Using comics to communicate research to a research audience

eric-laurier-2This landscape surgery session, under the general theme of ‘Visual methods and visual communication’, featured Dr Eric Laurier Reader in Geography and Interaction at Edinburgh University, who introduced us to his broader development of visual methods and more specifically ‘Using comics to communicate research to a research audience’.

Eric has been a pioneer in research on everyday practices and in ethnomethodological developments in the social sciences, particularly known for his use of video technologies and methods. This session was based on a project, organised by Shari Sabeti at Edinburgh bringing researchers from different disciplines including education, English literature, anthropology and sociology to work with a comic artist, Simon Grennan. We started by sharing the experience of Eric and his colleagues as they engaged for the first time with the comic form, using Sharpies and paper to try and communicate aspects of our research. In what could become a new hashtag trend, #heardatlandscapesurgery, the experience evidently triggered some uncomfortable memories for some: “this is stressful,” “painful,” “surprisingly stressful,” “oh no!”

Demonstrating great perseverance in the face of this stress, everyone produced something and Eric considered that the results showed pretty advanced skills and techniques, such as the use of perspective and representation of time, interspersed with a good peppering of familiar stick people. You can see for yourself in the gallery of examples below.

Eric and his colleagues followed up these beginnings with more in-depth work such as exploring the work of four comic artists, focusing on details such as the use of colour, and transitions from one frame to the next for example.

In the next part of his talk, Eric introduced us to some aspects of the relationship between comics and human geography. Much work has been done about comics rather than using comics. Examples include examining geopolitics (for example, Klaus Dodds on Steve Bell’s cartoons of the Falklands war); the representation of place; the production, circulation and consumption of comics, and practices of reading comics. The only article written as a comic, as far as we know, is by Wilson and Jacot in Geographical Review. One PhD thesis has been submitted in comic form, Unflattening by Nick Sousanis, at Columbia University, published by Harvard University Press.

Much of the relationship between comics and human geography has been as a communicative enterprise. Here Eric was keen to point out the baggage of comics in the British cultural context. This carries an assumption that comics are a way of simplifying research complexity and therefore mainly a means of communicating with a public beyond the academy. Eric’s approach, on the other hand, is very much focused on exploring the role of the comic form in communicating research to a research audience. In this respect, publishers such as Taylor and Francis have created comics of abstracts, although the excessively colourful style makes them harder to read than the abstracts themselves. This style perhaps also reflects the British cultural baggage of comics, both with the authors and the readers, which contrasts particularly with the French cultural context, where, for example, it is easy to find Proust in comic form.

A further aspect of the relationship between comics and human geography is to be found in examples of documentary or factual research. Joe Sacco’s ‘Palestine uses comics to communicate his research through extended interviews. He produces drawings based on his field photographs, but notably brings himself into the frame; the style is busy and contains dense blocks of text. Joe’s style contrasts with Chester Brown’s work on Quebecois Louis Riel which has much simpler images, which he extends and links to his sources in extensive endnotes. Among other examples, Eric cited Steffan Kverneland’s ‘Munch, which conveys a polyphony of voices through the use of different visual styles alongside each other. How do people work with the comic form in practice? As a way of answering this, Eric took us through Art Spiegelman’s Maus, and illustrated the methods in applying the comic form that are revealed in his notebooks. The book is based on Art’s interviews with his father, and his notebooks show through juxtaposition how he substantially reduced the transcripts to speech bubbles laid out in panels; the drawings were added once this had been done.

We then moved on to look at how time is dealt with in the comic form, following Scott McCloud’s work on comics as sequential art. We looked at the example of conveying the duration of pauses. This can be shown through one or more panels with no speech, through a single but wider panel, or through the content of the panel, where rain can convey an endless quality or experience. There are critics of the idea of comics as sequential art; Marcus Doel and Chris Ware to name two. Ware describes comics as ‘a jigsaw where the puzzle does not quite fit together’ (2003a). Simon Grennan, the comic artist that Eric and his colleagues worked with, has criticised Ware’s work in turn, describing it as more like diagrams than comics. A particularly fascinating example of duration can be found in Richard McGuire’s ‘Here. McGuire presents the same space from the same perspective but has multiple points in time, including geological time, within the frame.

