Category Archives: Research

Literary Geographies

Our third Landscape Surgery of the autumn term discussed the topic of Literary Geographies, with presentations from three of the department’s visiting scholars: Nattie Golubov (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México), Lucrezia Lopez (Universidade de Santiago de Compostela) and Giada Peterle (University of Padua). Each presenter discussed the ways in which their research has engaged with different forms of literature, and what their individual methodologies can contribute to geographical study. This was followed by a panel discussion that grappled more broadly with what encounters between literature and geographical inquiry can achieve.

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Our presenters in discussion during the session

Our first speaker on the day, Nattie Golubov, has been a professor at the Faculty of Philosophy and Literature at UNAM since 1995, having taught widely on English literature, literary and cultural theory. Her research engages in the critical study of a variety of types of American texts, to understand how relationships between diverse groups of people in the US are expressed culturally.

Nattie began by highlighting how academic literature on migration has tended to view the process from perspectives of postcolonialism, diaspora and exile, while focusing disproportionately on the point of departure and the point of arrival. Using Teju Cole’s (2017) book Blind Spot as a point of reference, she explained how literary approaches to the topic of migration can be fruitful for scholarship on this subject, with stories in the form of novels and other texts being able to evoke the translocal (relationships between specific locations within countries, not just between countries); complicate the binaries of nomadic/sedentary and centre/periphery which have characterised existing migration scholarship; and foster critical reflection on the geographies of where texts on migration are written, published, read and translated.

In her current research, Nattie has been examining contemporary US romance literature that tells stories about American soldiers in Afghanistan. What she finds interesting about these texts, she explained, is how the subject matter of the stories is at once heavily geopolitical, yet grounded in the ‘normal’ and everyday. While the locations portrayed by the novels can lead to an awareness of the planetary, this is typically foregrounded by familiar tropes of small-town America and the space of the house/home.

With romance being a very popular genre that is widely read in the US – especially by women – this can render the representations used in the novels problematic, notably through the sometimes shocking language that describes places in the Global South. Nattie gave the example of one location being referred to as the ‘armpit of the world’; while simultaneously the novels perpetuate a fantasy of whiteness and enclosure in these territories.

Nattie’s work is seeking to ask what it is about the ‘normal’ that is so attractive and tenacious in literature. And in turn, what kinds of (geographical) relationships do these novels forge with the reader? Can they produce a new type of sociality around the topic of migration?

Our second presenter was Lucrezia Lopez, whose research explores practices of tourism, heritage and religious expression by investigating how they are represented and interpreted culturally. Her current research, titled in this presentation as ‘The Contemporary Spaces of the Way of St. James’, studies the travel diaries of those sharing their experiences of pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago.

Lucrezia started by outlining how literature, cinema and the internet are contributing to a new spatial discourse of the Camino de Santiago; reinforcing the notion that there are multiple ‘Caminos’ articulated by the different artists and writers who represent it.

Travel diaries in particular are a relatively new method people are using to share their experiences of travelling on the Camino, reflecting a broader turn in the literature towards exploring the internal journeys of pilgrims taking part. Lucrezia identified two trends within the travel diaries’ representations of walking the Camino: neo-romanticism, reflecting the aesthetic value of travel diaries in conveying emotions/feelings and representing an idyllic rural landscape; and neo-realism, reflecting the testimonial value of travel diaries in drawing attention to traffic, waste and issues of sustainability on the Camino.

As for the act of writing itself, Lucrezia has found that a concept of liminality or ‘in-between’ space is expressed through practices of documenting the pilgrimage using travel diaries. The process of writing about the landscape in this way is believed to cultivate a different sense of self; a cathartic, therapeutic and/or spiritual practice that is part of the pilgrimage. However, some of these writers have been exploring this intimacy using alternative forms of representation than just text. Lucrezia referred to the comic book On the Camino by Norwegian artist Jason (2017), and how his use of images portrays the practice of pilgrimage on the Camino using popular visual tropes of the solitary thinking walker, bridges, and rural landscapes.

