Tag Archives: Academia

RHUL Geography Department to host ‘Cornwall Connections’ Symposium

On 12th March 2016 the Institute of Cornish Studies, part of the University of Exeter, will be holding a symposium at Royal Holloway, University of London in association with the Geography Department of that historic institution. The aim of the day is to explore both historical and contemporary connections between Cornwall and London with papers exploring topics like migration and centre-periphery relations. We would welcome papers from a broad range of disciplines and presented in a conventional lecture format or in a film or poster presentation.

It is appropriate that the symposium is being held at Royal Holloway since Thomas Holloway, the founder of the institution, had connections to the West Cornwall town of Penzance. If successful the aim is to hold similar events in the future both in other areas of Britain and overseas.

If you are interested in giving a presentation please send an abstract of 150 words along with name, title and institutional affiliation to both

cornishstudies@exeter.ac.uk and ben.gilby.2014@live.rhul.ac.uk by 10th February.

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‘Geography Flies’ Through Years of International History

By Benjamin Newman and Hannah Awcock

ICHG Name Tag and Programme

The International Conference of Historical Geographers took place from the 5th to the 10th of July at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) in Kensington (Photo: Ben Newman).

As the International Conference of Historical Geographers drew to a close, amidst bids from St Petersburg and Warsaw to host the next meeting of the conference, Innes Keighren took to twitter to write that it was:

This, of course, was true in every respect. Over the previous six days, historical geographers from around the globe had come together in a frenzy of papers, plenaries, field-trips, lunches, dinners and a general hum of enthusiasm for historical geography. There was more to celebrate than just a successful conference with ICHG observing its 40th anniversary, and it was on that subject that Alan Baker (University of Cambridge) was invited to give the first plenary talk of the conference on the opening Sunday inside The Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)’s Ondaatje Theatre. His plenary would serve both as a celebration of the evolution of the meeting of British and Canadian Historical Geographers in Kingston, Ontario 40 years previous, and also as a reminder of the barriers to participation in historical geography, both at the conference and in the Journal of Historical Geography. His talk and invited contributions from international scholars left much to muse over at the welcome drinks reception that followed.

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Professor Catherine Hall gave an excellent plenary about British slave-owners (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

Monday would see the conference officially begin with eleven parallel sessions offering a feast of historical geography for delegates to enjoy. It would be difficult to summarise the diversity of the contributions, from urban historical geography, feminist historical geography, and GIS, to historical geography of extreme weather, war, knowledge, instruments, books, architecture, photography and many more. As the full first day of the conference drew to a close delegates excitedly gathered in the Ondaatje Theatre to listen to the first of three evening plenary sessions. UCL-based Professor Catherine Hall spoke to the title: Rethinking Slavery and Freedom. Professor Hall took a novel approach to slavery, focusing on the slave-owners rather than the slaves themselves. Thinking about how slave-owners constructed their world and justified their ownership of human beings allows us to put slavery back into British history.

Tuesday would be another busy day of all things historical geography, with Landscape Surgery’s first speaker, David Rooney. He got the Surgeons off to a good start with a paper on ‘Technologies of Segregation on the Streets of East London.’ He would be the first of a large number of Surgeons who participated in the conference, with Liz Haines, Noeme Santana, Hannah Awcock, Bergit Arends, Bethan Bide, Janet Owen, Innes M. Keighren, and Veronica della Dora, all involved in either convening, speaking, or both. And of course our own Felix Driver was Chair of the local organizing committee! Tuesday’s plenary was a landmark session with Felix chairing the inaugural British Academy Lecture in Geography, welcoming Bill Cronon (University of Wisconsin-Madison) to talk under the provocative title: Who reads Geography or History Anymore? The Challenges of Audience in a Digital Age. His talk discussed the death of the book length monograph, reading practices in the digital age and challenged the academy to consider the potential of various non-traditional outputs.

