A VISIT TO THE SEAMAN’S BETHEL, NEW BEDFORD (PART 2 of 2)

A second guest post by Rachael Utting, a PhD student in the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway, whose project is entitled ‘Collecting Leviathan: curiosity, exchange and the British Southern Whale Fishery (1775-1860)’.

An extract from the journal of whaling surgeon Dr Eldred Fysh describes the committal to the deep of the body of a deceased whaleman early one morning. The attending doctor laments that the dead man will be forgotten by teatime, such was the callous nature of whalemen. He was not alone in this viewpoint. Whaling surgeon John Wilson described the crew of the whaleship Gypsy “the very lowest dregs of society, the refuse of Ratcliffe Highway and New Gravel Lane [in Wapping.]” However, a visit to the Seamen’s Bethel in New Bedford tells a very different story. The Bethel, or sailor’s church was built in 1832 to cater to the spiritual needs of the town’s large whaling population, particularly before embarking on a voyage, or to give thanks for a safe return. The Seamen’s Bethel sits in the New Bedford Historic District, a cultural area designated to protect and promote the towns whaling history. That history can be read on the small, neat marble plaques lining the walls of the Bethel, erected to the memory of whalers lost at sea and members of the local fishing community lost in more recent disasters.

new bedford 1There are stories of shark attacks, accidents, drownings, and disease. What strikes me in the Bethel is the palpable sense of sadness at the passing of crewmates. Many memorials states, “payed for by his crewmates”, “erected with respect”, “payed for by subscription.” Whalers were a notoriously poor bunch, earning a ‘lay,’ a percentage wage based on the amount of oil brought home and their seniority within the vessel. Some whalers came home owing more money than they had earned, their meagre lay having been eaten away by the extortionate prices of ships stores, known as ‘slops.’ That on their return to port they were prepared to spare their pennies to remember a crew mate lost at sea, perhaps several years previously rather counters Dr Fysh’s comments. It also tells us that crewmen were maintaining the relationships forged onboard whilst back on land. It would take time, organisation and communication to bring together the funds to erect a memorial. In the coastal towns of the Eastern seaboard many men went whaling with family members, sons, cousins and brothers (a trend mimicked in the London whale fishery but to a lesser extent.) However, the plaques also memorialise foreigners such as John Glover of London, lost overboard, Daniel Burns of Pictou, Nova Scotia, and Charles Wilson of the Sandwich Isles (Hawaii.) These show the international nature of the nineteenth-century whaling trade and highlight the strength of bonds created between crew members during long whaling voyages, irrelevant of nationality. As the epitaph to Londoner, John Glover reads,

“This sacred cenotaph is reared,

By those who shar’d his grief and joy:

To them his memory is endeare’d

By ties which death cannot destroy

Nor could their effort save him there,

Those who may meet a watery grave

Should for a sudden death prepare.”

Considering the American portrayal of the heroic golden age of whaling and conversely the lack of historical memory regarding whaling in Britain, the Seamen’s Bethel offers us an opportunity to recast whalers in a more nuanced vision; less as the dregs of Wapping Wall, but not quite the American vision of heroic masculinity fighting the elements. It allows nineteenth-century whalers to be seen as human and caring. To be both sombre and sober.

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Curating the Oslo Architecture Triennale

For our final Landscape Surgery session of this term we welcomed Cecilie Sachs Olsen, a British Academy post-doctoral research fellow at Royal Holloway’s Centre for the GeoHumanities, alongside Matthew Dalziel, an associate of the transdisciplinary architecture and engineering practice Interrobang, as two of the four-person curatorial team for next year’s Oslo Architecture Triennale.

Taking place from 26th September to 24th November 2019, this event is the Nordic region’s biggest festival of architecture, and an internationally-important arena for discussion around the challenges of architecture and urban space. Cecilie and Matthew’s joint presentation focused on the process of curating the Triennale around their chosen theme of ‘degrowth’, the role that art and performance will play within their practice, and the challenges they’ve encountered since starting work on the Triennale programme.

 

Degrowth and architecture

Matthew, speaking as a practising architect himself, began the presentation by outlining how individual architects often have very little agency in the construction industry to which they contribute. Despite typically being motivated by social, cultural and artistic values, 60% of architects at any given time are working on private housing, with much of it marketed towards the wealthiest 1% of the population.

However, cultural events such as the Triennale are one outlet that architects have for more critical interventions, giving these individuals opportunities to experiment with ideas outside of a ‘project’ ecosystem, and into an arena that could potentially inspire a global conversation.

The curatorial team chose their conversation for the Oslo Architecture Triennale to be about ‘degrowth’.

Degrowth has been understood to stand for “a downscaling of production and consumption that increases human well-being and enhances ecological conditions and equity on the planet. It calls for a future where societies live within their ecological means, with open, localized economies and resources more equally distributed through new forms of democratic institutions” (Research & Degrowth, 2018). Central to this definition is the reasoning that the drive for continued economic growth in our societies is unsustainable for a world that supports life.

Many will recall that this argument has been made for decades by organisations such as The Club of Rome, whose famous report The Limits to Growth (Meadows et al., 1972) is widely recognised as one of the first significant studies that illuminated how the unprecedented economic growth occurring throughout the 20th century was causing, and would continue to cause, widespread ecological destruction.

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Cecilie illustrating the arguments in The Limits to Growth with a cartoon showing a hamster gradually consuming the earth, based on the idea that a hamster doubles in size every day until it reaches puberty (author’s own)

Nonetheless, according to the presenters, reports such as The Limits to Growth failed to capture the impetus of the public and policymakers due to the tone of doomsaying that accompanied the stark environmental impacts indicated by their studies. Indeed, a continual problem confronting the degrowth movement has been the negative connotations associated with the notion of reducing economic growth, as it might seem to imply a logic of austerity.