Ultimately, Lucrezia located three spaces through which the travel diaries operate: the space of the reader, the subjective space of the pilgrim/author, and the physical space of the Camino itself. How the Camino is imagined is a product of the work that varying forms of representation (e.g. comic book versus text) do in these spaces, alongside the personal discourses that are performed through individual practices of writing, reading and walking.

With wider relevance for thinking about methodology within literary geographies, Lucrezia finished by speaking about some of the challenges she has faced while studying travel diaries for her research. Which sources do you choose to consult, which do you leave, and why? Which academic research should be consulted, amongst the wide range of scholarship on the Camino? And could examining this kind of literature for research be a ‘leading’ methodology, privileging the researcher’s own interpretations of the texts?

Our final speaker was Giada Peterle, a post-doctoral research fellow and lecturer whose work is creative and interdisciplinary, bringing a range of narrative forms to her academic study within geography to think about the ways we understand, shape and represent the places we inhabit. Her current project is titled ‘Urban Literary Geographies: Mapping the city through narrative interpretation and creative practice’.

Giada’s presentation started by situating her work within a wider trajectory of creative geographies. She charted how the dialogical exchange between geographical and literary theory, as well as an existing and ongoing reciprocal exchange between place and literature, has been an important influence within the recent creative (re)turn in geography (e.g. Hawkins 2013; Madge, 2014). As well as fostering interdisciplinarity, this scholarship has approached storytelling not just as a form of representation, but as a creative practice to engage with, in which the embodied experiences of academics themselves can inform research.

Giada illustrated how her work has entered the domain of creative practice through Street Geography, a collaborative project between several geographers at the University of Padua with Progetto Giovani (based in the Office of the Municipality of Padua), which aims to encourage dialogue between academic research, art practice, and Padua citizens in an effort to contribute to the conceptualisation and realisation of more meaningful and sustainable cities. Street Geography brought together three geographers and three artists to create three site-specific exhibitions in Padua that question the ways people live in cities, as well as the significance of change, movement and relationships in shared urban spaces.

This presentation concentrated on one of these site-specific exhibitions, A station of stories: moving narrations, which was undertaken in Padua railway station. Giada recounted how the project team wanted this site-specific work to reflect the varied mobilities and stories that the station embodies, as an environment of co-presence and contradictions: between transit and encounter, consumption and dwelling, work and criminality, encounter and exclusion.

This conceptual approach led to an idea of the material space of the station itself being a narrator. Using this tactic in their writing, the team aimed to provoke empathy with the place; challenging anthropocentric understandings of the station by imagining the site telling stories of its own changing environment from a non-human perspective. In turn, the team hoped to enable readers to think about how, when and on what terms different stories of the city are told. This latter objective was especially relevant as most of the station’s spaces are normally used for advertising. How could these spaces be appropriated to encourage people to think critically about the station as a confluence of diverse stories?

The team’s answer was to use the comic book form. As a type of literature that is easy to read and accessible, but also quite mobile in how it is read, using comics took into account the different entry points and directions of movement from which the story could be approached and interpreted in the station. This depth of engagement was facilitated by the comic’s physical presence as a public art exhibition; though the physicality of the comic panels also brought practical challenges. Giada recalled finding all the exhibition panels face down on the ground only the morning after mounting them for display, and consequently having to change the way they were stuck up. The team were also concerned that members of the public writing on the panels might obscure the material shown.

In the end, the physical positioning of the panels in the station successfully engaged diverse audiences of academics, travellers and residents through a series of intentional and accidental encounters with the artwork. Creative geographical approaches such as those adopted in Street Geography, Giada contended, demonstrate how encounters between geography and art can engage wider communities with the discipline, by seeing it as a creative approach towards understanding spaces that incorporates their materialities and affects, as well as the personal experiences of researchers.

The three presentations were followed by a panel discussion, which picked up on points of crossover between Nattie, Lucrezia and Giada’s work.

