Category Archives: M.A. Cultural Geography

Culture as an expression of ‘National’ Identity in Cornwall

Paulo Freire sees the relationship between a periphery and the state which sees itself as its ruler as being that between the Oppressor and the Oppressed. For Freire, cultural invasion (ie the ‘ruling state’ imposing its own culture on the periphery) is one of the main tools in achieving dominance. “Invaders penetrate the cultural context of another group, in disrespect of the latter’s potentialities; they impose their own view of the world upon those they invade and inhibit the creativity of the invaded by curbing their expression” (1983: p133).

In recent times, indigenous Cornish culture has became a major rallying point for those living in the territory, something which formed an integral part in the Cornish being granted National Minority Status under the Council for Europe’s Framework Convention. This legislation seeks to protect indigenous languages, culture and encourage the national government to recognise this sense of difference and take it into account when considering policy and funding.

But, for all the positivity that was there with the recognition of National Minority Status, Cornwall’s identity on a cultural and linguistic level has not previously received the recognition that it  Continue reading

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Introducing the MA Cultural Geography Students 2015/6

Chloe Asker
PastedGraphic-1Before finding myself at Royal Holloway, I studied human geography at The University of Southampton. Here, I began to cultivate my passion for cultural geography and the more-than-human aspects of the discipline. I completed my undergraduate dissertation on the gendered domestic geographies of dog keeping, and found my interest for nature-cultures and embodiment under the guidance of Dr Emma Roe.

Twitter | Etsy Store


Adam Badger

UntitledI arrived onto the MA cultural geography course having just finished my BA Geography degree at Royal Holloway earlier this year. My primary research interests concern social mobility/justice, the city and (rather differently) the digital world. I believe we now stand at a point where online worlds can interact with the built environment and provide the agency necessary for social change. In my opinion, part of our role as geographers is to research these issues in a democratic way to help towards creating a fairer society.


Ed Brookes

edHaving spent the past two years traveling and working abroad I have returned to the world of academia. I have a previous geographical background graduating from Southampton with a BA in Human Geography. I have developed broad interests in geographies of the home, memory and mobility. I am especially interested in the politics of home and memory spaces, and how individuals navigate the spaces in which they live, previously researching elderly experiences in sheltered accommodation.

Twitter | Blog


Georgina Collins

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 10.57.13I graduated from Royal Holloway in the summer of 2015 with a BSc in Geography. Throughout my undergraduate I became very interested in Historical Geography and the Geographies of Museums and Collections. My undergraduate dissertation involved engaging with objects from the V&A Indian collection to consider the changing attitudes towards displaying India from the Colonial and Indian exhibition 1886 to the present day Nehru gallery. This allowed me to explore the method of object biography; which I wish to investigate further during the Cultural Geography MA using material culture to explore the concept of cultural genocide.


Dan Crawford

557834_4866521881537_879988634_nI completed my undergraduate degree at Royal Holloway this year, and am now studying for the MA as part of an ESRC 1+3 studentship. Broadly I am interested in the relationships between architecture, religion, heritage, landscape and sacred space. My research aims to investigate the ways in which sacred spaces are understood and experienced in the contemporary city, how they undergo material change over different timescales, and how these changes are implicated in wider social and cultural processes.


Jo Howes
unnamedComing to higher education later than most, my journey was via horticultural training and practice, followed by a History degree. My research interests include the Victorian imperial networks of horticultural knowledge and exchange and the spaces that have permitted or restricted this flow of knowledge across gender, class and ethnicity.



Katy Lawn
katyAfter completing my undergraduate degree at Durham University, where I focused on cultural and literary geographies, I have joined Royal Holloway with a general interest in philosophies of living and emotional/psycho-geographies. Through a particular focus on the geographies of work and the workplace, I hope to uncover some of what it means to live a fulfilled life in a contemporary urban setting.


Anthea Zhang 

mmexport1443952928294I am a visiting research student from South China Normal University. I major in geographical information science. And I have strong Interests in Cultural Geography. I focus on the intersection between Cultural Geography and GIS. At the moment my research is concentrating on the everyday practice of migrations in Guangzhou city, China. Using a qualitative GIS method.