In order to avoid this risk of scaremongering by simply offloading information to the public, the curatorial team instead wanted to use the theme of degrowth to change how people think about urban environments in a way that is relevant to their lives. And in particular, to challenge the assumption that the function of the spaces we use in everyday life is already predetermined, which is one reason why people can feel alienated from the spaces they inhabit.

According to Cecilie, this is why art and performance are so important, as they have the ability to free people from their everyday roles in society and experiment with other ways of being in the world. In theatre, for example, if a person acting as a queen sits on a normal chair, the chair becomes a throne. The pre-given conception of an object can be transformed simply by putting it in a context where re-imagination is welcomed, and the enchantment accompanying such experiences can help us to rethink the agency we have within our own surroundings.

 

Curating transformational spaces

This is exactly what the curatorial team is aiming to achieve in their programme for the Oslo Architecture Triennale, for which they will be creating three ‘transformations’ in three different sites in Oslo to turn them into spaces of sharing, play and connecting.

The first location is Oslo’s National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design. An institution whose buildings are made to house conventional exhibitions of art, crafts and design work, the space the team were given for the Triennale was a typically bland, concrete room.

The challenge facing the curators was to convert it into a catalytic space, and the idea they came up with was to create a library within it. Cecilie reflected that not only are libraries environments of sharing and making, but the most celebrated libraries also often have a uniquely awe-inspiring atmosphere to them. How could they construct such an effect in what was a small, rather uninspiring room?

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Trinity College Library, Dublin (Skitterphoto, public domain)

In their design of the ‘library’, they were particularly inspired by Olafur Eliasson, whose work has used light, mirrors and liquids to evoke seemingly limitless spaces within physically restricted sites. At present, the curatorial team are planning to craft four mirrored rooms separated by walls of varied thicknesses, with participants moving between them to gradually transition into the imagined space of the library from the ‘real’ space of the museum building. Immersion is central to the curators’ vision of the library experience, and they are keen to employ techniques used by interactive theatre companies such as Punchdrunk, which give participants the opportunity to explore and engage with fictional environments in meaningful and believable ways, guided solely by their own interests and inclinations.

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Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project (Tate Photography, source: https://olafureliasson.net/archive/exhibition/EXH101069/the-weather-project)

This journey into the imaginary will begin from the moment visitors reach the building, where they will be given library cards to enter the space rather than museum tickets. Upon leaving the ‘library’ and re-entering Oslo city centre, participants will then be invited to extend the experience by taking part in an immersive audiowalk that zURBS, the ‘social-artistic urban laboratory’ that Cecilie co-founded in 2011, will be running.

The second transformation will take place in the urban public space of Oslo through the creation of a ‘playground’. Here, the curators will be drawing on the capacity of play to de-emphasize the urban environment’s economic value and functions and instead render them as arenas for “pleasure, surprise and critical possibility” (Dickens, 2008: 20).

Previously, play has been considered an activity that takes place in alternate realities separate from our everyday lives (sports pitches, games tables, virtual realities, etc.) where different rules apply, in what Huizinga (1955 [1950]) calls the ‘magic circle’ of play. By using public playful art to expand the magic circle spatially (beyond designated environments), temporally (beyond specific time limits) and socially (beyond designated players) (Montola, 2005), the stages of everyday life can be re-enchanted as realms of the possible (Klausen, 2014).

Through play centred around the concept of degrowth, the curatorial team wants participants to imagine opportunities for an improved way of living, rather than a reduction in individual agency that might be inferred from the term. Central to this viewpoint is the idea that non-essential activity should be understood as an enjoyable state of being, rather than something defined through the lens of economic growth as ‘unproductive’. Games don’t necessarily lead to the most efficient ways of completing a task – golf is a rather complicated way of putting a ball in a hole, for example – but negotiating the affordances games present to players in creative and skilful ways can ultimately lead to enrichment that wouldn’t occur otherwise.

The final transformation will take place in DogA, the Norwegian Centre for Design and Architecture, which will become the site of a makeshift theatre.

Here, the curators are enlisting the skills of METIS, a Cambridge-based performing arts organisation, and more specifically their interactive piece We Know Not What We May Be. Originally performed at the Barbican in September, this participatory performance asks the audience to imagine a more sustainable future, featuring talks from experts about what the future could be, and giving the audience the option to decide which one they want. These participants can then see their decisions become a reality, as the actors perform scenarios based on what has been chosen, followed by further discussion about these possibilities amongst the actors and audience.

One of the difficulties faced by the team when arranging this performance is the institutional context in which it will be set. DogA is funded by the municipal government’s budget for the economy, creating tensions between the theme of ‘degrowth’ and the continued demand for growth in Oslo’s economy today. In order to reconcile this apparent contradiction, the curators have emphasised that the performance will be focused on facilitating discussion between a wide range of people – including elites – rather than silencing points of view to further a particular political agenda.

Alongside the three transformations, as highlighted previously, Cecilie’s artist collective zURBS will be using audiowalks as a way to engage citizens and planners to think about alternative futures. These will be framed in an imaginative way. For example, in one walk participants will imagine they are researchers from the future, and will choose individually between different options of what Oslo might look like in the decades to come. Collectively, participants will then traverse the present-day environment and attempt to identify how these brave new worlds began, without knowing what futures the other walkers chose to seek.

Cecilie explained that the idea behind the audiowalks was to de-centre accepted understandings of how the city operates. By encouraging citizens to identify the transformative potential of the present city, such ‘defaults’ don’t have to exist. As soon as we’re afforded the agency to redefine what a space is for, the alternative futures we dream in our heads could become possible.

