Some thoughts on the GeoHumanities

The following is the text for an introduction I made at a public event of this year’s Space and Place theme fellows at the Humanities Center at Northeastern. More thoughts on the GeoHumanities are forthcoming.

 

This year’s fellows are exploring the theme of space and place in an interdisciplinary context. To me this represents an exciting opportunity to start a conversation across disciplines at an opportune moment. Across the humanities and social sciences we are experiencing a flourishing of work that takes spatiality seriously. Space and place have often been seen as either a setting for other, more important, processes in culture and society to take place or, alternatively, as the outcome of these processes – a kind of end product. A series of developments both within disciplines and across disciplines have changed this in fundamental ways.

First of all we have seen what is called the spatial turn across the humanities and social scientists. This refers to a general recognition that social and cultural life do not happen on the head of a pin but are thoroughly spatial. The spatial turn made its presence felt, for instance, in the study of literature, where space and place had been too often relegated to mere setting – the least active or interesting component in the assemblage of literary texts. Pioneering work by scholars working across disciplines but rooted in literature –scholars such as Raymond Williams and Edward Said – placed the geography of and in literature at the center of our understanding of the relationship between text and context in ways which enlivened our reading of the canon and started to introduce writing from the previously excluded margins.[1] In History we saw the emergence of spatial history with the magisterial work of Richard White and, particularly, Paul Carter’s Road to Botany Bay – subtitled “an essay in spatial history”.[2] Feminist scholars such as Elizabeth Grosz and Iris Marion Young wove space and place into their accounts of the construction of masculine worlds and their radical alternatives.[3] The spatial turn was given a significant boost when Michel Foucault, whose work of prisons, the asylum and the clinic were all quite radically spatial in nature, became an evangelist for the importance of space in an essay published in 1984.

The great obsession of the nineteenth century was, as we know, history: with its themes of development and of suspension, of crisis, and cycle, themes of the ever-accumulating past, with its great preponderance of dead men and the menacing glaciation of the world. […] The present epoch will perhaps be above all the epoch of space. We are in the epoch of simultaneity: we are in the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of the near and far, of the side-by-side, of the dispersed. We are at a moment, I believe, when our experience of the world is less that of a long life developing through time than that of a network that connects points and intersects with its own skein.[4]

Soon space was everywhere. Sociologists and anthropologists, aware of course, of their inheritance of the works of the Chicago School of Sociology and the ethnomethodology of Erving Goffman on the one hand, and Levi-Strauss on the other, experienced a renewed interest in the way space works its ways into the crevices of social and cultural processes as an active agent in the production, maintenance and transformation of everyday life.[5] This was given an added boost by the eager take up of the problem of space in the nascent cultural studies and through the translation of Henri Lefebvre’s foundational book, The Production of Space.[6] Even the more scientific ends of social science, which had long been set on arriving at law-like universal generalizations for human behavior, began to recognize that the space in which social things happen is neither the mythical isotropic plain of many models nor the head of a pin danced on by angels. Forms of spatial modeling become more sophisticated, starting with cluster analysis and moving to a general recognition of the importance of place, mobility and spatial variation.[7]

Space and place have made their presences felt across all the central research themes of this University. In Health research there has been increasing interest in the role of space and environment in realms ranging from the currently vogue field of epigenetics in which places impact directly on the very genetic make up of our bodies, to the role of place and landscape in the treatment of illness – in so-called therapeutic landscapes.[8] In the arena of Security studies we have seen everything from the problematic impact of the so-called “broken-windows” theory of criminal and deviant behavior to the development of pattern of life analysis that allows drone operators to assess the likely guilt of people at a distance by recording their movements in space over time. Much of this I find deeply troubling but it is also spatial theorists, inspired by Foucault of course, who are revealing the way space is being used by the security state to impinge on any remaining remnants of truly public space we have left. Either way, space and place are at the center of the debates.[9] And Sustainability is possibly the easiest of the three themes to make a spatial case for. The recent recognition of the Anthropocene as a geological era in which humans are the main actors has led to a lively debate about the kinds of places we want to live in, and that we want future generations to live in. Sustainability is about the key issue of how we dwell in the world – it is a question of place.[10]