Researching non-heterosexual lives

In this blog post, I wish to address the following question: should only non-heterosexuals do non-heterosexual geography? As ridiculous as this question may sound initially, I am regressing here to consider Kim England’s (1994) piece published in the The Professional Geographer where she discussed her own sympathy for the argument that ‘lesbian geographers should do lesbian geography’. 21 years on, I intend here to further comment on this particular argument; one which has since been primarily silent throughout the geographical discipline since England’s initial consideration.

Kim England’s (1994) piece was written during an epoch when the entire process of the making of geography utilizing traditional neopositivist methodologies by social scientists was subjected to considerable scrutiny. Acknowledging the intersubjective realities of social life had resulted in an academic environment where – to use England’s own words – the ‘socially constructed and situated nature of knowledge [was] increasingly commonplace’. At the heart of this realisation was feminism, which critiqued the orderly, binaric and qualitative thinking inherent to the social sciences. England’s piece describes this academic scene in more depth, before then drawing on her own research experiences regarding the lesbian communities of Toronto for further exemplification. Initially conceiving of Toronto’s lesbian communities as mostly self-contained, she employed a lesbian research assistant who she conceived would be able for her to ‘gain entry into the lesbian world’. Regardless of this, this research project is described by England from the outset as having ‘failed’. She notes how one of the reasons for this was that she could not fully understand what it is like for another women to live her life as a lesbian when she herself was straight. Whilst I do not believe she needed to worry that she was ‘colonizing lesbians in some kind of academic neoimperialism’ as she described, her portrayal of her ‘failed’ project does fundamentally speak to the question I posed at the beginning of this post. In inscribing this particular question regarding whether non-heterosexuals should do non-heterosexual geography onto the academic map, in my opinion her supposedly ‘failed’ project was not such a failure! It is here that I return to this question many years on, and its potential resonance given the current state of the discipline of the geographies of sexualities.

21 years on, the discipline has progressed immeasurably. Academics have considered the geographies of non-heterosexual lives in a plethora of public spaces and private spaces: homes, hostels, hotels, parks, landscapes, moorlands, mountains and the outback, to name but a few. To consider England’s ideas in more depth, we can look to the methodologies being used most recently to research the geographies of sexualities. The new methodological turn within this discipline within the last 10 years revolves around either the completion of an ethnography of non-heterosexual life by a non-heterosexual researcher (e.g. Cattan and Vonolo, 2014), or instead the use of an autoethnographically oriented methodology whereby the non-heterosexual researcher becomes both researcher and researched as their own lived experiences become the primary data (e.g. Eichler, 2012). Indeed, arguably one may conceive of this to be a validation of England’s experiences, as in both these cases a non-heterosexual is doing non-heterosexual geography, and incredibly convincingly in both cases! When recording my own experiences autoethnographically as a gay man of rural public spaces for my undergraduate dissertation, I found myself further sympathetic to this argument. I questioned how would someone else be able to conceive of the spatially intricate construction and contestation of my sexual identity throughout the landscape without having experienced a similar sexuality-based marginalization? But then in querying this in such a way, am I arguing that there is some shared sense of spatial experience between all non-heterosexuals?

Ultimately, I hold no specific answer to the initial question regarding whether only non-heterosexuals should do non-heterosexual geography. It seems to pose more questions than it answers in my above reflection. I do however believe this debate should be one more openly discussed in literature regarding the geographies of sexualities. It may seem at times like it becomes a non-academic debate, or one replete with essentialisms, yet I believe we must be open to such a dialogue for the further progression of this research area. As far as I am concerned, a comprehension of reflexivity as a researcher is fundamental to any research project. After all, ‘a researcher is positioned by her/his gender, age, “race”/ethnicity’, sexual identity, all of which may inhibit or enable certain research method insights in the field’ (England, 1994).

Oliver Knight (MA Cultural Geography Student).


Cattan, N. and Vanolo, A. (2014) ‘Gay and lesbian emotional geographies of clubbing: reflections from Paris and Turin’, Gender, Place & Culture, 21(9), pp.1158-1175.