 

Challenges

Nonetheless, in talking about the challenges the team have faced so far throughout the curatorial process, Cecilie and Matthew accepted that there are often limits to what people are able to imagine as they think about better ways of inhabiting urban space. If the street is seen inherently as an instrument of consumption, this epistemology will mean that even seemingly beneficial changes, such as pedestrianisation, will be become tools to reproduce the dominant paradigm of consumption through processes such as gentrification.

Language is another force that imposes epistemological limitations on how the curatorial theme can be explored. Most problematically for the curators, the term ‘degrowth’ doesn’t even exist in Norwegian, meaning that they have had to think about alternative prefixes to use other than ‘de-’, while attempting to remain faithful to the understanding of degrowth that is implied when used in English. Yet even without language barriers, reaction to degrowth as a concept has frequently been ambivalent, as was highlighted in the discussion after Cecilie and Matthew’s presentation when its usefulness for societies in the Global South was questioned.

The last challenge the curators discussed was one that many academics will be familiar with: the need to be rigorous in their engagement with the material they are discussing, while also making their work accessible enough for members of the public to engage with it. This necessity was brought sharply into focus when the curators of the last Oslo Architecture Triennale were criticised for making works that ‘normal people’ couldn’t understand.

In contrast, the curatorial team’s efforts to avoid a similar fate are reflected in the participatory qualities of the installations, performances and other artworks they are curating, which give ‘normal people’ the greatest power to define and interpret what is meaningful within the installations and experiences on offer.

 

We’d like to offer enormous thanks to Cecilie and Matthew for taking time out of their busy schedules to talk to us about their work, and we wish them every success over the coming months as they prepare for the Oslo Architecture Triennale, which starts on 26th September 2019.

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Matthew Dalziel and Cecilie Sachs Olsen (author’s own)

 

Bibliography

Dickens, L. (2008) “‘Finders keepers’: performing the street, the gallery and the spaces in-between” Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies 4: 1-30.

Huizinga, J. (1955 [1950]) Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture. Boston, MA: Beacon Press

Klausen, M. (2014) “Re-enchanting the city: Hybrid space, affect and playful performance in geocaching, a location-based mobile game” Journal of Urban Cultural Studies 1(2): 193-213.

Meadows, D.H., Meadows, D.L., Randers, J., Behrens III, W.W. (1972) The Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome’s Project on the Predicament of Mankind. New York: Universe Books.

Montola, M. (2005) “Exploring the Edge of the Magic Circle: Defining Pervasive Games” Proceeedings of the Digital Arts and Culture Conference, Copenhagen, Denmark [online] Available at: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download;jsessionid=AB62B5B3CD2B349DE8846879B58B4AC8?doi=10.1.1.125.8421&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Research and Degrowth (2018) “Definition” Research and Degrowth [online] Available at: https://degrowth.org/definition-2/

 

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

Safe Space

For our fourth Landscape Surgery of the autumn term, we were kindly joined by members of our affiliated research group, Geopolitics, Development, Security and Justice (GDSJ), to deliberate the notion of ‘safe space’. The surgery was chaired by Professor Katherine Brickell (Royal Holloway), and was divided into two presentations given by Dr Janet Bowstead (Postdoctoral Fellow at Royal Holloway) and Riina Lundman (Postdoctoral Researcher at University of Turku, Finland) respectively, before concluding with an open panel discussion that sought to think more broadly about the geographical importance of ‘safe space’ in today’s social and political climate.

From the outset, the task of defining ‘safe space’ presented itself as a challenging undertaking, perhaps a consequence of the expression’s resurgence within the public domain of late that has prompted rather unapologetic and heated debates “over what ‘safe spaces’ mean and if they should be encouraged and protected” (Djohari et al., 2018, p351). As noted within the latter group discussion, it seems as though the term has become obscured to negatively describe ‘sanitised’ spaces of ‘free expression’, often being paired with other culturally loaded neologisms such as ‘snowflake generation’ and ‘political correctness’ to incite adverse confrontations of speech (Djohari et al., 2018). Whilst these particular mobilisations of the term cannot be ignored, Katherine noted that ‘safe space’ in its most rudimentary form, describes:

“A place or environment in which a person or category of people can feel confident that they will not be exposed to discrimination, criticism, harassment, or any other emotional or physical harm.” – (Oxford dictionary)

Indeed, when probed further this particular explanation raises important questions surrounding the theorisation of the material, physical, emotional and imagined capacity of ‘safe spaces’. However, it is starkly apparent that the concept is inherently contested, diverse and subjective, meaning that no solitary definition is ever quite appropriate, and its geographical relevance is substantially entwined within ever expansive political and social webs of understanding.

Safespace

A pink inverted triangle encased within a green circle used to symbolise alliance with LGBTQ+ rights. This is just one example of a safe space symbol. Source: http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Safe_space

To highlight the individuality of our own perceptions of ‘safe space’, the session’s convenor, Katherine Brickell, encouraged the group to mental map our own spaces of safety through the medium of language and illustration. As a critical methodology, mental mapping has been utilised by feminist geographers to allow participants to reflexively consider their own “geographical imaginations and complex identity negotiations” in relation to social locations (Jung, 2012, p985).  In this sense, mental maps are not solely reflections of an individual’s cognitive identity, but are a multi-layered artefact rife with emotion, impression and knowledge.