In a conversation on what the spatial perspective of geography can offer literature, our presenters considered the complex relationship between ‘real’ physical spaces and how they are represented in fiction. They reflected on how geographical approaches and (creative) methodologies that investigate the spaces of readers, writers and publishers, such as Innes Keighren’s work on geographies of the book (e.g. Keighren, 2013), can attend to the ways in which literary representations of space are implicated within the wider social, political and material processes through which different literatures are produced and consumed.

It was also suggested that the themes of mobility and non-linearity within geographical thought can help with understanding how the form of a text interacts with the way its geographies are experienced by the work’s creators and readers. Our presenters concurred that such experiences of literature have become increasingly non-linear, through both the unique and interactive forms of consumption that digital technology enables, as well as postmodernist trends in literature that have sought to think beyond linear constructions of narrative.

Thank you to all three of our presenters for sharing some fascinating insights from their research, and for all they have contributed as visiting scholars to our research community in the Social, Cultural and Historical Geography Research Group during their time at Royal Holloway.

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Lucrezia Lopez, Nattie Golubov and Giada Peterle

Bibliography

Cole, T. (2017) Blind Spot. London: Faber & Faber.

Hawkins, H. (2013) “Geography and art: An expanding field: Site, the body, and practice” Progress in Human Geography 37(1): 52-71.

Jason (2017) On the Camino. Seattle: Fantagraphics.

Keighren, I.M. (2013) Geographies of the book: review and prospect. Geography Compass 7(11): 745-758.

Madge, C. (2014) “On the creative (re)turn to geography: poetry, politics and passion” Area 46(2): 178-185.

Written by Jack Lowe, edited by Megan Harvey and Alice Reynolds

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PhD Studentships in Cultural and Historical Geography

The Department of Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London is delighted to invite suitably qualified candidates with research interests in cultural geography, historical geography, or the GeoHumanities to apply for doctoral funding under the auspices of the AHRC’s technē Doctoral Training Partnership and the ESRC’s South East Network for Social Sciences (SeNSS).*

The Department of Geography has a long-standing reputation in cultural and historical geography and its staff currently take a leading role in a number of the sub-disciplines’ key bodies (e.g., the Historical Geography Research Group and the Social and Cultural Geography Research Group of the RGS-IBG), journals (e.g., cultural geographies, Journal of Historical Geography, and GeoHumanities), and seminar series (e.g., the London Group of Historical Geographers). The Department is also home to the interdisciplinary Centre for the GeoHumanities. The Department has formal partnerships with the University of Neuchâtel (Switzerland) and the University of Padua (Italy), providing the opportunity for PhD students, where appropriate, to undertake exchange visits as part of their studies.

We would welcome enquiries from students interested in working in the following areas:

  • histories of geography; historical geographies of science;
  • history of cartography; the geography of the book;
  • histories of travel, tourism, and pilgrimage; cultures of exploration;
  • heritage, landscape, and memory; collecting and collections; museum geographies;
  • historical geographies of religion and sacred spaces;
  • cultural and historical geographies of the Mediterranean, especially Greece and Cyprus;
  • creative geographies; geographies of art and activism; creative experiments;
  • geographies of air and atmosphere; elemental geographies; sonic geographies;
  • citizen science; geographies of listening; feminist geographies of radio.

Interested candidates are invited to contact the Director of Graduate Studies (Admissions and Recruitment), Dr Innes M. Keighren (Innes.Keighren@rhul.ac.uk) to discuss supervisory possibilities.

