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MA Students at the RGS-IBG

MA Cultural Geography students in the Foyle Reading Room at the RGS-IBG

MA Cultural Geography students in the Foyle Reading Room at the RGS-IBG

On 9 February, the MA Cultural Geography students visited the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) for a series of talks from current PhD researchers (including Peter Martin, Benjamin Newman, and Jane Wess) describing their work with the Society archives. The students also had the chance to work with some primary material: the journals and log books of the Royal Navy commander Foley Charles Prendergast Vereker (1850-1900). In this post, the students offer their thoughts and reflections on Vereker’s material (errors and omissions expected).

Emily Hopkins

After studying two of Vereker’s journals (1870-1872 and 1883-1884), I was struck by the clarity of the watercolour works – so much so, that when photographs appeared in the journal from 1883, I found myself hoping for more hand crafted illustrations. Vereker himself appreciates the beauty of the landscapes he had so carefully represented in his works: he notes in one entry that the Seychelle Islands were compared to the Garden of Eden, whereby ‘naught but humanity is vile’. I began my readings expecting to read purely colonial texts, so was pleasantly surprised to find Vereker and his crew truly appreciating the landscapes and cultures they passed through. Alongside the artworks, the science of geographical expeditions was foregrounded through the common occurrence of coastal surveys, weather readings, and mapping. For me, this highlighted how the geographical discipline has long been a hybrid of the arts and the sciences. It also displayed the continued importance of visual methods in empirical geographical fieldwork, both in the past and present.

Emma Forsyth

Today’s visit to the RGS involved my first experience working with archival materials. The journals of Vereker enabled me to get to grips with the process of an exploring an archive itself, which felt like an investigation requiring me to piece together the tiny pieces of information I could identify. My key observations from the task include how immersive it was flicking through the pages of the journals. The illustrations accompanying the text were the most interesting, as they seemed to tell the story, and gave me a further insight into Vereker’s explorations in the East. I was particularly struck by the use of night and day in many of the painted images, as well as the portrayal of the landscapes he explored. The use of vivid colour and the emphasis on the physical aspects of the environments – the trees, rocks, sand and water – conveyed a sense of being there. Finally, I also found the process of reading to be a slightly intrusive one – as if I was reading somebody’s personal diary. This was not a negative, as I believe this is the nature of archival research, allowing you a deep insight into someone’s personal life and experience. Overall, it has been an experience which has not only introduced me to a new method, but also the environment of the archive.

James Totty

I perused Vereker’s journals and logbooks, and apart from frank admiration at the quality of their preservation at the hands of the Royal Society, I found myself drawn into the narrative world of his crafting. Being 150 years old, the union of scientific survey, artistic impressionism and textual description (frequently and pleasingly juxtaposed on adjacent pages) illustrates the tradition this dual approach to research has within the geographical discipline. Vereker himself strikes me as something of a dilettante, his voyages playing out as he leaps from one ship to the next, circumnavigating the globe under the pretence of surveying, collecting and observing at the behest of her majesty. In truth this romantic imagining is mostly constructed by each journals vivid artwork and erudite, verbose description; perhaps helped along in my own mind by Vereker’s lineage from the exiled Plantagenet dynasty. Surely, the frontiers of the colonial world were a fitting place for such an individual. It is this imperialism that frequently shatter the mythology and re-contextualise his work, whether it be callous and dismissive attitudes towards native peoples, or highly questionable environmental attitudes.

Nina Willment

Never having set foot in an archive before I was unsure of what I would find! I couldn’t believe the vast amount of documents and artefacts that the RGS store, predominantly on site. I was shocked at the beauty of the Vereker journals, the watercolour pictures a work of art onto themselves. I thought that the advent of photography would have rendered these artworks almost redundant but I am so pleased that this was not the case. The images and drawings worked in harmonious conjunction with each other to give a romanticised representation of the vast array of places Vereker and his crew journeyed to and observed. I particularly enjoyed reading the anecdotal narratives that are weaved throughout the journals. Initially I was shocked that exploration based journals could fetch such a hefty sum at auctions.. However, after spending the afternoon in the archives (with many thanks to the RGS, Ben, Jane, Peter and Innes for guiding us through) I began to understand the rationale behind the infatuation that persists and therefore the high price placed on these  these journals in the modern day, as they undoubtedly remain wholly intriguing and exceptionally visually beautiful artefacts.