While the spatial turn is now thirty years old a new ingredient has recently been added. The Digital Humanities combine a level of technical expertise in the handling of large, even Big, datasets with sophisticated spatial analysis and representation through Geographic Information Systems – or GIS. The recent embrace of GIS and other digital tools by the traditionally technology averse disciplines of English and History is connected to the theoretical recognition of the importance of spatiality.[11] In addition, the sudden explosion in geocoded data, thanks to the mobile devices we all carry in our pockets, is allowing new realms of social scientific analysis right down to the level of the individual to open up. Some of this is troubling and linked to issues of surveillance and corporatization of everyday life, but there are also new creative possibilities for using information that always comes with longitude and latitude. Forms of counter-mapping and critical spatial science are possible. Creative artists have been among the first to become aware of the potential of locative media and geocoded data in raising questions about the role that space and place play in our everyday lives.

So this combination of influences across the disciplines, linking the humanities, the social sciences and the creative arts have led to what has recently been called then GeoHumanities – a new interdisciplinary endeavor with space and place at its heart that links decades of critical thought following the spatial turn to new developments in our digital capabilities.[12] It is in this context that this year’s Fellows scheme in the Humanities Center has been planned.

[1] Raymond Williams, The Country and the City (London: Hogarth, 1985, 1973); Edward W. Said, Orientalism, 1st Vintage Books ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 1979). See also John Barrell, The Dark Side of the Landscape : The Rural Poor in English Paintings, 1730-1840 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980); The Idea of Landscape and the Sense of Place 1730-1840 : An Approach to the Poetry of John Clare (Cambridge [Eng.]: University Press, 1972). S. S. Friedman, “Periodizing Modernism: Postcolonial Modernities and the Space/Time Borders of Modernist Studies,” Modernism-Modernity 13, no. 3 (2006); Franco Moretti, Graphs, Maps, Trees : Abstract Models for a Literary History (London ; New York: Verso, 2005).

[2] Richard White, Railroaded : The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America, 1st ed. ed. (New York ; London: W.W. Norton, 2011); Paul Carter, The Road to Botany Bay : An Essay in Spatial History (London: Faber, 1987). See also William Cronon, Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West (New York: Norton, 1991); James Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven, CT.: Yale University Press, 1998).

[3] Elizabeth Grosz, Architecture from the Outside: Essays on Virtual and Real Space (Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press, 2001); Iris Marion Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990).

[4] Michel Foucault, “Of Other Spaces,” Diacritics 16, no. 1 (1986). See also Discipline and Punish : The Birth of the Prison (New York: Vintage Books, 1979); The Birth of the Clinic; an Archaeology of Medical Perception, 1st American ed., World of Man (New York,: Pantheon Books, 1973); Madness and Civilization : A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason (New York: Vintage, 1988, 1965).

[5] Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, University of Edinburgh. Social Sciences Research Centre. Monograph No. 2 (Edinburgh,: University of Edinburgh Social Sciences Research Centre, 1956); Robert Ezra Park et al., The City, University of Chicago Studies in Urban Sociology (Chicago, Ill.,: The University of Chicago Press, 1925); Claude Levi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques : Anthropological Study of Primitive Societies in Brazil ([S.l.]: Atheneum, 1963).

[6] Lawrence Grossberg, “Cultural Studies and/in New Worlds,” Critical Studies in Mass Communication 10(1993); Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space (Oxford, UK ; Cambridge: Blackwell, 1991).

[7] A. S. Fotheringham and C. Brunsdon, “Local Forms of Spatial Analysis,” Geographical Analysis 31, no. 4 (1999); T. Schwanen, M. P. Kwan, and F. Ren, “How Fixed Is Fixed? Gendered Rigidity of Space-Time Constraints and Geographies of Everyday Activities,” Geoforum 39, no. 6 (2008).

[8] Wilbert M. Gesler, Healing Places (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003); Nessa Carey, The Epigenetics Revolution : How Modern Biology Is Rewriting Our Understanding of Genetics, Disease, and Inheritance (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012).

[9] Oscar Newman, Defensible Space; Crime Prevention through Urban Design (New York,: Macmillan, 1972); Stephen Graham, Cities under Siege : The New Military Urbanism (London: Verso, 2010); Anna Minton, Ground Control : Fear and Happiness in the Twenty-First-Century City (London: Penguin, 2009).