Eichler, M. (2012) Consuming My Way Gay: An Autoethnographic Account of Coming Out as Consumptive Pedagogy’, Sage Open, 2(3).

England, K.V.L. (1994) ‘Getting Personal: Reflexivity, Positionality, and Feminist Research’, The Professional Geographer, 46(1), pp.80-89.


In the archive with Foley Vereker


On 12 February, students from the MA Cultural Geography (Research) visited the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) for a half-day of archival research. The day began with a series of talks from current CDA students (Emily Hayes, Exeter; Natalie Cox, Warwick; and Jane Wess, Edinburgh), before we moved on to view an exhibit of lantern slides and scientific instruments from the society’s collection. The focus of the day’s work was the rich collection of illustrated journals and log books written by the nineteenth-century mariner Foley Vereker (1850-1900). The students were invited to examine Vereker’s journals and to form a response to them–not necessarily to offer a narrative account, but an interpretation of them. What follows is, then, a cultural geographical response to the items in the collection.

Innes M. Keighren



Vereker was an accomplished artist and the drawings and watercolours in his journals evoke the atmosphere of the places he travelled to in a way that his written accounts don’t. This is a picture I drew (using the pencil I was allowed to bring in to the Foyle Reading Room) of Vereker from a photograph of the whole crew aboard the HMS Alert somewhere in the South American waters in 1879.

Alice Ladenburg

The colour and diversity of Vereker’s entries range from precise sketches, graphs, maps and watercolours to evocative scenes in towns and detached descriptions of engagements in violent actions against pirates and an opposing navy. Some of the entries that struck me are those translating his name. He has written, or had others write, his name in Hindo, Persian, Singalese and Abyssinian among others (all spelling as in the original). These, together with his decorative dates, initials and occasional titles are interesting details. I also found some humour in several of the fragments on the backs of relevant newspaper cuttings scattered through the pages. One of which describes how the Prince of Wales went deerstalking in the Ballochbuie Forest but, “owing to the rain, his Royal Highness returned to Abergeldie without firing a shot”. I find the contrast with Vereker’s experiences curiously compelling.

Huw Rowlands

Despite numerous references to his on-board shipmates, there is very little reference to his own wife, who we believe was left behind when he travelled. His briefly mentioned spouse gave him 8 children over 10 years, yet she is left out of the majority of his extensive journalling. We do appreciate these journals have been redrafted after fieldnotes, and, therefore, such emotional writing may have been edited out. Although to him this may have seemed a more academic way of writing, as his audience may not have appreciated this at the time, looking back now, through our cultural and emotional geography-focused eyes, this is clearly a missing element from the journalling. It could have been informative regarding geographies of exploration in relation to geographies of domesticity and home during a time of rapid geographical knowledge expansion.

Oliver Knight & Emma Shenton

From the stories on board the ship we gained greater insights into the atmospheric conditions that were produced whilst on board. Piecing together the fragments of legible writing there were many diary entries that were centred on heightened emotions from the jubilation of spotting sharks to the horror of explosion on the ship . The descriptive nature of the diary entries invited a more imaginative  reading through the piecing together of the fragmented performances and events.

Robbie Sheargold & Thomas Dekeyser

Introducing the MA Cultural Geography students 2014/15

Landscape Surgery has strong links with the MA in Cultural Geography, taught by the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway., University of London. The course teaches a range of cultural geographic ideas and is combined with research training, practice-based courses and is formally recognised by the British research councils. As such, many of the alumni go on to PhDs and successful careers in academia, policy and beyond.

Below, we introduce the current cohort (2014/15), with a summary of their research interests and links to their work.

Thomas Dekeyser
Thomas-Dekeyser-IDI have a theoretical and practical background in media studies and specifically in film making. I am interested in bringing these together with my broad research interest: the urban. This includes (but is not limited to) urban interventions, activist practices and processes of demolition. Related to this, I organise a series of unoffical pre-demolition exhibitions called Last Breath.

Twitter | LastBreath website

Ben Gilby
PhotoI am studying part-time, whilst spending the other half of the week as a primary school teacher in the London Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames. My research interests surround Geographies of Regionality, with a particular focus on Cornish Culture & Identity. I am especially interested in how different regions demonstrate and celebrate their unique culture and how, in some cases this clearly influences the local political, economic and even sporting scene.