Sterling MacKinnon

Jogging between between two principle journals (one containing Vereker’s entries from 1873-1877 and the other entries from 1884-1885) I found myself reflecting on the notion of ‘free time’, specifically the time that had afforded Vereker the opportunity to so diligently document his travels in text, watercolour, and eventually photography.  It felt particular significant that the relative scope and size of the journals grow with the increase in his rank.  Beyond what I might speculate about the distribution of ‘downtime’ amongst a crew’s ranks, there seems something generally significant about the time afforded a sailor at any rank while at sea.  As such I found myself viewing and reading through the journals as the product of much prolonged reflection, the opportunity for which, must have been inherently ‘part of the job’.  It left me curious about the tradition of observational journaling within the navy more generally, specifically the manners in which the tradition may have been nurtured and encouraged institutionally.


UPCOMING EVENT. Dream Worlds: Dark Ecologies of Anime.


The first Passengerfilms event for 2017 will take place on Tuesday 31st January at The Book Club in Shoreditch, delving into the world of anime to discuss the theme of dream worlds and ecologies.

Passengerfilms and our panel invite you to join us in the uncovering of mutated ecologies, to further understand the status of reality. This event takes inspiration from the film that is noted as being the beginning of Studio Ghibli: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984). In a post-apocolyptic world, Nausicaä takes on the task of helping her world, which is filled with toxic waste, overgrown fauna and war.


The films selected and our discussion panel will build on this theme, looking at anime shorts to build on and continue the legacy of Nausicaä. The films use a recurrent and geographical theme of landscape to portray alternative worlds to our own – whether they are set in imaginations…

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Workshop: The Artificial Cave

by Flora Parrott
In June 2016 I borrowed the ‘Artificial Cave’ from the British Caving Association as part of an ongoing investigation into exploration of the subterranean. It arrived in a transit van in 5 foot sections made from fibreglass, painted black on the outside and blue within.

The ‘Artificial Cave’

The Landscape Surgery workshop was an attempt to use this method of ‘thinking through making’, something that I talk with Art Students about a lot; an endeavor, no matter how simplistic to generate a physical environment or object that helps to visualise and negotiate a problem.
The groups were each given a short, vivid description from ‘Ice Caves of France and Switzerland’ by G.F Browne (first published in 1865) and asked to make the space described out of a set of resources, including: cardboard, paper, tin foil, newspaper, and various other Blue Peter-esque materials.
The results were energetic and ambitious and after an hour or so we had three ‘caves’ all very different in nature in the room. The materials had been used to represent varied forms, architectures and textures, as well as some fascinating symbolic gestures to forms impossible to make from cardboard and paper. Once the caves were complete, the groups wrote on our paper floor a set of instructions to guide a visitor through the space.

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There were two things that I found particularly interesting about the afternoon; firstly the way in which we respond to a ‘workspace’ and how quickly and dramatically a space and therefore our behaviour within it can be transformed. This was an idea that was also discussed in Cecilie Sachs-Olsen’s session a few weeks before. Whether a space is a presented as a gallery, performance space, lecture theatre or common room can change the uses and dynamics of a space. Secondly, the discussion about the ‘authenticity’ of an experience or thing: whether a reproduction can have an equal but different value to the ‘original’ from which it is drawn. I also like the idea of a text being read as instruction and being conjured into life – uniquely each time.

Flora is a practicing artist and fine art lecturer, currently a Levehulme artist-in-residence at Royal Holloway, and will be commencing her PhD at Royal Holloway in January 2017.

CFP RGS-IBG 2017 – Teaching Mobilities


RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2017: London, 29th August – 1st September 2017

 Convenors: Peter Adey (Royal Holloway, University of London), Justin Spinney (Cardiff University), and Simon Cook (Royal Holloway, University of London).

 CFP – Teaching mobilities: practice, pedagogies, power

Geographers are well attuned to mobilities – everyday mobilities that constitute our social lives, permitting social reproduction and subverting rules and restrictions to reassert people’s rights to public space; international mobilities that speak to the precarity of our current times, from a global migration crisis, war-torn displacement to eviction; mobilities that comprise expressive cultural practices and movements or perform deep-rooted histories of cultural identity.. Mobilities pervade our research and understandings of the world.