Eric rounded off this part of his talk with a look at narrative and perspective in the comic form, citing Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic and Simon Grennan’s ‘Dispossession. Bechdel’s work uses a complex stance including the subjective, with her narrative voice running over the top of the story. Grennan’s work creates Trollope’s narrator’s perspective in an adaptation that pairs comic and other text. Eric drew our attention to Grennan’s illustrations from the perspectives of different characters, supported by the strong use of colour.

In the next section, Eric took us on his particular journey through the comic form, starting from the challenges he faces in communicating transcripts. With illustrations of the Jefferson transcription system in examples from Schegloff’s data of phone calls and Mondada’s multimodal work on mobility and talk, showing how they work as a complementary literary pairing, the complexity for the reader of following what’s going on was made very clear. This was the basis of Eric’s clear attraction for using graphic transcripts in comic form. So what are the main elements of comic form? Bubbles convey speech, captions convey non-verbal action, frames convey sequential events and their form, visual content conveys dynamics, social and spatial relationships and duration, and different points of view convey different spatial and personal perspectives. All of these can be used to create a much more accessible and straightforward way of communicating transcripts. The advantages of the comic form were explored in the project’s workshops, with experimental hybrids being tried through various iterations.

An interesting point that Eric raised was how this application still left the argument, an essential if not the essential element of communicating academic research, outside the comic elements. The comic form was used to convey transcript information, but not to advance the argument itself. Comic content remains a form of illustration to complement text. The challenge then is to bring the argument within the comic form, so that it embraces the research as a whole. Eric concluded with three illustrations of experiments started with Tim Smith’s work on street performances, (see photo), in which an event is ‘read’ from two perspectives, starting from the top left and bottom right, and moving into the middle of the page. A further example was in Eric’s digital poster comic, with short sequences of moving images (rather like gifs) and fixed speech bubbles. A final example was in the form of a flip-book hybrid, offering temporality in a fixed text format.

A lively discussion followed, which covered questions about the baggage of the comic form in a British cultural context; whether this work has changed Eric’s writing and editing practices; and applications in other disciplines such as architecture. One key advantage of the comic form that came out of a question on Eric’s experimental video and speech bubble experiment was the particular reading practice that the comic form offers over video. Here the reader can backtrack through the piece in a way that is easier than video rewind/replay.

There was a brief discussion about the focus in the talk on temporality compared with spatiality. The form also seems to offer up significant opportunities to explore ways of considering space. For example showing different spaces simultaneously, using different visual forms like maps and diagrams, and working beyond the frame to the page as a whole. Eric referred us particularly to the changing perspective in Simon Grennan’s ‘Dispossession as a significant way that the comic form can engage with its spatial opportunities, but also reiterated Grennan’s criticism of Chris ware’s work as not being comic. He mentioned Matt Madden’s experimental graphic work ’99 ways to tell a story’. While we didn’t explore this issue further, it strikes me that there is much to unpack here. Does the circumscription of the comic form limit the opportunities for communicating research? Is it more important to embrace the conventions of the form that give it coherence and structure?

We considered the pressure that researchers might feel in using a particular medium, comparing their use of it to its professional practitioners. Whether this is the comic form, film and video production or drawing, the value in using the medium does not depend on how it compares with the best in the business: we are researchers, not comic artists or film directors. This part of the discussion was reminiscent of the point made on research exhibitions last month – bringing up again the tensions between the medium as process and as product in a research context. We can perhaps forgive standards of academic writing that do not always match those of the ideas they communicate, although this is not everyone’s view. How do we, or will we, respond to amateur quality in other media despite its contribution as research method and/or form of communication? This discussion moved on to consideration of drawing, which has particular capacities for understanding in drawer and viewer. The advantage of the comic form in communicating research to a research audience is that it is more compatible with the sequential construction and communication of an argument, which, as we have noted, seems to be the main point.

You can find out more about Eric and his work at http://www.ericlaurier.co.uk and the comics and research communication project he has been part of with Edinburgh School of Art, at https://sites.eca.ed.ac.uk/comicpraxis/.

Katy and Huw

Photo gallery of surgeons’ comics (photography by Huw):

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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.