[10] Timothy Morton, Hyperobjects : Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (Minneapolis, MN.: University of Minnesota Press, 2013); Carl A. Maida, Sustainability and Communities of Place (New York, N.Y. ; Oxford: Berghahn Books Ltd, 2007).

[11] Anne Kelly Knowles, Geographies of the Holocaust, The Spatial Humanities (Bloomington IN.: Indiana University Press, 2014), text; Anne Kelly Knowles and Amy Hillier, Placing History : How Maps, Spatial Data, and Gis Are Changing Historical Scholarship, 1st ed. (Redlands, Calif.: ESRI Press, 2008); D. A. Smith, R. Cordell, and E. M. Dillon, “Infectious Texts: Modeling Text Reuse in Nineteenth-Century Newspapers,” 2013 Ieee International Conference on Big Data (2013).

[12] M. J. Dear, Geohumanities : Art, History and Text at the Edge of Place (London: Routledge, 2011).

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The quick death of slow scholarship?

tjcresswell:

We need space for lingering on things. For contemplation. They seem like indulgence but are really necessities.

Originally posted on Landscape Surgery:

"Travels into Print". First manuscript draft (February, 2013).

Travels into Print. First manuscript draft (February, 2013).

Since joining Landscape Surgery in 2010, I have had a seemingly every-present item of business on which to offer updates during our fortnightly “newsrounds”: the progress made (or, more often, not made) in the production of a co-authored research monograph, Travels into Print: Exploration, Writing, and Publishing with John Murray, 1773–1859. With its origins lying in an 2008 AHRC-funded project, the book has (in one form of another) occupied me and my co-authors (the historical geographer Charles W. J. Withers and book historian Bill Bell) for much of the last six years—a literal and figurative example of what Eric Sheppard has called “slow geography”. Having completed the book’s index last month, Travels into Print is (at least as far as its writing is concerned) now finished. All that remains are the relatively fun tasks—approving the cover design, soliciting…

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Living in the Mobility Transition

I am directing a major two year research project on “living in the mobility transition” which will explore the possible futures of mobility in 10-14 sites across the globe. We are just starting out with pilot studies in Canada and the UK.

The research addresses some important questions for the future of humanity in a variety of diverse contexts including

How will we move in ten, twenty, thirty years from now?
What forms of transport will we use?
How will our mobility choices reflect the need to combat climate change?
What impact will the decreasing availability of affordable oil have on our mobility options?

These are key questions facing governments at all levels as well as private transport providers, think tanks, innovators, social action groups and individuals. They are questions that take on different meanings and different answers across the world.

A new blog addresses the process of undertaking this research and it has just started up at

livinginthemobilitytransition.forumviesmobiles.org

The project includes a team of six researchers including (me) Tim Cresswell (Northeastern University, Boston), Peter Adey (Royal Holloway, University of London), Cristina Temenos (Northeastern), Jane Yeonjae Lee (Northeastern), Astrid Wood (Royal Holloway) and Anna Nikolaeva (Royal Holloway).

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Two Poems in The Clearing

I am delighted to have two new poems in/on The Clearing. This site mixes up creative writing with geo themes of landscape, place, the natural world, journeys etc. in a lovely way. The poems are consistently thought-provoking – and if you look hard you will find several other geographers there too. The Clearing is part of a flowering of creative geography/geographical creativity websites, magazines and other outlets that are appearing on both sides of the Atlantic (and presumedly elsewhere). See, for instance, On Site Review based in Calgary (some poems coming out there too soon) at http://www.onsitereview.ca as well as Newfound (http://www.newfoundjournal.org) and the Common (http://www.thecommononline.org/about) based in Amherst MA.

 

Anyway – here are the poems in the Clearing 

http://theclearingonline.org/2014/09/tim-cresswell-two-new-poems/

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Tim Cresswell – Four Poems

tjcresswell:

Very happy to contribute to the necessary site. Poets are sometimes shy of the political (particularly in the UK) but there are some wonderful contributions on this site. Read it daily!

Originally posted on The Stare's Nest:

List sonnet on justice

Striking north over Brooklyn, Sam reads billboards
laughing at one which says – for justice call
( 3 1 8 ) 5 6 8 – 1 2 3 4
kicking off a kind of catalogue

           For peace… Send a stamped, addressed envelope
           Equality….25% off, one week only
           Beauty!…like us on Facebook!

