Tag Archives: Historical Geography

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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Industrial Photography Performed: The Struggle for Energy from Modernism to the Cold War

 

Our joint presentation drew upon photographic materials produced in the context of the industrial development of energy production in the United States and the GDR. While the photographs discussed in our presentations were produced in distinct political systems, at different points in time—Modernism in the early 20th century and towards the end of the Cold War in the 1970s—from different perspectives and for different audiences, the common ground between both papers is the analysis of the uses of photography and how they performed in the struggle for energy. Therefore, both case studies present different views on how photography was used as a medium through which the exploitation of natural resources for energy production was visually represented and commercially and socially understood.

Using the Ralph Arnold photographic album collection at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, the first study outlined the use of photography as a key element in the formation of the emerging oil industry in the Western United States in the early twentieth century. Ralph Arnold (1875-1961) was an American geologist and petroleum engineer whose photographs taken during several geological surveys in California, Wyoming, Oklahoma and Texas were part of a collective scientific and financial effort to lobby for appropriate oil taxation and the recognition of the role of the petroleum engineer in oil exploration.

The second study discussed the visual dialogue between Nguyen The Thuc’s Kohle unter Magdeborn (Coal beneath Magdeborn) (1976), a photographic album documenting an open cast coal mining site and the devastation of its inhabitant community in the GDR, and Christiane Eisler’s series of commissioned photographs of the revisited mining site and contemporary Leipzig, produced in the period 2012 to 2014. The album and the new series of works were shown together in the 2014 exhibition Freundschaftsantiqua in Leipzig (Germany). The bodies of work reflect the changes in the industrialised environment through expanding and contracting resource extraction and the effects on its inhabitants. They are also documents of an international cultural production and GDR culture politics. The medium of photography was selected as exhibition focus due to its propensity to visually communicate across different cultures.

wood fossil_Magdeborn

Fossilised tree fragment, entrance area at Zweckverband Abfallwirtschaft Westsachsen waste deposit site, 2015, photograph: Bergit Arends

Freundschaftsantiqua_installation detail

Freundschaftsantiqua 2014, Galerie fuer Zeitgenoessische Kunst Leipzig (Germany), exhibition detail, photography: Sebastian Schroeder

 

Jointly we explored the performativity and fluidity of meaning of photographic images. How is meaning shaped by institutional discourses, disciplinary perspectives, and expertise. How were photographs taken by petroleum engineers used to shape the oil industry in terms of scientific exploration, commercial capabilities and policy reforms in the American West? How did the project from the GDR contribute to, or contravene, a political and environmental discourse in documenting how humans were affected by a visibly polluting energy production? Or did the images in both case studies contribute to a discourse of personal sacrifice towards a collective ‘greater good’ and moral duty for the nation?

Bergit Arends and Noeme Santana

 

Bibliography

+ contextual reading on the international circulation and audiences of photographs of American West taken by Timothy O’Sullivan during the Clarence King Surveys between 1867 and 1872:

Brunet, F., (2012) ‘Showing American Geography Abroad in the Victorian Era: The International Reception of the King Survey Work’, in: Timothy O’Sullivan: The King Survey Photographs, Davis, K. and Aspinwall,J. (ed.), New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 185-195

+ for some insights into GDR photography by a GDR/Germany-based curator. Exhibition catalogue of the first survey exhibition of GDR photography in the UK, curated by Matthew Shaul:

Immisch, T. O. (2007), ‘Appearance and Being: GDR Photography of the 1970s and 1980s’, in: Do Not Refreeze: Photography behind the Berlin Wall, exh. cat., Manchester: Cornerhouse Publications, pp. 24-27

+ one history on the subject of energy in the USA and Germany

Radkau, J., (1996), ‘Energy: Genie or Genius? – How steam, electricity and oil heralded global change’, History Today, vol 46; MNTH 11, pp. 14-19

+ photography theory from 1983 for social and economic discourses on images at the example of images (1948-1968) by a commercial photographer in the coal-mining region of Cape Breton:

Sekula, A. (2003) ‘Reading an Archive. Photography between Labour and Capital’, in: The Photography Reader, Wells, L. (ed.), London: Routledge, pp. 443-452

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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.