 

Introducing New PhD Students 2016/17

 

 

Adam BadgerScreen Shot 2017-01-06 at 18.08.55.png

Space, Freedom and Control in the Digital Workplace

Having undertaken both BA Geography and MA Cultural Geography at Royal Holloway, I am delighted to return to the department for PhD study. This time, however, with a twist! As a Leverhulme Trust Magna Carta Scholarship funded candidate I have been given the opportunity to work in a wholly interdisciplinary capacity between the schools of Geography and Management. With my supervisory team – Prof. Phil Crang (Geog) and Prof. Gillian Symons (SoM) – I will be investigating the contemporary digital workplace through a range of analytical lenses. Of particular interest currently are the themes of ‘surveillance, display, and (de)territorialisation’, in addition to the development of methodological toolkits geared toward today’s changing work environments. In this race – both with and against Moore’s law – this line of study will hopefully generate exciting research into digital workplaces and, in addition, build bridges between the disciplines of Geography and Management.

 

Ed Brookes Screen Shot 2017-01-30 at 20.24.59.png

Excavating the contemporary urban geographies of Robin Hood Gardens, London

Before joining the Royal Holloway family I studied at the University of Southampton, graduating in 2013 with a BA in human geography. With a brief interlude for various jobs and travel excursions it wasn’t until 2015 when I returned to academia, enrolling in the MA Cultural Geography course at Royal Holloway. It was during this time, and with great help from the Geography Department, that I managed to secure a PhD with funding by the ESRC. With a start date of September 2017, the PhD (supervised by Dr. Oli Mould and Prof. David Gilbert) aims to explore the social and cultural urban geographies of the Robin Hood Gardens housing estate in East London. More specifically it will focus on how the present-day site, and its on-going political contestation, is continually ‘produced’ by historical and layered assemblages of materiality, culture and urban politics.

In terms of my wider research foci I am particularly interested in the geographies of home, geographies of architecture and concepts of liminality. With a particular fascination with how individuals create and navigate the spaces in which they live as well as how intimate and ‘everyday’ architectural spaces are linked to a wider urban politics. Looking beyond my academic interests, I fill my time with manufacturing unhealthy baked goods and consuming large amounts of dystopian science fiction.

 

Daniel Crawford

dan

 

(Dis)Assembling the Sacred

 

I’ve been a student in the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway since 2012, completing a BA in Geography and MA in Cultural Geography during that time. Funded by an ESRC 1+3 studentship, my PhD aims to investigate how meanings and experiences of sacred spaces are influenced by processes of material change. Within the ‘infrasecular’ present such processes are pervasive, as the relationships between communities and individuals, belief, non-belief and alternative forms of spirituality become increasingly complex, and, in parallel, sacred spaces are transformed and repurposed, made and unmade, neglected and conserved. I am interested in exploring these shifts with reference to various religious and non-religious understandings of the ‘sacred’ itself, many of which offer compelling and provocative ways of thinking about its geographies (architectural, natural, bodily, textual). These inform my current theoretical work looking at how and where silence, nonsense (and non-sense), emptiness and other negative projections of the unknowable might exert themselves. Finding suitable case studies and methodologies to clarify and focus these concerns will be my next step.

 

Katy Lawn picture1

Affective geographies of the contemporary British workplace: lifeworlds, biopolitics and precarity

I completed my undergraduate degree at Durham University, where I focused on cultural and literary geographies through a comparative study of Jack Kerouac novels and the philosophy of the (then) recently translated You Must Change Your Life by Peter Sloterdijk. After completing my undergraduate degree in 2013, I worked in a large publishing house for a year – which meant I got to meet David Starkey (very briefly). But the call of the academy was still too strong… and I returned to complete my MA at Royal Holloway in 2016 with a sustained interest in philosophies of living and emotional geographies. My PhD  work – supervised by Prof. Phil Crang and Dr. Oli Mould – will carry this interest through with a particular focus on the geographies of work, and within that, the role of affect and emotion in the workplace. I also have an interest in creative methods in social research – for example poetic ethnography and visual methods. When I am not reading critical management theory, I also like to paint, draw, and go to spoken word poetry events.

 

Flora Parrott

Swallow hole: the pursuit of darkness and uncertaintyparrott

 

I studied Fine Art at The Michaelis School of Art in Cape Town, The Glasgow School of Art and the Royal College of Art graduating with a Masters in Printmaking in 2009. Exhibitions include, Robin Gibson Gallery in Sydney, Herbert Gallery and Museum in Coventry and the Ryedale Folk Museum, The Cosmos, Residency & Relatively Absolute at Wysing Arts Centre, The Negligent Eye at The Bluecoat, Liverpool, and Thin Place, Oriel Myrddin, Wales. In 2012 I received an Artist International Development Grant to travel to Brazil, the resulting project ‘Fixed Position’ showed at Tintype London, Projeto Fidalga, São Paulo and in The Earth Science Museum at The University São Paulo.