But how do we, or could we teach mobilities? Is mobility, as a concept or concrete example, something we can easily convey or does it offer particular difficulties or opportunities for engaging students?  Are the multiple…

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Poppy Lawrence
I returned to the department this term to study MA Cultural Geography having graduated from reading BA Geography at Royal Holloway earlier this year. My undergraduate dissertation involved contemplating the formation of a possible subculture within religious groups, more specifically looking at young creatives who identify as Christians within urban clusters such as London. I hope to focus my research this year upon the evolving nature of sacred space and community, looking at how this could be perceived as redefining the bodily and affectual experience of sacred space.


Emily Hopkins

I completed my undergraduate degree in BSc Geography at Royal Holloway, and now I am starting the MA in Cultural Geography as part of my ESRC 1+3 studentship. My general interest is in creative geographies, ranging from visual and artistic methods, to the planning and functioning of cultural regeneration strategies.

Through a focus on creative gentrification within cities, my research aims to understand urban creativity from an audience perspective in smaller scale sites. I will undertake this in order to understand public perceptions on the artistic and cultural investments that are increasingly popular in city regeneration strategy.

Nina Willment

 Following my undergraduate degree at Royal Holloway, I am now studying for the MA as part of the ESRC 1+3 studentship. My general interests are in the geographies of creative workspaces and the work practices of creative labourers. My research aims to investigate the workspaces and careers of DJ’s and MC’s, particularly in the emerging musical genre of grime across the UK.


Sarah-Jane Pilton

During my three years at Royal Holloway studying for my degree in BA Geography, I discovered my enjoyment for the cultural aspects of the course. I did my undergraduate dissertation on the geographies of women and sport, in relation to performance and the media, which links to my primary research interests of the body, gender and the digital. When it came to thinking about what I was going to do after I graduated I decided that I wasn’t ready to leave the department. I stumbled across the MA Cultural Geography course and after reading through the course content and speaking to lecturers on the course I decided this was the right path for me.


Sterling Mackinnon III

Cultural Geography at Royal Holloway has provided a unique opportunity to synthesise mybackgrounds in both history and GIS. As an undergraduate at the University of Washington (Seattle, WA) I focused on historical notions of European nationhood and in the years following my graduation gravitated towards GIS, spending last year interning with the U.S. National Park Service as a GIS technician. As a cultural geographer I am fascinated by the entree of geospatial technologies, 3D modelling and printing, and virtual and augmented reality into the heritage sector, particularly with regards to ‘at-risk’ built heritage. I am curious as to how an evolving approach to built heritage preservation and restoration will inform and influence the future construction of narratives of place.



LS meets on Tues. 2-4:00pm, BSQ room 1-03 (please, note that due to space constraints, attendance to LS is by invitation only)


4 October Catch Up Meeting

18 October Writing Nature                      Amy Cutler & Lucy Mercer

1 November Publishing Your PhD         Justin Spinney (Cardiff) & Amanda Rogers (Swansea)

15 November Performing Urban Archives       Cecilie Sachs-Olsen

29 November The Artificial Cave          Harriet Hawkins & Flora Parrot [1pm start]

10 January  Finding Natural Selection at the Ends of the Earth: the collecting                                             journeys of  Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace     Janet Owen

24 January Curating a Research Exhibition        Phil Hatfield (BL) et al.

7 February Visual Methods and Visual Communication Eric Laurier (Edinburgh)

21 February  Research Blogs and Social Media Stuart Elden & Mark Carrigan (Warwick)

7 March  AAG Dry Run

Outreach Days Alert The Young To The Excitement of Geography

The Faculty of Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London regularly undertakes outreach work in order to alert the local community and secondary school students about the opportunities within our subject, most notably through the annual Science Festival.

However, over the past two years, there has been an event which is far less known about, but arguably just as important, and has come about due to fusing the two component parts of my own working week. As well as studying on the MA Cultural Geography course part-time, I also work as a primary school teacher two and a half days a week. I wanted to see if it was possible to arrange a relationship between our Geography department at Royal Holloway, and my own primary school within the Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames.