Twitter | Blog

Oliver Knight
PhotoForLSBefore starting this MA, I graduated from Royal Holloway with a BA in Geography in Summer 2014. My particular research interests within the discipline of socio-cultural geography are based in the arena of the geographies of sexualities. In particular, I am interested in how our everyday behaviours, experiences and emotions affect the formation of sexual identities both in the private and public spheres of the rural environment. Most recently, I have turned to both psychological and sociological literature regarding queer phenomenology to enrich my approach to this topic.


Alice Ladenburg
Handstand 2013 04 01 13 Drakensberg02As art-school educated (Edinburgh College of Art, 2008), one half of an Art/Science collaboration with Professor Iain Woodhouse (School of Geosciences, Edinburgh University) and initiator of Jambula (an artist-led project raising awareness of deforestation in Malawi) I am interested in exploring the potential value of working as an artist in both academia and development.

Twitter | Website | Red Horizon Art | Why Equals

Huw Rowlands
Coming back to the academic world after 25 years as a project manager in the public, charitable and education sectors is exciting. Things have moved on in the meantime (it would be surprising if it hadn’t!) and the breadth of interest is mind expanding. Much of my work involved some form of applied geography, and it was very diverse, but I always knew I’d be back to study. My route from project management to Royal Holloway has been via leading a samba-reggae drumming band in France, junk percussion workshops for children and Steiner teacher training. I’m still teaching some classes this year, and I currently imagine taking my newly expanded mind and finding valuable applications for learning contexts. This may well include (at least) child development, sense of place and indigenous mapping practices.

Twitter | BlueSkyPoint website | FranceRant blog | BatalaMassif

Robert Sheargold
Before this MA, I finished a BA in Human Geography earlier this year at Aberystwyth University, where I took up an interest in the relationship between physical and digital spaces and how we as everyday people approach these questions.  Since joining RHUL I have taken an interest in ideas of mobilising traditional research methods.


Emma Shenton
unnamedI have a strong interest in gender and in emotional geographies. My interests have developed since the second year of my undergraduate degree where I proposed and carried out research in Malawi, Africa, focusing on women’s access to transport. At the moment my research is concentrating on the geographies of love and belonging and how this is performed through different situations. This work stems from previous work on the home and the emotional and sensual geographies which surround it.

Twitter | Blog

Self Portraits Of A Surgeon – I, Cultural Geographer

ImageFriend: What is it you’re studying?

Me: Cultural geography

Friend: What’s that about?

Me: Well, it’s erm… basically…

It is the ubiquity of this type of conversation that makes me sometimes feel that Landscape Surgery sessions amount to the equivalent of holding an AA meeting in a pub; simultaneously a sympathetic and consoling audience, and dragging you further into the fog.

Indeed, there appears to be a lack of kudos for the cultural geographer. On the one hand, we have the (slightly straw-man-esk) practitioner of a hard natural science or quantitative social science, who are broadly either respectfully bewildered, or sniff and use expressions like ‘it’s a bit fluffy’, ‘yes, but what use is that?’ or, more bluntly, ‘sounds like bollocks’. On the other hand we have someone who works within the humanities/arts/humanity-sympathetic social scientist group, who in my experience often say ‘sounds like bollocks’ if you don’t have much time to explain it, or, interestingly, if you have some time to explain it, often are surprised it sounds like their own discipline. This has actually happened with disciplines as broad as media studies, history, philosophy and architecture. I’m sure you’re thinking what wonderfully diverse friends I have, but this phenomenon speaks to something Mike alludes to; if you can study everything, the worth or utility of any individual thing that you study must be zero. This is an interesting paradox; logically breadth and diversity in study would be, at worst, an asset; at best, a positive virtue.