2015-07-06 16.42.26

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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Unreal City: Discovering London through the Archive (by Hannah Awcock and Bethan Bide)

London is a complex, vibrant, and diverse city to study (Source: The Guardian)

London is a complex, vibrant, and diverse city to study (Source: The Guardian)

London is a fascinating city, a buzzing metropolis with an incredibly rich history. It has been the subject of an untold number of academic studies, as well as an almost infinite assortment of films, books, poems, pictures and other cultural products.

 

London is obviously a fantastic city to study. It is the economic, social, political and cultural centre of Britain, and during the heights of the British Empire it served this role for huge swathes of the world. It has a population of over eight million people, who speak over 300 languages. This quantity and diversity of people, organisations and events provides fertile ground for huge numbers of research projects. As well as this, it is almost unrivalled in terms of the archives available for use, and being the focus and inspiration of so much academic and cultural output means that there is a wealth of sources available to study.

 

We are both studying London for our PhD research; Hannah looks at the historical geographies of protest in the city between 1780 and 2010, and Bethan is working on so-called ‘austerity’ fashion in London after the Second World War, in collaboration with the Museum of London. We are also both utilising archival research in our projects. London is a unique area of study for both of us in its own way. In terms of protest,  London’s role as the symbolic and literal centre of British politics makes it a key location of dissent. With regards to fashion, London is known as a world fashion capital, and although the history and origins of this status are contentious, London has long been a centre for fashionable production and consumption.

An archival glimpse of shopping on post-war regent street.

An archival glimpse of shopping on post-war Regent Street.

 

One of the first steps when conducting research to to ensure you have a clear definition of the terms involved in your project. However when it comes to London, that is not an easy thing to do. London means so many things, to so many people, that it is hard to pin down a coherent and concise definition. Is London a city of 8.17 million people, or an area of 611 square miles? Knightsbridge or the East End? London is all of these things, but each research project must decide how it wishes to locate itself amid these different definitions, by means of summary or selection.

 

The richness and diversity of London also pose other challenges to the researcher, particularly when it comes to archival research. Archival sources go through several selection processes; firstly, when the archival institution, curator or individual collector decide which items to keep and preserve, and then secondly when the researcher chooses which materials to use in their research.  As an archivist or collector, how do you choose sources to accurately represent such a varied city as London? As a researcher, which sources best represent that variety within the scope of your research? Is it even possible or indeed desirable to draw meaningful conclusions about ‘London’ as a coherent entity?

 

The possible existence of a London bias should also be considered. Is London researched too much, at the expense of other British cities? If this is the case, do we as researchers have a responsibility to correct this imbalance? Researchers and academics have a great deal of power in terms of representing the people and places that they study, should we therefore try to ensure that each place is represented ‘fairly’?

A poster for the London Calling demonstration about student tuition fees in 2010 (Source: Coalition of Resistance).

A poster for the London Calling demonstration about student tuition fees in 2010 (Source: Coalition of Resistance).

 

As you may have guessed from this post, we have a lot of unanswered questions in relation to this topic. For this reason, we choose not to draw conclusions, but instead leave the topic open for further discussion. Do you consider yourself to be a researcher of London? Was it a deliberate decision or simply a matter of convenience? How do you tackle the challenge of researching something of the sheer immensity of London?

 

Answers on the back of a postcard please (although any thoughts or opinions in the comments would also be very welcome!)

 

Hannah Awcock and Bethan Bide

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Introducing Benjamin Newman – CDA Student

Hello Surgeons!

I’m Ben, an AHRC-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award (CDA) student working in partnership with the department and the Royal Ben Newman Geographical Society (with IBG). I am supervised jointly by Dr. Innes Keighren and Dr. Catherine Souch (Head of Research and Higher Education Division at the RGS), with Prof. Klaus Dodds offering guidance and support for good measure.

My journey at Royal Holloway started some 5 years ago when I joined the department as a young, fresh-faced undergraduate student. I completed my undergraduate degree on the BA Geography course, where I was introduced to the world of historical geography on the second-year research field trip to New York. I moved on to the MA in Cultural Geography (Research) in 2013 (notwithstanding that fact I hadn’t previously undertaken any of the cultural geography modules available at undergraduate level). Despite an apprehensive start, I enjoyed the new and varied concepts introduced in each of the seminars and creative practices (which including strapping a Go-Pro to a dog), however, almost inevitably, I found myself back in the archive to complete my MA dissertation.