Several discussions with department outreach officer Dr. Simon Blockley in the Autumn  of 2014 were held in order to decide the viability of the plan, and what a day involving the Year Three class of my school (aged 7-8) would look like. As 2015 dawned, the jigsaw puzzle came together and the red tape cleared, and I boarded a train at Richmond Station  complete with 27 children, three parents and a teaching colleague. Once the class got over the apparent hilarity of the name of the station at which they were disembarking (Egham – they’re only young, after all), they boarded the student bus (where conversation turned to how ‘grown up’ they suddenly felt). The initial high point for one and all was the first view of Founders Building. The children knew that I went to university on the days I was not with them, but they didn’t realise that university looked like this…

Upon arriving at the Queen’s Building, Simon Blockley had arranged to give the children a tour of the labs which involved meeting the incomparable Pierre who gave them the opportunity to examine incredible bones, skeletons and other objects which remained topics of constant conversation over the following months at school. One of the integral parts of the day for me (as a student of Geography and a teacher of children) was that the class should be able to spend an hour in a seminar room actually doing some Geography – so that they would get a taste of actually learning the subject at University. I devised a lesson relating to our class topic of Rivers, and with access to some of the department’s OS Maps, the children set about producing colour coded maps of land use around the River Thames in groups. By the end of our session we had produced maps which could then be joined together back at school to produce a huge display of the land use of the Thames from source to sea – it was an epic piece of work which was a major talking point for all who would see it in school over the coming weeks.

Packed lunch in the quadrangle of Founders followed, before we returned back to school. The value of this trip was absolutely immense – the parents made a point of thanking us for arranging this particular visit (something that had never happened before) and some seven months later when the children were composing their review of the year which would go in their end of year school reports, over three quarters of the children mentioned the ‘Royal Holloway Geography Trip’ as the best thing they had done in Year Three. They also referred to wanting to learn Geography at university in ten years time – but only if they could learn it at Royal Holloway!

When I discovered that I would remain in Year Three the following year (2015/16 academic year), I immediately wanted to see if we could reprise the day – and the Geography department were more than happy to oblige. In April 2016, my new batch of 26 seven and eight year olds made the journey to Royal Holloway. Initially they were keen if only “to see what you get up to when you’re not with us”. This time, the taught session focus that I delivered centred around the importance of the River Nile to Ancient Egyptians, and we covered areas such as flood defences, dams and land use once more. Pierre and Simon’s tour of the labs was another high point, and once more, the trip featured prominently in the children’s End of Year School Reports. Another year for me in Year Three in 2016/17 will provide hopes that I can expose a third group of children to the importance of Geography and give them the aspiration to love the subject and want to attend university when they become eighteen years-old – hopefully as Geographers!

Ben Gilby,

MA Cultural Geography (Part-Time)


Upcoming Event: HERITAGE FIGHT — passengerfilms

Join us for an evening of film and discussion in an exploration of protest, conservation and environmental values in our screening of award-winning documentary HERITAGE FIGHT (2012). Directed by Eugénie Dumont, HERITAGE FIGHT follows the citizens and traditional owners (the Goolarabooloo) of lands in a small town in Australia’s last great wilderness. The film documents […]

via Upcoming Event: HERITAGE FIGHT — passengerfilms


Like every year, the last LS meeting of term featured presentations by first-year PhD Surgeons, after which we also had the chance to hear about Patrizia Casadei’s project on fashion cities (Patrizia is a PhD candidate based at the Universities of Trento and Florence and she has been visiting our Department this term). Thanks to all the presenters for sharing their exciting (and very diverse) projects and to all the attendees for their constructive feedback.

Brief abstracts of the presentations follow in chronological order.



Nolli Piranesi 1748 La topografia di Roma

From his ascension to the throne in 1760, until his death 60 years later, King George III unceasingly collected maps, increasing the size of the Royal Collection – dating back to 1660 – to over 50,000 items. In 1823, his son and heir George IV promised the entire King’s library to the nation. Having passed over time into the care of the British Library, the maps and views of the Italian section of what is now known as the King’s Topographical Collection form the rich basis of this project’s focus. The primary goal is to investigate how the mapped representation of Italy affected British travellers’ perception of the land, and to what extent these attitudes changed throughout the Grand Tour years. In light of recent debates about the subjectivity of maps, the project proceeds on the basis that the presences and silences of the maps were able to mould the imaginations of Tourists in certain ways, and as such, iconographic analysis of their visuality is central. Part of the research will look into the written representation of place, situating the position of maps in relation to the Italy expressed through journals, guidebooks and Classical Roman texts, which were so important in seventeenth and eighteenth century education. As well as investigating the geographies of production and collection of cartographic knowledge, the project will explore the material role of maps, both in the embodied interaction with users, and in the representation of maps in other contexts (i.e. in travel diaries, portraits and engravings).