Among the group, the home and the bedroom featured heavily as perceived sites of safety. Whilst this is unsurprising given the popular tropes of peace and security that resonate in imaginations of the domestic, it is evident that for many the home is deeply unsafe, with 1.9 million adults in the England and Wales experiencing abuse within the home in 2017 alone (ONS, 2017). For others, ‘safe space’ was recognised to be unbound by specific locations, but as visceral encounters between friends, family, animals and nature. Similarly, for some, safe space is temporally attached to particular hours of the day, fleeting feelings of comfort found in the early morning or the last few moments before nightfall.

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A mental map of my own safe spaces. Source: Authors own, 2018. 

Our first speaker, Dr Janet Bowstead, is a British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow within the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway. Janet conducts interdisciplinary research that cuts across geography, sociology and social policy to examine strategies of safety for women who have suffered from domestic violence. In her presentation, entitled: “Safe Spaces of Refuge, Shelter and Contact”, sought to consider service responses to women and girls at risk of abuse in both the global North and South by examining a forthcoming selection of articles in the journal of Gender, Place and Culture.

Janet begun by suggesting that safe spaces of shelter have the potential to offer freedom to victims of violence when (1) explicit boundary work is done to carve out safe spaces in hostile environments, (2) the practices for ensuring safety are central in allowing women to evoke relational place-making performances, and (3) the shelter becomes a temporary contact zone of refuge, safety and autonomy.

Thinking specifically about research conducted by the ASPIRE Project (Analysing Safety and Place in Immigrant and Refugee Experience) that examined community-led responses to violence against immigrant and refugee women in Australia, Janet noted that minority groups of women face unique barriers when attempting to access domestic violence services (Murray et al., forthcoming). For instance, many women travelled long distances or entirely relocated to gain access to help, yet once they had moved were judged or shamed by other members of their community for leaving violent relationships. Moreover, language barriers between shelters and vulnerable women ultimately impacted their overarching perceptions of safety, as services could not regularly provide appropriate interpreters with correct ethical training, resulting in women feeling fearful that confidentiality breaches could leave them at risk.

Similarly, research conducted in shelter homes in Eastern India by Mima Guha (forthcoming) found that shelters can prevent emotional healing from abuse by enforcing punitive measures, leaving women feeling isolated and punished for their experience as victims. As Janet further highlighted, some protection schemes in East Indian shelters showed evidence of mistreatment by the state and families to punish ‘sexually deviant’ young women for eloping with partners without familial consent. In these cases, women’s subversive sexual behaviour became reframed as ‘victimhood’, resulting in alleged ‘safe spaces’ becoming a site in which to control and manage female agency under the guise of state protection and rehabilitation.

It is clear that “women need to be safe from abuse before they can be safe to achieve wider control, autonomy and freedom” (Lewis et al, 2015 n.p.). As such, it is necessary for shelters and refuges to offer support throughout the emotional stages of recovery and empowerment following abuse. For Janet, this is carried out through the nature of the safety, and by the nature of the space. For instance, shelters with communal facilities produce a very different rehabilitation programme than those with self-contained flats. Likewise, shelters that implement collaborative participatory creative outputs ‘can enable processes of self-help and collective support to counteract the isolation of abuse and to help prepare women for their lives after the refuge’ (Bowstead for RGS-IBG, 2017). However, this is not to suggest that the onus for rehabilitation is solely the role of shelters and the individuals themselves. Instead, it is critical that discussions on ‘safe space’ continue to be opened up and dissected to generate a new narrative for a human rights approach that allows women to feel truly, and unequivocally, safe and free within society.

Indeed, as Janet’s presentation summarised, safe spaces across the global North and South are not static or singular in their ability to afford safety and freedom for women. However, “temporary spaces of shelter, refuge and contact can be powerful places of protection and recovery” (Bowstead, 2018 in presentation) that can transform lives, inspire collective support and encourage wider societal change in attitudes towards women who have experienced violence.

Our second speaker, Dr Riina Lundman, is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Turku, Finland, with interests in urban studies, public space and creative geographies. Riina’s presentation continued the session theme and discussed the idea of ‘safe(r) spaces’ for the elderly.

Paraphrasing Furedi (2002: n.p.), Riina suggested that “safety has become one of Western society’s fundamental values”, as organisations, institutions and social groups strive to offer diverse spaces of inclusivity, to which everyone feels welcome. However, for Riina, ‘safe space’ is intrinsically paradoxical by nature. If one space is safe, does that mean all others are unsafe? And if that is the case, is it possible to generate a new ‘safe(r) space’ attitude that reduces the disparity?

In response, Riina argues that a ‘safe(r) space’ narrative could be pivotal in bridging this gap, particularly in Finland where social and political knowledges on ‘safe space’ are yet to build substantial prominence within legal research. As such, Riina is currently in the process of investigating Finnish laws and policies to examine what safe(r) spaces could mean for elderly people, and moreover, the kinds of solutions that could be implemented to allow a more sustainable practice for creating and managing elderly spatial safety.

Following Koskela’s (2009) dimensions of safety and security, Riina illustrated that in order for senior care homes to become safe(r) safes, they should cohere to the following aspects: (1) be well calculated and measured, (2) designed to be experienced and to feel personal, (3), respect cultural differences and structural duties of care, (4) have strong social elements to reduce isolation, (5) be imaginative and creative, and finally, (6) have these ideals manifested in physical and material elements, rather than allowing the notion of safety to exist solely on a theoretical basis.

However, as one would expect, the generational group of the elderly is incredibly diverse, from differences in social, cultural and political values, to what is needed and required from a medical standpoint to ensure that a space is entirely safe. With this in mind, Riina is sympathetic that there is no ‘cookie-cutter’ formula to generating ‘safe(r) spaces’ for the elderly, but rather that there is a wealth of work to be done in social and legal policy to enable the best care to be given.