My teaching experience includes: Lecturer at Norwich University College of the Arts and Senior Lecturer at Kingston University. I am also currently visiting lecturer at UCA, and the universities of Birmingham, Bath and Bournemouth.

In 2016 I was Artist in Residence at RGS-IBG and The Leverhulme Artist in Residence in the Geography Department at Royal Holloway University London, developing a project titled ‘Swallet’. Current projects include a publication with Camberwell Press and an upcoming group show at Norwich Castle Museum.
 

Huw Rowlands

Huw.png

Historical and contemporary performance of cross-cultural first contact encounters: temporal and spatial dynamics

As first year AHRC-funded PhD student, I focus on re-performances of first-contact encounters in colonial-indigenous relationships. My research explores the roles of these encounters and their subsequent expressions in a range of media and contexts, such as neo-historical novels, dance/theatre, oral traditions, and exhibitions, including in the contemporary world. Seen through the lenses of performance and performativity, the research aims to understand the role of first contact re-performances in the cross-cultural dynamics of contemporary societies. I am supervised by Felix Driver and advised by Helen Gilbert.

A ‘Surgeon’ since undertaking an MA in the department 2014-15, I particularly enjoy the interdisciplinary nature of surgeries. Interdisciplinary, eclectic, curious, these are all words that seem to characterise my life; so far anyway. As a public/third sector project manager for 20 years, I worked on such diverse projects as the creation of a long-distance footpath between Winchester and Mont Saint Michel, funding Gaelic language tourism in Scotland, looking for life on Mars, and organising a multicultural percussion festival in the mountains of France. I taught geography, junk percussion and creative writing in both France and in UK Steiner schools over four years, and am also currently working (very) part-time as project co-manager, modern maps processing at the British Library.

My other interests include samba-reggae, photography, knitting, garden design, drawing, theatre, world music, walking and badminton.

 

Joy Slappnigjoy.JPG

The Indigenous Map

My PhD project (which is part of the Collaborative Doctoral Award (CDA) scheme and supervised by Prof. Felix Driver and Dr. Catherine Souch) seeks to establish Indigenous contribution to the map collection at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), and to explore the historical significance of “Indigenous maps” as sources of geographical information, as ethnographic objects, and as artefacts of encounter. I’m new to Geography and intrigued by the diversity of the discipline, and to see what my academic background can bring to my PhD. I completed a BA in History at King’s College London (my dissertation focused on the influence of bebop on racial integration in New York during the 1940s and ‘50s), and an MSc in Visual, Material and Museum Anthropology at the University of Oxford (where my final project investigated how the “remnants” of repatriated objects in American museums (catalogue records, exhibition labels, photographs, etc.), influence Indigenous presence in those institutions). I’m interested in the geographies of exchange and encounter, material anthropology, post-colonial studies, as well as ethnographic collections, and the ways in which they have been assembled (and sometimes disassembled), displayed and otherwise engaged with, and used in the production of knowledge. I really liked participating in curatorial research internships at the Brooklyn Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, during which I worked on a repatriation procedure with the Laguna Pueblo tribe, and on an exhibition of pre-Columbian architectural models. A you might expect, I enjoy visiting the London museums in my free time (the Hunterian Museum is a recent favourite), and I also like going to the movies. I’ve just moved to the northwest of London and I’m currently enjoying the novel NW by Zadie Smith. 

 

 

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Curating a Research Exhibition

dscf8465Landscape Surgery’s current theme of ‘communicating research’ took a look at research exhibitions, and revealed ways in which exhibitions can be far more than valuable forms of communication. The session was stimulated by three panelists: current surgeon and 3rd year PhD student n the department Katherine Stansfeld, ex-surgeon and PhD student and now British Library curator Phil Hatfield, and Carey Newson, who recently completed a collaborative PhD with Queen Mary, University of London and the Geffrye Museum of the Home.

Katherine introduced her research on mapping superdiversity and outlined several reasons why an exhibition might form part of PhD research: as a means of communication, particularly in reaching audiences beyond the academy; as research or analytical process, alongside other methods; and as a way of starting or continuing a dialogue with people who may be interested in or have participated in the research.