I realise that, posting this on a cultural geography blog is somewhat preaching to the converted. So rather than what cultural geography’s relationship, through me, to my peers is, what is my own relationship with the discipline? I think, firstly, there is a perhaps symbiotic, perhaps parasitic, aspect. All I ever wanted to do was learn about stuff, happenings: phenomena, facts and philosophy. I chose my A level subjects on the basis of breadth of knowledge I could learn- physics, geography and music; a science, a social science, and a humanity. What I value in cultural geography is that not only do I have the opportunity to learn things, I learn about ways of thinking about things. Thinking on a higher plane. On a very fundamental level, in the process of becoming a cultural geographer, I am also becoming more the person I want to be.

Secondly, then, if the works of cultural geography help me to think in new ways, it is also a literally disciplining set of ideas, in that my mind/body/organ/life-world composite is ethically regimented to the norms of the cultural geographical canon. What are stipulations to have a reciprocal and reflective positioning in an interview if not a call for humility? What are the understandings of multifaceted and contingent narratives of truth if not a source of soul searching? What are understandings of spatial power and politics if not a fundamentally moralising set of discourses? In learning about post-colonialism, poststructuralism, (post)postmodernism, I feel I am either consciously or subconsciously internalising not only the ways of thinking about things, but ways of ethically approaching things as well. Maybe they are one and the same thing, I don’t know. I hasten to emphasise, I see this as a good thing!

Of course, it’s not all gravy. 6 years ‘in’ academia has had an obvious and sometimes distressing impact on my prose, for example. I remember listening to the Reith lectures, recently presented so brilliantly by Grayson Perry. He quoted a bit of writing from an arts magazine that was obviously meant to be pretentious and impenetrable; I found it quite lucid, and now worry that I have lost all sense of what normal language feels like. It’s a real worry, because in my first week at university I remember thinking that anyone who wrote like in that obfuscatory way must be bull-shiting. More generally, there is the ubiquitous but no less disquieting feeling of change being diametrically opposed to authenticity. Now, obviously, as a learnéd post-structural cultural geographer, authenticity is what you make it, basically. Everything started somewhere, what you decide is authentic is just a matter of where you draw the line. I know there is, in fact, no authentically me ‘me’. So, I’m not becoming less authentic, but I am becoming different. I am changing, and it is this that is my third, somewhat ironic, personal connection with cultural geography; it is relevant to the way I live my life. In becoming more sensitive to things like heritage and feelings of place, I am more distant from my own heritage, and the places that I would think of as formative. In developing critical and deconstructive ways of thinking, I often find a feeling of the Fruedian uncanny- that which is familiar and yet also distant. Indeed, it is being able to identify what I read in the literature with what I instinctively engage with to be the most important aspect of cultural geography; it is relevant.

Giles Lindon (M.A. Candidate)

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MA Cultural Geography (research) presentations 29th May (pm)

Everyone is welcome to come and support the MA students in their research presentationsImage

MA Cultural Geography (research)

Dissertation presentations 2013

29th May 2013

2pm- 5.30pm


 2.00 -2.15 pm :  Welcome

2.15- 2.45 pm : “Enriching the Geographies of Social Movements: What follows the “anti-brainwashing” protests in Hong Kong?”  Timmy Lee

2.45- 3.15 pm :  “The Cultural and Historical Geographies of the Gordon Riots” Hannah Awcock

3.15-3.30 pm :  Break

3.30-4.00 pm : “The Runnymede Air Forces Memorial: Landscape, Memorialisation and Modernity” Howard Browelow

4.00-4.30 pm : “Imagining the Underground: Visualising the London Underground in the Poster Art 150 Exhibition” Amy Zang

4.30-5.00 pm : “Image of the Body, Body of the Image: Photography, Corporeality and Bodies” Victoria Stalker

5.00-5.30 pm : “Networked Homes: The augmented realities of everyday domestic practice” Mike Duggan

6pm Depart Lobby for pub



Cultural Geographers at the White Cube

Outside the White Cube, Bermondsey

Outside the White Cube, Bermondsey

On Friday, 7 December a group of MA Cultural Geographers, together with Creative Writers, PhD students and staff gathered at the White Cube Gallery in Bermondsey to visit the recently opened Antony Gormley Exhibition “Model”.

Thinking about questions of the body, affect, architecture and space the group examined the exhibition’s collection of working models from Gormley’s past and present work, as well as new and recently made sculptural works installed in the gallery’s central corridor.