Throughout my time at Royal Holloway, I used the respective dissertations to hone the clumsy archival research skills that would have been on display in the New York Public Library years earlier. My undergraduate dissertation took me to the League of Nations Archive on the United Nations campus in Geneva and considered the conception, implementation, and circulation of the League of Nations’ interwar nutrition programs. Since the glamour of New York and Geneva things have come slightly closer to home. Under the guidance of Prof. Felix Driver, I found Richard Dennis’s and others fascinating work on nineteenth-century modernity and formulated a project considering the new lived experience and politics of the first, deep-level electric underground railway in London (and the world).

Now I am here, starting another exciting adventure, it was never meant to happen like this, but Harriet could sell ice to the inuit or, more appropriately, PhDs/MAs to students who aren’t quite sure if they are ready for the next step. Although I have been at Royal Holloway for years, I have been exposed to a range of geographic concepts not least at LS. Broadly I am interested in historical geographies of the nineteenth century (I think it’s a great time period to work in given its turbulence and rapidity, the emergence of new geographic experiences and knowledge making) and the mobility of people, objects, and knowledge during that period. I am currently working under the title: “Geography in Dialogue: Print Culture at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), c. 1830–c. 2000”. The project uses The Geographical Journal (GJ) as an empirical focus. First printed in 1831, a year after the founding of the RGS, the GJ’s long-standing tradition of publishing lectures delivered in the Society alongside the questions and discussions which followed them, offers an important insight into the circulation and reception of ideas within geography and the nature of the discipline’s dialogues throughout time and space. As a CDA student, the project was formulated by my respective supervisors and, therefore, currently a significant portion of my time is dedicated to the reworking of the project within the loose parameters already set out in the original AHRC proposal.

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Space, Place, and Protest: The Historical Geography of Contentious Politics in London

The Hyde Park Railings Affair ( Source: Anon., “The Riot in Hyde Park,” Illustrated London News, August 4, 1866, accessed March 24, 2014, Illustrated London News Historical Archive)

The Hyde Park Railings Affair ( Source: Anon., “The Riot in Hyde Park,” Illustrated London News, August 4, 1866, accessed March 24, 2014, Illustrated London News Historical Archive)

In my PhD I plan to investigate the relationship between space, place and protest in London since 1780. Using case studies including the Gordon Riots (1780), the Hyde Park Railings Affair (1866), the Battle of Cable Street (1936), the Grunwick Strike (1976–8), and the Student Tuition Fee Protests (2010), I will attempt to argue that space, place, and protest are mutually constitutive, that they influence and impact each other (although I am fully prepared to find my hypothesis incorrect!)

The case studies were selected to be representative of the time frame, but also to represent different types of spaces, such as the street, parks, commons, and buildings. Although these distinctions do not stand up to much scrutiny, they help to ensure that as wide a variety as possible of the different types of space that make up London are considered in the project.

The method will of course be mainly archival research, but oral histories or interviews may be utilised for the more recent case studies, to help mitigate a common issue with the historical research of protests, the fact that archival sources are rarely from the perspective of protesters themselves. This is only one of several challenges I face in my methodology, but I hope that I will be able to deal with them all in time.

When I say ‘space’ I mean the physical characteristics of a location, for example buildings, roads, street furniture, or a lack of these things. I will investigate whether these characteristics impact protests as they occur within the space, and whether protests in turn impact the space, either directly or through pre-emptive attempts to limit protest. For example, during the Hyde Park Railings Affair in 1866, protesters broke into Hyde Park, which had been closed by police, by pushing over the railings. The protesters then clashed with police, with scuffles still occurring several days after the protest. If the railings had been stronger, and the protesters unable to get into the park, the protest may well have unfolded differently.

In terms of place, by which I refer to the meanings, connotations and emotions that people associate with a location, I will also look at the interaction with protest. I hope to find out if protesters deliberately make use of these meanings and connotations for the purposes of their protest, and if places are changed because a protest happened within them. For example, in the days preceding the Hyde Park Railings Affair, there was extensive debate in the newspapers about the propriety of using the park for a demonstration. Some argued that the park was for the people, and as such could be used however the people saw fit, whilst others considered the park appropriate only for quiet recreational activities. The Railings Affair sparked a battle over what Hyde Park meant to London and its people.

These examples illustrate some of the issues I may be engaging with during my PhD, and I very much look forward to investigating them further.

by Hannah Awcock

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