Three aspects of Katherine’s experience stood out. The first relates to planning and spatial materiality. An exhibition budget enabled a diverse team to be involved, including an artistic director and production staff. This increased planning and coordination time that Katherine has been spending on the exhibition. It also revealed how significantly the materiality of an exhibition space and design affects the way people can interact with an exhibition. The second and linked aspect is the process of deciding what to show and how to show it. This is clearly not a neutral process, and can be driven as much by material priorities as research or aesthetic ones. Collaboration was the third aspect, and Katherine shared her experience of working with young artists on alternative mapping. In conclusion, she commented on how the more time-consuming communication that results from these three aspects offers both challenges and opportunities.

In contrast to Katherine’s exhibition being very much within her research, Carey’s followed the completion of her thesis. Her research project, in collaboration with Queen Mary and the Geffrye Museum speaks to the material culture of domestic space, geographies of young people and the study of the home, and explored the meaning and significance of the teenager’s bedroom and its material culture. Visual anthropologist Kyna Gourley took photographs of the bedrooms, and Carey returned with a selection of these later to stimulate interviews with both teenagers and their parents. Some of the findings included the way the rooms reflected and expressed teenagers’ personalities and lives, and so changed over time; that the bedrooms were retreats more than social spaces; and that the 24 rooms studied were very different, yet with recurring themes. Teenagers were pre-occupied by dilemmas around what to keep and what to get rid of, recalling Nicky Gregson’s work on the relationship between ridding and dwelling.

Moving on to the creation of the exhibition itself, Carey, like Katherine, mentioned the materiality of the space, especially the glass cases which, initially thought to be problematic, led to the development of a series of installations. There were also particular challenges and creative design solutions in relating the objects to their bedroom contexts. The creation of a full-scale installation of a bed and contextual material was assisted by the original room’s occupier, and made a fascinating difference to the way the teenage audience engaged with the exhibition at the opening. Playful forms of engagement, such as sitting on and in the bed and taking photographs of each other, stood out. It seems curious the way these rooms are exhibitions in themselves, and this was in some ways an exhibition of exhibitions.

Phil’s presentation gave us an opportunity to take a broader perspective on exhibitions in the context of major cultural institutions, based on his involvement in six exhibitions at the British Library. One of the first points Phil raised was the effect of space and time and other resource pressure in such places. Large institutions have relatively complex planning and approval processes which impose longer lead-in times. They also have more proposals for exhibitions than space to accommodate them. Add to this the range of costs, that can be in the £100,000s, together with the numbers and seniority of staff involved, and you have a set of factors with very significant impacts on exhibitions. These collectively mean that the opportunities to integrate an exhibition into the timescale of a PhD are very limited, effectively nonexistent.

However, successful exhibitions still happen regularly at the British Library, and Phil identified a number of other more positive factors. By keeping in touch with curators over the long-term, there is more chance of being able to take advantage of unexpected opportunities that do come up. A case in point is Phil’s own forthcoming exhibition to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the federation of Canada through the Library’s photographic archives, based on his PhD completed six years ago. In dealing with large cultural institutions, flexibility can be very helpful too. By contributing in small ways to exhibitions and book projects, blogs and public programming, you build a relationship based on relevant collaboration that can enhance other, greater opportunities.

A very interactive discussion followed, aided by the contrasts between the three speakers around the common theme. The contrasts highlighted the range of relationships that an exhibition can have with research as research method, output, opportunity for participatory involvement, and engagement with more diverse audiences. Even in the British Library, an exhibition can feed into the institution as a whole, beyond the specific research that it is focused on.

An interesting theme developed around the risks and other dynamics involved in showing a work in progress, as in Katherine’s case. This raised the importance of managing expectations. It also illustrates how the material processes of exhibition production can be significantly different. Take photographs for example. The specification of photographs being produced in the role of final record is different from that where they are being displayed as research tools. Applied to Katherine’s video work, this also highlighted the way editing affects the research process in important ways.

This is magnified in larger projects, where the numbers and specialisms of people involved make exhibitions effectively massive collaborations, where the identification of the work with the names of only one or two curators seems at the very least inadequate. Further discussion looked at the use of the term curation and the development of curatorial skills in more detail.

An intriguing thread led us through issues of presenting items to speak for themselves contrasted with the use of explanatory text. There was some link to the timing of the exhibition in relation to the stage of the research project. Katherine felt that, as a work in progress, she had greater freedom to allow the work to be displayed with limited explanation. Carey noted the importance and value of experience in advising and editing display text. Phil took this further to remind us of the intensely collaborative nature of producing display text.