Further details about the Department of Geography’s vibrant Social, Cultural and Historical Geography Research Group are available on its homepage: https://intranet.royalholloway.ac.uk/geography/research/researchgroups/schg/home.aspx The Group’s blog, Landscape Surgery, details the activities of our postgraduate researchers: https://landscapesurgery.wordpress.com/

* Applications to SeNSS and technē are governed by specific eligibility criteria (see, respectively, http://senss-dtp.ac.uk/application-faqs/ and http://www.techne.ac.uk/how-to-apply-for-a-techne-ahrc-studentship) and are dependent upon candidates applying successfully for admission to study at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Welcome to Warsaw: 17th ICHG Conference 2018

Stara_Biblioteka,_Warszawa,_Krakowskie_Przedmieście_26_28Warsaw University, Old Library

The triennial International Conference of Historical Geographers is a truly international gathering of scholars whose interests lie at the intersection of the temporal and the spatial.  This year the conference, which attracted participants from 39 countries, was held at the University of Warsaw, Poland, from July 15-20. To give some idea of the scale of ICHG 2018, there were 106 thematic sessions giving 365 papers on subjects ranging from the medieval to the digital, from the Crusades to the Cold War, and from mining to memes.

IMG_0962Institute of History, Polish Academy of Sciences, Market Place, Old Town, Warsaw

The conference was launched on the evening of Sunday July 15 with the keynote address given by our own Felix Driver in the picturesque setting of the Institute of History of the Polish Academy of Sciences, in the Old Town.  Warsaw’s Old Town has itself a remarkable historical geography: first established in the 13th century, much of it was destroyed by bombing in the Second World War and meticulously rebuilt using, wherever possible, the original materials.  Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it can be seen as a symbol both of Polish resilience and nationhood.  Felix spoke on the theme of “Biography and geography: from the margins to the centre,” in which he outlined the advantages of adopting a biographical approach to the writing of historical geography.

The rest of the week took place in the elegant former library building of Warsaw University, an institution which dates from 1816.  There we were generously fed and watered four times a day, and what a difference that can make to overall morale, motivation and energy levels!  A series of daily plenary talks began on Monday July 16 with Karen Morin’s sense- and thought-provoking “Prisoners and Animals: An Historical Carceral Geography,” an exploration of the linkages between human and non-human incarceration spaces and practices.  Another highlight of Day One was the roundtable discussion “Maps and Stories: What does the future look like for historical geographers?” chaired by former Landscape Surgeon David Lambert. From Miles Ogborn’s signal discussion of the limitations of current digital formats deployed in the publication of historical geographies (“Trapped in PDF world”), to Maria Lane’s advocacy of “slow scholarship,” David Bodenhamer’s revelations on the potential of “deep maps,” Jo Norcup’s call for greater intersectionality, and concluded by David Lambert’s consideration of the future for “exhibitionary geographies,” alternative approaches to our disciplinary practice were offered up for further discussion and consideration.

Our Kew session—“Biocultural Collections in Circulation”— took place on the afternoon of the same day.  Chaired by Felix Driver, with Michael Bravo as the discussant, the three papers shared the common themes of Kew Gardens’ collections and object circulation, but beyond that were significantly different in their respective foci: Keith Alcorn began with his analysis of plant and seed circulation from Kew over the extended period from the “Banksian era” to the state-funded Kew of the mid-nineteenth century; Felix and I, reflecting the research conducted in the course of the “Mobile Museum” research project, spoke of the motives, modes and meanings of distributions of objects from Kew’s Museum of Economic Botany in the 19th and 20th centuries; and Luciana Martins concluded the session with reflections on the ethnobotanical collecting practices of explorer Richard Spruce, and on the relevance of his legacy for present-day inhabitants of the Rio Negro region of Brazil.  We are thankful to Michael Bravo for his comments, which we all found helpful for the further development of our papers, and to the audience for their active interest and questions.

Echoing the theme of our session, the following day saw the double session “Mobility and the archive,” chaired by David Beckingham.  And the mobility of knowledge also emerged as a theme in Ruth Craggs’ and Hannah Neate’s session later in the week, “Global Histories of Geography 1930-1990,” in which we were invited to consider the question, “How do we globalise histories of geography?”

POLINPOLIN, Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Warsaw

The programme of talks and papers was intersected mid-week by a day of field trips.  My choice was the Warsaw Jewish History Tour beginning at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, a museum opened in 2013 and curated by Barbara Kirschenblatt-Gimlett.  The museum celebrates 1,000 years of Jewish history in Poland and commemorates the injustices perpetrated on the Jewish community on Polish soil.  I think we all had a greater understanding of both by the day’s end.