The RGS-IBG provided a perfect backdrop for lunch in the sunshine (Photo: Sophie Brockmann).

The RGS-IBG provided a perfect backdrop for lunch in the sunshine (Photo: Sophie Brockmann).

Conference delegates may have embraced Bill Cronon’s calls for academics to engage with social media a little too enthusiastically with the appearance of the @Geographyfly twitter account. The tweets were supposedly by a fly who liked to participate in proceedings by crawling around on the projector in the Ondaatje Theatre during plenary sessions. There was a certain amount of ‘buzz’ about who the genuine culprit was.

On Wednesday there was a break from formal sessions for a series of field trips. A series of 17 trips, ranging from the historical geography of hop picking in Kent to a musical tour of Soho, proved that historical geographers do far more than just sitting in the archive. Surgeon Innes Keighren was one of the organisers of a trip to Maritime Greenwich. We both thoroughly enjoyed our field trips, and the general consensus was they were all well organised and informative.

The field trip to the site of the 1862 Great Exhibition also included a tour of the Albert memorial in Hyde Park (Photo: Ruth Mason).

The field trip to the site of the 1862 Great Exhibition also included a tour of the Albert memorial in Hyde Park (Photo: Ruth Mason).

Thursday’s tube strike—minus some sore feet from walks across London—did little to dampen the atmosphere as parallel sessions kicked off again after Wednesday’s hiatus. That evening the final plenary of the conference was given by Professor Simon Schaffer (University of Cambridge), on the topic of ‘Astronomy at the Imperial Meridian: The Colonial Production of Hybrid Spaces.’ It is of note that none of the plenary speakers (apart from Alan Baker) identify as historical geographers, which reflects the truly interdisciplinary nature of the subject. In the opening plenary on Sunday evening Professor Mona Domosh (Dartmouth College) had suggested that maybe it doesn’t matter so much whether scholars call themselves historical geographers. Rather, what matters more is that people are doing historical geography in new and interesting ways, and after attending the ICHG it would be very hard to argue that it is anything less than a vibrant and dynamic discipline.

Historical geographers work hard, and they play hard! (Photo: James Kneale).

Historical geographers work hard, and they play hard! (Photo: James Kneale).

On Friday morning the finish line of this six-day marathon was in sight, but sessions continued unabated. The conference drew to a close with delegates choosing the hosts of the next ICHG. We would personally like to thank the Local Organising Committee and the RGS-IBG for doing such an excellent job of organizing and running the conference, and then all that remains is to say see you in Warsaw in 2018!

by Benjamin Newman and Hannah Awcock.

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Conferences – Exciting/Nerve Wracking/Huge Opportunity – Delete as appropriate!

Presenting at and convening conference sessions is a major part of the postgraduate experience – and so many of you have already had those experiences. This week, in a real flurry of news for me, I have been given the opportunity to do it for the first time – twice!

First came the news that my paper on Agreement for Sustainable Devolution for Cornwall has been accepted for the Association of Celtic Students Annual Conference at the Penryn Campus of the University of Exeter, and then, on Wednesday the ‘biggie’ – my proposal to convene two sessions at this year’s Royal Geographic Society Annual Conference on The Contemporary Growth of Regional Identity in Europe was accepted. Flippin’ ‘eck! Heady stuff for a Masters student!!

My initial reaction was that it was fantastic that my particular field of research was being validated by the wide academic community. We all plough our separate fields, engaged in our own areas of interest. At times, this can be a lonely existence, with the researcher often feeling: “This is of major interest to me – but does it have any wider currency?” At least, right now I can see that the answer is “Yes!” Then of course comes the associated “Oh My God, I’m going to have to share my particular range of research with a huge range of people whose levels of interest in what I am doing is considerably varied” and the consequences of this.

In my day job, as a primary school teacher, I have to get up and ‘present’ in front of 26 children 2.5 days a week, so you could be forgiven for thinking that it will all be a breeze, and there’s nothing to worry about – but somehow 8 year-olds are not such a nerve wracking audience for me!

