sources available to study.

 

We are both studying London for our PhD research; Hannah looks at the historical geographies of protest in the city between 1780 and 2010, and Bethan is working on so-called ‘austerity’ fashion in London after the Second World War, in collaboration with the Museum of London. We are also both utilising archival research in our projects. London is a unique area of study for both of us in its own way. In terms of protest,  London’s role as the symbolic and literal centre of British politics makes it a key location of dissent. With regards to fashion, London is known as a world fashion capital, and although the history and origins of this status are contentious, London has long been a centre for fashionable production and consumption.

An archival glimpse of shopping on post-war regent street.

An archival glimpse of shopping on post-war Regent Street.

 

One of the first steps when conducting research to to ensure you have a clear definition of the terms involved in your project. However when it comes to London, that is not an easy thing to do. London means so many things, to so many people, that it is hard to pin down a coherent and concise definition. Is London a city of 8.17 million people, or an area of 611 square miles? Knightsbridge or the East End? London is all of these things, but each research project must decide how it wishes to locate itself amid these different definitions, by means of summary or selection.

 

The richness and diversity of London also pose other challenges to the researcher, particularly when it comes to archival research. Archival sources go through several selection processes; firstly, when the archival institution, curator or individual collector decide which items to keep and preserve, and then secondly when the researcher chooses which materials to use in their research.  As an archivist or collector, how do you choose sources to accurately represent such a varied city as London? As a researcher, which sources best represent that variety within the scope of your research? Is it even possible or indeed desirable to draw meaningful conclusions about ‘London’ as a coherent entity?

 

The possible existence of a London bias should also be considered. Is London researched too much, at the expense of other British cities? If this is the case, do we as researchers have a responsibility to correct this imbalance? Researchers and academics have a great deal of power in terms of representing the people and places that they study, should we therefore try to ensure that each place is represented ‘fairly’?

A poster for the London Calling demonstration about student tuition fees in 2010 (Source: Coalition of Resistance).

A poster for the London Calling demonstration about student tuition fees in 2010 (Source: Coalition of Resistance).

 

As you may have guessed from this post, we have a lot of unanswered questions in relation to this topic. For this reason, we choose not to draw conclusions, but instead leave the topic open for further discussion. Do you consider yourself to be a researcher of London? Was it a deliberate decision or simply a matter of convenience? How do you tackle the challenge of researching something of the sheer immensity of London?

 

Answers on the back of a postcard please (although any thoughts or opinions in the comments would also be very welcome!)

 

Hannah Awcock and Bethan Bide

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