After a stimulating week of listening, thinking and talking, the conference ended on the announcement that the next conference, in 2021, will take place in Rio de Janeiro.  Até no Rio!

Caroline Cornish

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Aërography

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Aerography Panel: (left to right) Pete Adey, Gwilym Eades, Sasha Engelmann and Anna Jackman

After a long Easter break, this week was a welcome return to Landscape Surgery’s seminar series. We were welcomed back by a wonderful panel of guest speakers, as Pete Adey (Professor of Geography, RHUL), Anna Jackman (Lecturer in Human Geography, RHUL), Gwilym Eades (Lecturer in Human Geography, RHUL) and Sasha Engelmann (Lecturer in GeoHumanities, RHUL) each presented their work around the theme of aerography.

The session starts with an introduction by Sasha as she briefly explores the definition of aerography. Taken literally, aerogeography means a description of the air. However, when considering the term more deeply,it comes to embrace the whole domain of atmospherics from the flow and counter-flow of the air, the pressures, temperatures, humidities, dust content, electrical charge, as well as their function in relation to living systems. Citing the work of Alexander McAdie (1917) Sasha presents how aerography looks to engage with the multiple textures, nuances, and material resonances of the atmosphere and how by attending to them, we can develop new understandings around the wider energetic politics of the atmosphere. This is particularly poignant because, as Sasha goes onto discuss, geography has for too long been focused on the surface of the earth. She argues increasingly there is a need to attend to the new power geographies of the air. Especially when considering that the atmosphere is more and more beyond our control, as it becomes increasingly populated by drones, aircraft, pollutants, legal regulations, and waves of communication.

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Flow and the City: Adam Badger

 

AB1If a picture really can tell a thousand words, then Edgar Allan Poe’s Man of the Crowd could be depicted in just over three and a half images. Although clearly metaphorical, it does highlight the power of the image in cultural forms and debates. The geographical literature on visual methods is far too big and better written than anything I could pen for me to bother condensing into this small space. So I just won’t.

What follows, is a collection of images captured on one psychogeographical wondering through Brixton, on one dark and wet night a couple of years ago. Obsessed at the time with the notion of ‘flow’ and it’s place in the city, these present a mix of long and short exposure images that hopefully play with the idea of stasis conjured by the photographer – why is it when we take photographs we so often stand still? None of them have names because I don’t want to taint your judgement of the image, of what it is – and also because I’m terrible with names.

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Analogic Spaces, Caves and the Ends of the Earth – Flora Parrott, Rachel Squire and Pete Adey

IMG_3507Photography: Ed Brookes

This week’s landscape surgery explored the world of analogic and subterranean geographies. Hosted by Flora Parrott (TECHNE PhD, RHUL Geography), Rachel Squire (Lecturer in Human Geography at RHUL) and Pete Adey (Professor of Geography RHUL). Split into two parts; Flora presented her work on caves, followed by Rachel and Pete and their research into the subterranean realms of analogic spaces.

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Visiting Academic Interview – Martin Thomas

Our Surgeries have been greatly enriched by our occasional academic visitors. Those that I have had the opportunity to meet have been fascinating people, and yet few of us get the chance to chat to them much. So it occurred to Katy and I that it would be a good idea to interview them for this blog while they’re here. We have developed ten questions and our first volunteer is Martin Thomas from Australian National University – many thanks Martin!

Surgeons and readers may remember that in May, Martin, with Béatrice Bijon, shared Etched in Bone, their documentary film, a work in progress, with us; you can read more about that here.