For Riina, much of this can be done by confronting the negative stigmas of ageism and ableism that frequently infiltrate discussions on senior safety. By looking at specific case examples of senior co-housing communities that offer more relaxed approaches to elderly care, for instance the Loppukiri in Helsinki that provides private housing clustered around communal spaces, Riina is hopeful that spatio-legal approaches to safe(r) spaces will begin to adopt a far more open and accepting attitude towards elderly care.

We would like to extend our warmest thanks to Katherine, Janet and Riina for their fantastic Landscape Surgery session, and for their continued work in sustaining what can be extremely difficult conversations regarding safe space.

 

Bibliography

Bowstead, J. (2017) AC2017 – Geographies of Safe Space (1): Spaces of embodiment, identity and education. [online] Conference.rgs.org. Available at: http://conference.rgs.org/AC2017/315.

Djohari, N., Pyndiah, G. and Arnone, A. (2018) Rethinking ‘safe spaces’ in children’s geographies. Children’s Geographies, 16(4), pp.351-355.

Furedi, F. (2002) Epidemic of Fear | Frank Furedi. [online] Frankfuredi.com. Available at: http://www.frankfuredi.com/article/epidemic_of_fear.

Guha, M (2018) ‘Safe spaces’ and ‘bad’ girls: Child-marriage victims experiences from a shelter home in Eastern India. Gender, Place and Culture (forthcoming)

Jung, H. (2012) Let Their Voices Be Seen: Exploring Mental Mapping as a Feminist Visual Methodology for the Study of Migrant Women. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 38(3), pp.985-1002.

Koskela, H. (2009) The Spiral of Fear: Politics of Fear, Security Business, and the Struggle over Urban Space. Helsinki: Gaudeamus.

Lewis, R., Sharp, E., Remnant, J. and Redpath, R. (2015) ‘Safe Spaces’: Experiences of Feminist Women-Only Space. Sociological Research Online, 20(4), pp.1-14.

Murray, L., Warr, D., Chen, J., Block, K., Murdolo, A., Quiazon, R., Davis, E., Vaughan, C. (2018) Between ‘here’ and ‘there’: family violence against immigrant and refugee women in urban and rural Southern Australia. Gender, Place and Culture (forthcoming)

Ons.gov.uk. (2017) Domestic abuse in England and Wales – Office for National Statistics. [online] Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/bulletins/domesticabuseinenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2017.

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

A visit to the Nantucket Whaling Museum (Part 1 of 2)

Guest post written by Rachael Utting, a PhD student in the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway, whose project is entitled ‘Collecting Leviathan: curiosity, exchange and the British Southern Whale Fishery (1775-1860)’.

During my month-long stay in America on a research visit looking at British whaling log books and journals in American collections, I was lucky enough to spend a week on Nantucket Island. This former whaling colony is an hour by ferry from Cape Cod and nowadays is a very exclusive holiday destination.  I was housed by the Nantucket Historical Association at Thomas Macy House, 99 Main Street, used by the NHA as accommodation for staff and visiting researchers (this offsets the astronomical price of hotel accommodation on the islands which would be prohibitive for most visiting researchers!). Dating from the 1700s, this former whaling captain’s house is complete with artefacts and paintings belonging to previous owners and functions as a ‘living museum’. This means that tours visit on weekdays and house residents have to scurry away and hide, and you can’t put anything on the furniture.

The NHA, founded in 1894, manages five historic buildings on Nantucket Island including the Whaling Museum. This was established in 1930 on the site of the Hadwen & Barney Oil & Candle Factory built in 1847, and was based on the whaling collections of local congregational minister Edward F. Sanderson. The museum opened in its current extended guise in 2005 with eleven exhibition spaces dedicated to Nantucket history, scrimshaw and whaling, with a central exhibition hall housing a 46ft sperm whale skeleton from a stranding on Nantucket in 1996, and a huge sperm whale jaw bone collected in the Pacific in 1865.

The 18ft jaw (from an enormous 80ft bull whale) was so impressive that showman BT Barnum tried to purchase it. The visit to the museum was extremely relevant for my work on the collecting activities of whalers because the museum has a permanent exhibition showcasing the many ‘curios’ that American whalers brought home during the nineteenth century. These were donated to the Nantucket Atheneum, an institution incorporating a private library, museum and philosophical society founded in 1834. Such was the diversity of the museum collection, a visitor in 1843 stated, “I can not [sic] stop to a enumerate even a specimen of the almost infamy of curiosities, natural and artificial here deposited by the whalers.”

The Atheneum museum collections were largely destroyed in a fire in 1846. When the remaining artefacts outgrew their home, they were donated to the newly formed Nantucket Historical Association in 1905. What this collection (roughly 400 artefacts; see examples below) demonstrates is that American whalers were collecting widely. As whaling ships of this era had international crews, with many Americans manning British Southern Whale Fishery vessels, there is nothing to suggest their British crewmates were not following suit. If this is true, and British South Seas whalers were collecting, donating and selling their collections and, as I believe, were a significant acquisition source of island material culture (particularly from the Pacific Islands), then this is not reflected within British museum displays. Despite having a significant whaling economy during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Britain has no dedicated whaling museums and whalers have been largely ignored as a collecting phenomenon. The Nantucket Whaling Museum exhibition proves that they were perfectly placed to collect and that there was a flourishing market for their souvenirs. This included the Atheneum, private Island collectors and also mercantile ventures such as Mrs Polly Burnell’s shell shop, run from her Nantucket home from 1831-1854.

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Advert for Polly Burnell’s shell shop, The Inquirer and Mirror, 8/4/1854.