It has been fantastic to see that so many of the Royal Holloway surgeons have also been successful with their applications to present or convene at this year’s RGS-IBG Conference. I guess I’ll see you all in Exeter!

Ben Gilby, MA Cultural Geography (Research)


Souvenir Geographies — My first year PhD presentation in Landscape Surgery

Shirt of London Made in Turkey, (photo by author, taken in Cool Britannia, summer 2014)

Shirt of London Made in Turkey, (photo by author, taken in Cool Britannia, summer 2014)

The first-year PhD presentation day is a tradition of Landscape Surgery. I attended it last year as an audience member when I was a MA student, and was honoured to be a speaker in it this year. For the LS presentation, I created a slideshow to help demonstrate my PhD (available here), which can also give you a taste of my PhD.

This project looks at a widely-loved object: the souvenir. Many people keep souvenirs as reminders of a person, place, or event. A souvenir is inherently geographical based on its nature. A souvenir’s mobility is its most outstanding geographical characteristic: souvenirs move from the place of tourism to the place of home; from ‘extraordinary’ place to the world of the ‘ordinary’. Although souvenirs take on many forms, functions and representations, they are often formally associated with a specific geographical place.

Studies related to souvenirs in SCG are rare. Morgan & Pritchard (2005) studied souvenir and self-identity; Hashimoto & Telfer (2007) talked about authentic geographical souvenirs in Canada; Ramsay (2009) had an impressive field work of souvenir production sites in Swaziland; while Peters (2011) studied banal souvenirs’ home placement. Souvenirs studies have potential for exploration.

My PhD project ‘Souvenir Geographies: Authenticity and Place Making’ focus on souvenirs on two way: one is to explore how souvenirs’ authenticity and meaning change along with places; secondly it looks at how souvenirs shape places in the terms of place making. This process is revealed by following souvenirs in a linear route: from the making sites, tourist sites, transport sites (AKA non-places: airports, train stations; Augé, 1994) and then to the tourists’ homes. In this quadruple layer process, souvenir’s spatiotemporal peculiarity makes it a great object to follow, and to analysis from a geographical perspective. Putting my Cultural Geographer’s hat on, I analysis souvenirs based on their spatial movements.

In the terms of methodology, ‘following the thing’ and visual ethnography are the most basic and key methods used through out the whole project. Apart from these, semi_structured interviews, using postcards as a method, participant observation, keeping fieldwork diary: text, image and video, and blogging as a method (project blog) are also used in this project. When it comes to field work, two fields are considered for this project. The first one is UK, and the other is China. In each case, equal factories, tourist sites, transporting sites and homes will be visited and same number of postcards will be handed out.

Souvenirs studying is an innovative and novel topic area in Cultural Geography, which promises to contribute to discussions in a range of geographical topics: material culture, place and, in particular, tourism studies.

Zhuyun (Amy) Zang, PhD Candidate

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Self-Portraits of a Surgeon – My Affair with Cultural Geography

ImageIt was never meant to happen. I was just curious; experimental. I mean, it was my first year at university – this is what you’re meant to do right? I was just messing around but I knew where my passions really lay. Yet before I realised, something changed – my flirting was no longer just harmless, tangential fun. It meant something. I had to be honest with myself – I no longer liked what I used to, I was into something different and it was exciting.

Starting my undergraduate degree at Plymouth, I was an ardent physical geographer. My experience of geography up till that point had told me that human geography was pretty boring and it was in the physical sciences where it was really happening. Indeed I remember being quite taken aback during sixth form when someone suggested that I must favour the human side of discipline. I could not dispute their reasoning (based on my very social science/humanities A-Level subjects) but the conclusion almost repulsed me. A similar feeling of steadfastness was experienced in my first lecture at Plymouth when Dr Richard Yarwood ‘guaranteed’ that the majority of us in the room would favour human geography by the end of the degree.