These examples contextualised a point raised about the roles of artistic practices as research processes, where the output is less of a primary objective than gaining perspective through externalising ideas and thereby generating different modes of understanding. This linked intriguingly with contributions about what constitutes an exhibition, covering pop-ups and the example of using a Premier Inn room below the radar, and inviting people in four at a time. A retrospective thought on this is the way artistic practices and exhibition works in progress may be seen as failures in many traditional exhibition contexts. I wonder how an institution’s conditioning of exhibitions would engage with such unresolved dynamics and ephemeral events.

– Katherine Stansfeld: current third year PhD student in the Department of Geography at RHUL, and surgeon, who is in the final stages of preparing for her research exhibition ‘Superdiversity: picturing Finsbury Park’, which will open in Furtherfield Gallery in Finsbury Park itself in mid February.

– Carey Newson: a completed PhD student from the Department of Geography at QMUL, whose project was a collaboration with the Geffrye Museum of the Home, London E2. Her PhD was about about teenagers’ bedrooms, and an exhibition based on that research is currently running at the Geffrye (until April 23rd 2017). You can see more about the exhibition here.

– Phil Hatfield: Honorary Research Associate of the Department of Geography at RHUL, Digital Mapping Curator at the British Library, and once upon a time a surgeon and a CDA PhD student with the British Library, whose topic was Canadian photography. Phil has also led and participated in a number of Library exhibitions. The most recent of these – Lines in the Ice – resulted in a book that is currently available.

Huw Rowlands

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CFP: Labour and life: changing geographies of the workplace

Call for Papers for the Royal Geographical Society with Institute of British Geographers Annual International Conference, 29 Aug – 1 Sep 2017, London, UK.

Session sponsored by the Economic Geography Research Group.
 
Labour and life: changing geographies of the workplace
 
This session will reflect on changes to capitalist work, its spatial constitution, and the consequent relations between labour and life. Classic accounts of the capitalist labour process emphasised disciplinary power, exercised through workplaces bounded in time and space, and producing a degradation of both work and workers (Braverman 1974; Wright 2006). Today, organisational theorists emphasise a capitalist ‘biocracy’ in which a range of life abilities are ‘put to work’ through the blurring of boundaries between work and non-work spaces, times and identities (Fleming 2014; Gregg 2011). Far from heralding a new halcyon era of creative labour, for some these developments have gone hand in hand with growing precarity, intensified labour exploitation and a suffocating ideology of work.
 
These arguments over changing relations between labour and life need critical engagement. In particular, geographical scholarship usefully resists all-encompassing accounts of changing capitalist work cultures, instead focusing on how the organisation and experience of work are shaped by particular and varying workplace geographies. The geographies of workplaces have been a recurrent but underexplored aspect of labour geographies (e.g. Castree 2007; Crang 1994; Henry & Massey 1995; Kanngieser 2013; McDowell 2009; McMorran 2012; Stein 1995). This session will foreground current scholarship in this area. The intention is for two ‘modules’ with four presentations in each. Potential foci for contributions include:
 
•  The theorisation of workplace geographies;
•  Workplaces as sites of discipline and / or biopower;
•  Workplaces as sites of pleasure and vitality;
•  Digital socio-materialities and the re-making of workplace geographies;
•  Workplace architectures and affective atmospheres;
•  Labour resistance and the politics of ‘anti-work’;
•  Gendered geographies of the workplace;
•  Creative methods for researching working life.
 
Please submit abstracts of up to 250 words to Philip Crang, via email at p.crang@rhul.ac.uk, by 7 February 2017. We will endeavour to contact all abstract authors with a response by 13 February.
 
Convenors:
 
Adam Badger, Department of Geography, Royal Holloway University of London. Email: adam.badger.2012@live.rhul.ac.uk
Philip Crang, Department of Geography, Royal Holloway University of London. Email: p.crang@rhul.ac.uk (corresponding convenor)
Katy Lawn, Department of Geography, Royal Holloway University of London. Email: katy.lawn.2015@live.rhul.ac.uk
 

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

by Dr. Janet Owen

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

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

 

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

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

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

UPCOMING EVENT. Dream Worlds: Dark Ecologies of Anime.

passengerfilms

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.

nausicaa-of-the-valley-of-the-wind-cavern

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

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

Lecture Theatre

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

Sponsored by the Historical Geography Research Group

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

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

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

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

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.
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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

Jographies

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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