My weekdays were spent visiting the NHA Research Library attached to the Island’s Quaker church. I read five logbooks and one journal during the week, scouring them for evidence of collecting. These were all vessels belonging to the British Southern Whale Fishery and registered in Britain, several of them with Nantucket captains, which would explain how they ended up in the Island archive. Within these fascinating documents I encountered hostage situations between crew and Islanders, the gruesome massacre of 10 crewmen at the Marquesas Islands, a meeting with John Adams (Bounty mutineer) at Pitcairn, evidence of beachcombers on the Galápagos Islands and an apprentice boy who tried to kill himself twice by throwing himself overboard. Most relevant for my work was the journal of Dr Eldred Fysh, surgeon on-board the Coronet 1837-1839. Fysh documented his interactions with the Islanders across Indonesia purchasing shells, tools and live birds. The crew collected weaponry in New Ireland and also animals. What happened to Fysh’s acquisitions is a mystery; he returned to his native Norfolk and died in 1849, aged just 37.

My investigations are ongoing!

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Drawing from the Journal of Dr Eldred Fysh on-board the Whaling ship Coronet 1837-1839.
© Nantucket Historical Association.

Written by Rachael Utting, edited by Jack Lowe.

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

INTRODUCING THE MA CULTURAL GEOGRAPHY STUDENTS 2018/19

Emma Christian

After completing my undergraduate BSc degree in Geography at Royal Holloway, I decided to continue studying and specialise in cultural geography by doing the MA in Cultural Geography. I did my undergraduate dissertation on Jazz heritage in Paris as I am very interested in how art movements can shape a place in time and space. My aim is to have an academic role in order to attempt promoting the use of art in education. I also want to use form of art–such as graphic design, documentaries, and music–in order to create several atmospheres to which people can associate, and therefore become more sensible to the subjects. I believe art is the way to raise awareness about socio-political and environmental world issues in a way that touches on people’s emotions. In my opinion, action is more likely to happen is people are more emotionally impacted.

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Ellie Cooper

I completed my undergraduate BSc degree in Geography at Royal Holloway last year and I have started the MA in Cultural Geography this year. My undergraduate dissertation examined the importance of maps in contemporary society, looking specifically at the role of technological and cultural influences, including the growth of map-art and artistic interpretations of place. My main interests are concentrated around artful geographies, aerography and the importance of creative methods within activism.

Ollie Devereux

I’m studying for an MA in Cultural Geography, following the completion of my undergraduate degree in Geography at Keele. Previously I have studied: the relationship between bridges and our conception of home, the works of Peter Lanyon linked to spatial theory, aerography and the Anthropocene, and the multiplicity of Cornish nationalism. I want to combine my recent experiences of working at Tate St Ives with my geographical interests, which drew me to this MA. I am also looking to study the cultural and spatial affect of newly built bridges, likely using the Russian built Kerch Strait bridge as a primary case study.

Rhys Gazeres de Baradieux

I am a skateboarder of 11 years and (sometimes) a guitarist of 3 or 4 years. In terms of research, I am interested mostly in critical urban geographies, specifically neoliberal forms of governance in the city. My undergraduate dissertation explored the exclusion of skateboarding from St. Paul’s Cathedral Churchyard (formerly a well-recognised skate-spot within the community) that inevitably resulted from re-developments at the site during the summer of 2017. I was led to the MA in Cultural Geography due to my interest in applying for a PhD that will interrogate skateboarding’s debut inclusion in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, an event that will undoubtably (and already has!) led to the increasing structurisation of what originated as a creative, counter-cultural urban sport. During the MA course, I hope widen my interest somewhat to explore themes such as smart cities governance and development and dystopic representations of post-capitalist cities in manga and anime.

Matthew Philips

After my undergraduate degree in Human Geography at RHUL, I knew continuing with studies was something I wanted to do. So, I’m currently studying on the MA in Cultural Geography course. The dissertation from my bachelor’s-degree was focussed on identity, atmospheres, mobility, and affect in the Cyprus Buffer Zone; assessing how racism manifests in Nicosia, especially between Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots. One reason for continuing my studies is to explore the usefulness of new methods in research, such as documentary filmmaking as a way of generating research and disseminating it, especially as I have a background in photography. Using these methods, I’m looking to research areas around local identities and nationalism for my MA dissertation.

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Megan Zerilli

I completed my undergraduate BSc degree in Geography at the University of St Andrews, where I partnered with Fife Women’s Aid during my dissertation to explore domestic abuse and refuge provision. In undertaking the MA in Cultural Geography at Royal Holloway, I’m continuing my focus on feminist geographies, interpersonal violence, and participatory research methods with the aim to research the perceptions of safety in the urban environment.

Racisms in Higher Education: Why is my research group so white?

Our second landscape surgery of this year was convened by Saskia Papadakis, a PhD student in the Geography department at Royal Holloway, with research interests in nationality, culture and identity; the English North-South divide; and transregional migration within England. We were delighted to be joined by three guest speakers: Dom Jackson-Cole, Chantelle Lewis and Tissot Regis. The session focused on the absence of people of colour at postgraduate level and beyond in UK higher education (HE). Given the number of students of colour at undergraduate level in the UK, why are the academic staff and PhD students our speakers work with almost all white? Our speakers discussed the ways in which universities exclude and profit from postgraduate students of colour, how it feels to be a racialised outsider in HE, and why histories and realities of racism are relevant to everyone, not just students of colour.

Recording Surviving Society Podcast

Saskia, Tissot, Chantelle and Dom recording Landscape Surgery for their ‘Surviving Society’ podcast. Photography by Alice Reynolds

Our first speaker of the session, Dom Jackson-Cole, has worked in the higher education (HE) sector for over ten years, and is an Equality and Diversity Advisor at SOAS University of London. He is currently completing his PhD at the University of East London, where he is exploring issues of racism in postgraduate education in England. Dom spoke about the endemic presence of racism within HE, in which people of colour directly and indirectly experience abhorrent systematic and institutional barriers in their postgraduate educations.