I was tempted within two weeks.

The introductory lectures in human geography were nothing like what I had experienced hitherto – they were exciting, intriguing and seemed to be about real life – about people, places, the world. In comparison, the physical lectures seemed dated, dull and if I am going to be honest – too sciencey for me.  I was slowly being seduced by human geography. I found it fascinating that you could use poetry in geographical enquiry, that a coastal walk could be cutting edge fieldwork. By Christmas I was a fully-fledged human-geography-convert when I was introduced to Yi-Fu Tuan. Assigned an essay about my sense of place, I discovered the idea that peoples’ feeling, emotions, actions, thoughts and opinions about things really mattered, in life and in geography. What a revelation that was, since that point I haven’t taken a single physical geography module – I was a human geographer and proud.

The remaining two and a half years at Plymouth were spent finding my feet, I was still cagey in this new ground; unsure of what human geography really was, what held it together and what type of human geographer I was. I was definitely having a crisis of identity, struggling to articulate to my family and friends what it is I was studying and how it all related to geography. Unfortunately this is not a story of epiphanic realisation or how I became a born-again cultural geographer. Truth be told, I still have the same difficulty – sometimes I say I am a cultural geographer, sometimes a social-cultural geographer, sometimes a human geographer, sometimes a geographer and sometimes just a researcher. I have a fuzzy academic identity but I know I have found a home in cultural geography.

I ended up at Royal Holloway, studying the MA Cultural Geography, not because I decided I was a cultural geographer (in fact I had never had a cultural geography lecture before I enrolled) but because so much of the geography that really excited me was coming from here. If I have assumed the label of a cultural geographer because of that, I am ok with it because I feel cultural geography and me are well-matched. In my first seminar here we discussed what culture and cultural geography were. We concluded that we did not know. The concept of culture is too difficult to pin down, the remit of cultural geography is broad beyond compare and cultural geographers come from such diverse disciplinary backgrounds – there is no archetypal cultural geographer.

It appears that cultural geography is also very fuzzy. While I may struggle to explain at a party what I do and why I do it in a catchy sound bite, I am happy to embrace all this fuzziness and run with it – the results of which are enthusiasm, excitement and fascination. While I recognise the jack of all trades, master of none argument, I am not concerned by it. I prefer to think of cultural geography, not as a list of researchable topics, but as a disposition and way of thinking. To me cultural geography explores how spaces, places, people and things are, how they become meaningful, how they are experienced, and how they are perceived, imagined and practised by different people / things. It is about how we live our lives, the places we live in, how we create meaning and the affects/effects of such things and yes, that is very broad but also of incredible importance.

I am curious about the world, and cultural geography not only accommodates this widespread concern but actively encourages it; constantly questioning, challenging and pushing me to think in different ways, research in different ways and see the world from different perspectives. 3 years 4 months ago, I would not believe it but: my name is Simon Cook and I am having an affair with cultural geography.

Simon Cook (M.A Candidate)

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Self Portraits of a surgeon – Geographer Self


The truth? I’m still not sure I am a geographer.

Over the last year I’ve become more comfortable claiming to be one, or at least marginally less fearful of being exposed as a fraud. But at parties my go-to response to the dreaded question of “what do you do?” is: “oh, I’m a writer.” If the conversation survives this admission, and I happen to mention that I’m doing a PhD, and I happen to mention that the PhD is in cultural geography, I might make an attempt at explaining how these things are linked. I might say, “I write about geography.” This is not really an explanation, but if you say it confidently enough, it almost sounds like one.

“Writer” was not always – is not always – a comfortable identity either, though. It took me a long time to learn how to say it without cringing, to stop waiting for someone to say, “sure, but be honest: you’re not a real writer.” On a good day, what I feel about my identity as a writer is that it’s mine, and therefore it’s okay for it to look different to someone else’s. Perhaps geography is the same; it moulds itself to your shape. My cultural geography is not your cultural geography, though there may be overlaps.