The centre piece of the exhibition was the huge room-size installation “Model.” “Model,” rendered in 100 tonnes of weathered sheet-steel developed Gormley’s long running exploration of the human body and space in the form of an installation the audience can enter. Described as part sculpture-part building we entered ‘Model” through a ‘foot,’ walking and crawling through the interlinked spaces and feeling our way through the darkened chambers. Whilst many of us explored the space by way of feeling its edges or stepping blindly into the dark and hoping for the best, Giles extended his bodily capacities by using his umbrella as a prosthesis (!). Extending it up and to the side he felt for ceiling and walls, and used it to create vibrations and knocking against the walls, explored the spaces as echo chambers, using sound as a means to determine dimensions that could not be seen in the dark.


After the exhibition, the group went for lunch, and then wandered along the embankment.


Cultural Geographers at large in London

Geographers at the Shard

Geographers at the Shard


M.A. Cultural Geographers at the Royal Geographical Society

M.A. Cultural Geography students at the RGS

M.A. Cultural Geography students at the Royal Geographical Soceity

On 6 December, students from the M.A. Cultural Geography programme visited the Royal Geographical Society to explore its archival collections. The day began with presentations from two of the Society’s current Collaborative Doctoral Award holders—Sarah Evans (University of the West of England) and Emily Hayes (University of Exeter)—who spoke wonderfully on their experiences of archival research and working with primary and secondary material at the RGS.

The group was given a behind-the-scenes tour of the special collection and artefact climate-controlled storeroom—seeing, among other treasures, an 1482 Ulm edition of Ptolemy’s Cosmographia (once owned by William Morris), Henry Morton Stanley’s boots, and bags of food recovered from the tent in which Robert Falcon Scott died.

The students were working with a collection of material relating to the permanent admission of women Fellows to the Society in 1913. Here follows their report (errors and omissions expected):

The number of members of the Royal Geographical Society in 1892-3 was 166: “144 male Fellows, 22 Ladies”. There were 3 key dates in this period that laid the foundations for this change. On 28 November 1892, Admiral Inglefield proposed the motion that it was impossible to exclude all women from the RGS as it would be against the Charter on which the Society was based. February 1893 was another key date in the process, as it saw Admiral Cave convert from being opposed to being in favour of admitting women, based on the recommendations of Inglefield. On 24 April 1893, a Special General Meeting was held to discuss the limited proposals put forward by Inglefield and backed by Webster and Sutton. The conclusion of this meeting was that women were to be admitted as Honorary Fellows, restricted to duties of membership rather than duties of office.

Legal advice sought from Stuart Moore QC and Richard Webster QC in April 1893 concluded “Neither the Fellows in the General Meeting nor the Council have any power to elect ladies as Fellows or making regulations for such elections”. In response to this, Douglas Freshfield wrote “We lead it shall be lawful for the Fellows of the said body politic and corporate to meet amongst other things for the admission of Fellows and the honorary and foreign members”.

This decision to admit 15 women Fellows, and then another 7 two weeks later was met with consternation by several male Fellows of the RGS, including Fred Pollock, Mr Webster and Leopold M’Clintock. M’Clintock said, in an address to the president of the council, “I think that although the admission of ladies might make the society more or less enjoyable and pleasant, I do not think it would intensify the geographical character of it”. Their objection was grounded in the fact that the Charter referred explicitly to men and thus electing women was a change which needed to be ratified in a General Meeting.

As the twentieth century progressed, the Society received an increasing number of requests to allow women to become Fellows. Women such as Charlotte Raffalovich, author of ‘Via Rhodesia’ were keen to stress they were “sincere traveller[s] and not merely pleasure loving tourist[s]”. She expressed her “grief and indignation” in 1911 that she was not allowed to join. Around 1912, there was also the issue of the Society moving to new premises in South Kensington, which made increased accommodation available, and forced the President of the Society to propose a motion to allow female Fellows at a General Meeting. After months of discussion, a referendum was held, in which 2088 Fellows voted to allow female Fellows, while only 675 voted against it, finally making ladies eligible to become Fellows. March 2013 will mark the centenary of this important vote.


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.