Dom introduced Gillborn’s Critical Race Theory (CRT), an approach which offers a radical lens through which to make sense of, deconstruct and challenge racial inequality in society (Rollock and Gillborn, 2011), a theory which has grown to become one of the most important perspectives on racism in education internationally. As a body of scholarship immersed in radical activism, CRT seeks to explore and challenge the pervasiveness of racial inequality in society, whilst based on the understanding that race and racism are the product of social thought and power relations (Rollock and Gillborn, 2011).

Our second speaker, Chantelle Lewis, is an activist, sociologist, podcaster and PhD researcher at Goldsmiths. Chantelle also works with the charity Leading Routes, a network of black students and academics, and is the Programme Director of Black in Academia, which aims to further the conversation about the representation and experiences of black students and staff in universities within the UK. With her research on mixed-race families in a mostly white town in the West Midlands, Chantelle wants to challenge common-sense understandings of race, class and gender. Chantelle spoke about the challenges she had faced within HE, discussing difficulties in navigating spaces as a working-class black woman, where she has “been at the hurdles of the meritocracy of whiteness”.

Our third speaker of the session, Tissot Regis, is a sociologist and PhD researcher at Goldsmiths, researching white anxieties in East London in a post-Brexit environment. Outside of academia, Tissot works with the charity ReachOut, a mentoring charity working with young people in disadvantaged communities to raise aspirations and help them grow in character and attainment, and is also a speaker for the Stephen Lawrence foundation. Echoing Chantelle, Tissot spoke about feeling uncomfortable in academic situations due to being a person of colour. Tissot discussed his irritation at the notion of separateness in society: “we need to get away from this idea of seperateness in our approach to education and the syllabus… Black history month – why is it separate? It’s your history too”.

In presenting some shocking statistics, Chantelle highlighted academia’s inability to understand the relationship between race and class, frequently resulting in universities putting their guard up and saying “it’s not my issue”. One poignant statistic recognised that in 2016-17 there were only 25 black women and 90 black men among 19,000 professors in the UK (Advance HE, in Adams, 2018). Begging the question, why is it that the number of black and minority ethic (BME) students dramatically decreases in postgraduate education? This is thought-provoking given that as a society we seem to be moving closer to equality in undergraduate education, but we still have a long way to go to ensure equality within postgraduate education and beyond. Chantelle expressed feeling optimistic about how BME students and academics are proactively talking about empowering the future. However, she feels less optimistic about the outlook of HE institutions themselves and the government’s role in enabling equality.

Saskia, Chantelle and Tissot run a political podcast from a sociological perspective called ‘Surviving Society’. Being fed-up with mainstream conversations taking place around politics and current affairs, through public sociology they aim to challenge common-sense understandings of race, class and gender and aim to show how entrenched inequalities shape both political conversations and individual experiences. Their episodes are accessible, entertaining and free to download, and are available on iTunes, SoundCloud and Spotify. This week’s Landscape Surgery was recorded for one of Surviving Society’s podcasts, and is available to listen to here.

We would like to extend our thanks to Saskia, Chantelle, Dom and Tissot for a thoroughly thought-provoking session, and for their continued work in promoting people of all colours to continue in postgraduate education and beyond.

Bibliography

Adams, R. (2018) ‘UK universities making slow progress on equality, data shows’, The Guardian, 7 September [Online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/sep/07/uk-university-professors-black-minority-ethnic (Last accessed: 30 October 2018)

Bell, D. (1980) Brown v. Board of Education and the Interest-Convergence Dilemma. Harvard Law Review, 93(3), pp.518-533.

Rollock, N. and Gillborn, D. (2011) Critical Race Theory (CRT). Available at: https://www.bera.ac.uk/researchers-resources/publications/critical-race-theory-crt. (Last accessed: 24 October 2018)

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

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Meet the editors!

Hello! We are Ed, Jack, Alice and Megan, and we are the new editors of the Landscape Surgery blog. As a team, we are all very excited to be taking over this role from Nina and (the other) Ed who did such a great job of curating the site last year. For us, ‘Landscape Surgery’ (which is now 22 years old!) has always been a great opportunity to bring together all members of the Social, Cultural and Historical Geography Research Group in our bi-weekly meetings. In the fantastic company of our groups ‘surgeons’, we have timely and critical conversations on a wide variety of subjects, reflecting the huge array of academic interests displayed by the research group as a whole. As an editing team, we are eager to continue to dissect ‘Landscape Surgery’ discussions within this informative blog, as well as highlighting the exciting things that members of the research group have been getting up to; from academic conferences, new publications, interdisciplinary workshops and public events.

We actively welcome submissions from all ‘surgeons’ who wish to use this blog as a way to start a conversation, showcase an event, discuss general PhD life, give post-doc and career advice, or to talk about some stimulating research you’ve done. So, if you’ve been up to something interesting, why not write a blog about it?

If you would like to submit a post, or have any comments or questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us at: Ed.armston-sheret.2017@live.rhul.ac.uk, megan.harvey.2014@live.rhul.ac.uk, jack.lowe.2017@live.rhul.ac.uk, alice.reynolds.2013@rhul.ac.uk.

Ed Armston-Sheret

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What are your current research interests?

My research looks at British explorers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I am particularly interested in how explorers prepared, used, and represented their bodies and the relationship between these issues and their public and scientific reputations. In looking at these issues, I explore the importance of bodies within scientific practice, geographical fieldwork, and ideas of heroism in the Victorian and Edwardian period.