Repton pavilion (2)This research project will examine the way in which colonial plant acquisitions circulated as commodities in Britain during the first half of the 19th century, and will seek to locate plants within the literature on imperial commodity flows, as well as thinking about the ways in which exotic plants transformed the practice and content of horticulture during the 19th century, creating a new audience for `useful science`. This project will examine the mechanisms by which plants were introduced and the professional, trade and personal networks through which plants circulated. The period between 1780 and 1870 saw the largest volume of plant introductions as well as the emergence of a gardening press and a large-scale nursery business with a national reach. This focus will permit an analysis of the evolving circulation of plants as commodities alongside the evolution of imperial connections and domestic demand for gardens and knowledge about botany and horticulture. The research project will explore how plants as imperial commodities became part of the `taken-for-granted` of the British landscape.




The past decades have seen the rapid transformation of social life in Britain. The post-war institutions of the working men’s club and the vernacular local have been supplanted by the emergence of vast corporate PubCos, whose reach has become so extensive it marks every significant settlement in Britain with giants like J D Wetherspoon holding over 950 establishments across the country. Yet this state of affairs has not gone without challenge since the financial crisis. Innovative craft companies like BrewDog have capitalised on broader shifts in the zeitgeist, challenging the monopolisation of the brewing industry and establishing their own competing outlets. Meanwhile, changes to licensing laws in 2003 laid the foundations for the explosion of ‘micro-pubs’ – one room, community centred spaces governed by an ethical creed venerating simplicity, conversation, co-creation and independently produced real ale. My research tracks these phenomena primarily through the politics of design, exploring how shifts at the molecular level of experience intersect with broader dimensions of political and social change. The work is consequently concerned with a return to questions posed by the British New Left in its attention to the cultural dimensions of political hegemony, and aims to make a contemporary contribution to its intellectual legacy.



hattieI trained as a sculptor and for more than 25 years I have explored the relationship of environment and everyday behavior through exhibitions, public art, community projects, urban design schemes. In recent years my focus has been play in public settings and in particular the ways in which children inhabit and create space through playing. My PhD is concerned with geographies of play and the methodological and analytical insights artist’s methods can bring to an understanding of the affective and ambiguous dimensions of playing. Building on my MA study of play in an urban square, in which a dancer, a writer and a painter acted as co-researchers, I plan to investigate play in different public settings, drawing on a variety of creative methods. The challenge is to find ways of opening up informative and reflective spaces for doing and thinking around the on-going, everydayness of play, giving attention to its more-than-representational geographies. The spatial concerns of geography and the work of human geographers interested in how life is lived and performed make this a fruitful source of ideas for thinking about play. I am especially interested in the theoretical areas opened up by non-representational theories, which give attention to the performative and affective nature of being in the world, and in ‘creative geographies’, which bring together multi-disciplinary approaches that challenge assumptions of conventional ways of knowing and representing everyday life.



Image -  Research project on Fashion Cities

The idea of the ‘fashion city’ has received increasing attention as an important element in the promotion of cultural and creative economy, as well as in the future of creative cities. The fashion city has the potential to contribute to the development, growth and regeneration of contemporary urban environments. Over the past few years, local governments, policy-makers and academics across a number of disciplines have been paying increasing attention to this phenomenon. This research project is aimed at contextualising the fashion city within the existing theories of the ‘creative city’, ‘cultural and creative industries’ and ‘cultural and creative economy’. Its main purpose is to contribute to the academic debate on the fashion city definition, in an attempt to identify different ideal types of fashion centres which have developed in the world via a ‘manufacturing’ and ‘symbolic’ perspective. The comparative analysis of the globally acclaimed ‘symbolic-oriented’ fashion capital of London with the ‘manufacturing-oriented’ fashion city of Florence could possibly lead to the definition of different ideal types of fashion centres. This may focus on  the physical manufacturing of garments, the symbolic production of fashion, or on a combination of both. Another goal of this project is to explore how the process of globalization has changed contemporary fashion centers and how the fashion city is likely to change in the future, particularly in terms of its impact on local economic development.