So let’s say that in one sense, I’m still learning how to be a cultural geographer. And part of the process of learning this involves an appropriation of the label. When I first fell into geography I was giddy: I felt like I’d finally found something I needed but didn’t know I’d been looking for. I then spent my first few shaky months as a PhD student telling people how nervous I’d been, coming from an academic background in Other Subjects (politics, then creative writing), and so often these people would say, in turn, that they had also been worried about this, that they had first studied history, or literature, or international relations, or theatre, or whatever. Interdisciplinarity seems to be at the heart of cultural geography, which is one of the things I love most about it: it’s an open field. It comes alive as a discipline because of the people who do it and the knowledge (and baggage) they bring with them.


Actually, geography is the one thing I’ve always wanted to write about and think about, even before I knew it had a name.

I grew up on a ranch on the coast of California. The land was rough and uncooperative. One winter the road, submitting to the pressures of a particularly heavy rainfall, slid away into the sea; we walked out to Highway 101 on the railroad tracks, across a tall, spindly bridge, hoping no trains came. We lived in fear of summer wildfires, which were presaged by a particular kind of wind that put everyone on edge and could turn beloved golden hills into a blackened Martian wasteland in the blink of an eye. We coexisted with coyotes, mountain lions, bats, mice, rattlesnakes. Everything had a life of its own. It was a difficult place, but it was also beautiful, hypnotic – at times almost unbearably so. How can anyone live here? How can anyone leave here?

I developed a sense of place rooted not in a town or a city, as so many of my peers had, but in isolation and details: the rock face that our house had been built into, the smell of orange blossoms and dirt, the swells and tides of the sea, the subtle seasonal changes in light. The affective qualities of these things were intensified during my teenage years, when I actively resented the ranch: I hated being so remote, so weird, though I knew that the place mattered to me. I thought my friendships were weaker because I couldn’t wander out into the suburban night and get casually drunk with them, that I would never learn how to be comfortable around people my own age because every extracurricular social encounter had to be arranged in advance. But I also remember thinking, around this time, that the thing that most defined me, the thing that was most important to me, apart from basic considerations like love and shelter and sustenance, was a relationship with place. I didn’t know how I could think about anything else without first considering where I was and where I’d been.


So you could say that in this everyday, bordering-on-selfish sense, I have, in fact, been a geographer for a long time. These things – wildfires, washed-out roads, train tracks, orange groves, kelp beds, afternoon light – are cultural geography to me. So are my memories of them, which are often imperfect, sometimes invented, especially now that I live about 5,000 miles away. This is, perhaps, where I get the impression that geography is often best done from the perspective of an “I”: I am part of the geography that I write. I’ve written recently about the difficulty of negotiating multiple, sometimes overlapping but often quite disparate selves – academic-self, freelance-self, writer-self, person-in-the-world-self. I’m coming to believe that my geographer-self is the thing they all have in common.

The discipline of (doing) geography has taught me, too, to be a better writer, a better reader, a better participant in my own life and the lives of others. Place, broadly understood, has remained important to me; it’s where my “practice” as an academic geographer is rooted. But I’m also starting to see other things through the lens of geography. The way I listen to music informs my actions as a cultural geographer, and vice versa; sitting in a café, peeling cracked plaster from our bedroom walls, walking to the pool after an unproductive day, swimming laps – these are all ways of “doing” geography. They are certainly all ripe for writing about from the perspective of the cultural geographer. Sometimes just to write is a geographical act.

Miranda Ward, PhD Candidate

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Self Portraits Of A Surgeon – I, Cultural Geographer

ImageFriend: What is it you’re studying?

Me: Cultural geography

Friend: What’s that about?

Me: Well, it’s erm… basically…

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

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

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

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

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

Giles Lindon (M.A. Candidate)

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