What do you do outside academia?

Outside of academia, I enjoy doing things that get me away from books, screens, and writing. I particularly enjoy cooking and cycling. I’ve also got into foraging for fruit which I use to make my own jams and chutneys.

What is your favourite song to work too?

I’ve become less and less able to listen to music while I work. I used to do it a lot but often found I ended up typing the lyrics into what I was writing!

What is your favourite book?

C.L.R James’ The Black Jacobins is probably top of my list at the moment. It’s really hard to do this account of the Haitian Revolution justice; it’s well written, impassioned, and I found it almost impossible to put down.

Megan Harvey

Megan Harvey

What are your current research interests?

I’m currently really interested in better understanding the economic and cultural geographies around sleeping and dreaming. My PhD project will think quite explicitly about neoliberal capitalism and its latent desire to harness the micro-spaces and temporalities of sleep. This will include a focus on the practices of night-time businesses, the embodied geographies of commodified sleep technologies and a close examination of subconscious ‘dream space’ to assess the degree of capitalism’s impingement. I also enjoy crafting new cultural geographic research techniques for querying sleeping and dreaming, from a ‘Nocturnal Methodological Praxis’ that explored insomnia and nocturnality within the city, to a ‘Dream Tool-Kit’ that utilised dream journaling and sleep diaries to interpret slumber experiences.

What do you do outside academia?

I think that a work/life balance is really important, so I like to spend my down time doing as much as possible with my family and friends. We like to watch films, play video and board games and cook together. I also play women’s rugby twice a week for Royal Holloway’s university team, which is a great stress reliever!

What is your favourite song to work too?

I love to listen to film and television scores as I work, anything by Hans Zimmer and Ramin Djawadi are usually on my playlist. I recently found the soundtrack to Black Mirrors ‘San Junipero’ by Clint Mansell, it is incredibly reminiscent of the fantastic episode and has been on repeat for a while!

What is your favourite book?

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier has long been one of my favourite books, it’s a gloomy and gothic thriller that was later turned into one of my favourite films by Alfred Hitchcock. I also love A Handmaids Tale by Margaret Attwood and Hot Milk by Deborah Levy.

Jack Lowe

Jack Lowe.jpg

What are your current research interests?

I’m a cultural geographer whose research engages with various forms of digital media art to investigate the processes through which places become meaningful. My practice-based PhD project, supervised between Geography and Media Arts, will involve making a mixed-reality game in my home city of Canterbury, as a method of understanding this medium’s potential to enable people to tell, and learn about, the stories that make places meaningful. I also have a longstanding interest in the cultural geographies of video game environments; in particular how a sense of place can be crafted in these (semi-)virtual landscapes. In this regard, I’m keen to explore further how post-phenomenology might provide theoretical frameworks through which we can apprehend the relationships between different kinds of materials, technologies, bodies and social contexts in the production of game-playing experiences.

What do you do outside academia?

I’m a big fan of video games, particularly ‘walking simulators’ and other story-based titles. I love walking in physical environments as well as virtual ones; and even though it’s becoming part of my research, I still like to go Geocaching (often with my sister and 7-year-old nephew) to explore new places. I also play piano and guitar, and very occasionally compose some classical stuff; it’s all demos at this stage though. Reading and creative writing are both activities I like to do for pleasure outside academia too.

What is your favourite song to work to?

I listen to albums rather than individual songs while working, and this tends to be classical music. I adore Jessica Curry’s soundtrack to the video game Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, which wonderfully captures the spirit of bucolic rural England. I also love working to the music of Olafur Arnalds, Zoe Keating, and most recently Evan Call’s Automemories, the moving and eclectic orchestral score to the anime Violet Evergarden.

What is your favourite book?

I’m going to go for The Orchid Trilogy by Jocelyn Brooke, an author who lived in my home area of rural Kent. It’s a set of three semi-autobiographical novels that tell stories from different parts of Brooke’s life, from his childhood growing up in east Kent during WW1 all the way up to serving in the army during WW2. It paints a melancholy but enchanting picture of a sensitive man, whose passion for the mystical rural landscapes of his childhood, and seeking rare orchids, embodies the distance he experienced from the rest of ‘normal’ society; in particular its ‘desirable’ traits of masculinity.

What made reading The Orchid Trilogy extra magical for me was having my local Ordnance Survey maps next to me. Following in his footsteps this way added another layer of significance to the familiar landscapes of my own upbringing.

Alice Reynolds

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What are your current research interests?

I am really interested in the marketisation of Higher Education, both within the UK and globally, and the Student-Consumer debate. My current research, supervised between Geography and Law, focuses upon a study of student housing in Dublin, where I am aim to advance student geographies by utilising a social harm perspective to explore the experiences of students within Dublin’s housing crisis. The research aims to advance the burgeoning field of zemiology, placing students at the heart of the research, and in doing so arguing for a social harm approach within geographical studies.

What do you do outside academia?

I have a big family and enjoy spending my free time visiting them out in the country. My guilty pleasure is watching anything to do with crime and the police and I’ve probably watched every Police Interceptors episode ever made…

What is your favourite song to work to?

I love Irish music and find it motivates me when I’m working. I love listening to Lord of the Dance whilst secretly wishing I was an Irish dancer!

What is your favourite book?

I really enjoyed reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, later adapted into a film in 2013. The book follows the story of Liesel, a nine-year-old German girl given up by her mother to live with foster parents in the small town of Molching in 1939, shortly before World War II. The strong relationships Liesel creates with characters throughout the book create a strong contrast against a backdrop of hate.

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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