So, on to our first interview, which I’m sure you’ll find very engaging. Continue reading

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Towards a generic history of geography textbooks

Catechisms, grammars, and readers: towards a generic history of geography textbooks

Innes M. Keighren

 

Introduction

Scholarship in book history and the history of geography has highlighted considerable generic diversity in the evolution of geography’s textbooks, showing their form, content, and purpose to have be shaped variously by pedagogical, political, and moral concerns (Brückner 2006; Marsden 2001; Ploszajska 1999; Sitwell 1993; Withers 2001, 2007). The historical publication of geographical textbooks was shaped too, as it is today, by the commercial interests of publishers; questions of price, format, and audience sat alongside those of intellectual value and practical utility (Clark and Phillips 2014). The historical decisions made by authors and publishers over the appropriate stylistic means and material form by which to present geographical knowledge to an audience of, typically, young readers are important for what they reveal about perceptions of geography’s value and assumptions made about how it might most effectively be communicated. In what follows, I trace briefly the generic development of Anglo-American geography textbooks from their early-modern origins to Continue reading

Speculation and Meaning in the 1980s Swedish Arts World: The Making, Display and Dispersal of the Financier Fredrik Roos’ Art Collection: Jenny Sjöholm

Landscape Surgery’s summer term programme started on 2nd May with a round of news about the varied and fascinating things that Surgeons have been up to over the past few weeks. These involved suitcases, corridors, conferences, placements, submissions, and a fellowship. The one I will give a specific mention to is Ben Murphy’s show at the Architectural Association’s School of Architecture until 27th May, to give you all a chance to see it in the next couple of weeks or so. It sounded like Ben gained some rich experience about dealing with press interviews along the way.

For the main part of afternoon, Jenny Sjöholm, Marie-Sklodowska Curie Fellow with the Department, introduced us to an art collection created by Frederick Roos. This collection was remarkable in many ways as we shall see; but Jenny’s particularly fascinating work has been to trace the collection over its life. This is not an object biography but a collection biography if you will. Continue reading

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10 days that changed geography

128 Piccadilly, home of the Lyceum Club. Taken from "Wonderful London", edited by St. John Adcock (1927–28).

128 Piccadilly, home of the Lyceum Club. Taken from “Wonderful London”, edited by St. John Adcock (1927–28).

For the last ten years I’ve gradually been piecing together the story of ten days in the history of British geography—between the inauguration (on 13 November 1912) of the Geographical Circle of the women-only Lyceum Club and the balloting of the fellowship of the Royal Geographical Society, on 20 November, on the question of women’s entry. The results of this work, drawing on contemporary press coverage and archival sources, have recently been published in The Professional Geographer as part of a special focus section on “Gender and the Histories of Geography”.

I first became aware of the Geographical Circle during my PhD research on the American geographer Ellen Churchill Semple, whose visit to the Lyceum Club in 1912 coincided with the Circle’s inauguration. Among Semple’s papers I encountered a menu card from the luncheon held by the Circle in her honour. It was, I subsequently discovered, one of the very few surviving material traces of the Circle’s existence. Notwithstanding the fact that the Circle was arguably the leading forum for women travellers and geographers during the Edwardian era, it has remained almost entirely invisible in histories of the disciple. The Circle hasn’t so much been written out of the history of British geography; it’s simply never been written in. My paper (the abstract of which follows) is an attempt to rectify that omission.

“A Royal Geographical Society for ladies”: the Lyceum Club and women’s geographical frontiers in Edwardian London

This article reconstructs the history, organization, and campaigning function of the Geographical Circle of the Lyceum Club—a membership group that, under the leadership of Bessie Pullen-Burry (1858–1937), sought to promote and legitimize women’s geographical work in early twentieth-century Britain. Through an examination of archival material and contemporary press coverage, I document the Geographical Circle’s efforts to establish itself as a professional body for women geographers and to lobby for their admission to the Royal Geographical Society. Although considerable scholarly attention has been paid to women geographers’ individual contributions to the discipline, their cooperative, professionalizing endeavors have been comparatively neglected. In tracing the parallel history of the Circle as an example of women’s self-organization, and of Pullen-Burry as an independent campaigner, I argue that a nuanced account of women’s professionalization in geography demands attention to both individual and collective endeavors.

Innes M. Keighren

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