Well, I know you know how that poem goes.

So perhaps I would let myself ramble
Like Ginsberg. Like Whitman. Like America.

Billboards, oversize flags, sincere
New England apples, brown bodies and red barns

maples in fall, the calls of children with yarmulkes playing softball in the parking lot.

But I was left with a sonnet and a sad refrain
We’re not in right now. So please leave your name….

Karl Marx in Tesco(after Allen Ginsberg) I saw you, Karl Marx, stateless, lonely aged prophet, in Tesco, wandering…

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Place: An Introduction. Second Edition. New Cover

It is always a nice moment when a cover for a book arrives in the mail. I have just finished the index for Place: An Introduction (second edition). The book in now more inter-disciplinary, reflecting the interest shown in it by disciplines well beyond the always-permeable walls of geography. It has more philosophy, sections on art, DigiPlace, architecture and more. The cover is a photo by Ben Murphy, a wonderful photographer now doing a practice-led PhD in geography at Royal Holloway. See http://www.benmurphy.co.uk for more.

0470655623

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The Writing Process – Blog Tour

What am I working on?

The answer to this just changed. In April I would have said that I was getting towards completing my second collection – called erratic. The collection was going to be in two parts. The first was a selection of about 25-40 shortish poems of themes of travel and displacement while the second was a 25 part sequence called Fence Furthest North about a fence in Svalbard (supposedly the northernmost fence in the world – who knows). Then I was lucky enough to go to the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada for a month long “Writing Studio” under the mentorship of the Canadian poets Karen Solie and Suzanne Buffam and the American poet Srikanth Reddy. The Writing Studio programme is aimed at writers who already have a first book out so I was also accompanied by 23 excellent writers as well as the mentors for the narrative writers including Greg Hollingshead, Dionne Brand and Gail Jones. I am not sure that anything quite like this programme exists anywhere else – a whole month surrounded by mountains, elk, bears and writing, writing, writing. Anyway – back to the story. I was aiming to polish up the collection and get it ready to send out. I just needed a few more poems. Well, to cut to the chase, Srikanth (Chicu) Reddy was suitably enthused by the sequence to suggest it might benefit from being expanded to become a whole book. This meant embracing some tendencies in my writing that I have resisted – a more ‘clever’ and ‘experimental’ mode of writing that connects most directly to my work as an academic who is quite fond of ‘theory’. I have quite a catholic taste in poetry and can be moved by both short traditional lyric poems and long, complicated whole book sequences that are in a more modernist mode. I don’t have much time for the camps that disparage one another frequently. But that does present some problems when I am writing in both modes and I have doubts about both. Anyway – I worked on the sequence and it is now 42 segments and close to being complete (just three more segments in my head that I need to find inspiration/time/space for). The sequence included my own visit to Svalbard and my encounter with the fence as well as poetic renditions of journals of previous visitors from 1613 and 1838. There is concrete poety, erasure, noun-heavy Lorine Neidecker objectivism and sly, pop-culture references. The themes are travel, territory, whaling, northern-ness and language. Oh – and, of course, there is still the collection of short poems – erratic. So one collection has become two. And, while I have your attention, I am completing the prose section of my PhD in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway with Jo Shapcott. This is an account of poetry and place which I call topo-poetics which draws on Aristotle, Heidegger and contemporary phenomenology to look at Elizabeth Bishop, John Burnside, Don McKay and Jorie Graham. I plan to add Lorine Neidecker and Jack Spicer and then see if I can find a publisher.

How does my work differ from others in the genre?

Well my work represents a combination of a life only I have lived on the one hand, and over twenty years of being a professional human geographer on the other (obviously the latter is part of the former). These are the preoccupations I bring to my work. So thematically they tend to draw on my travels and the places I have lived as well as my concern for landscapes and places and the ways we (I, mostly) relate to them. So they are about place, belonging, travel, displacement and lack of belonging. Stylistically I tend to like a spare, adjective-free style with plenty of space. I am not a noisy poet. I also like poems that are slightly removed from their object – that look at things from a distance. There is a lot of looking in my work. “I” am often absent. I quite like thinking through poetry. If there is one piece of advice I have heard over and over it is not to have an ‘idea’ for a poem – or not to let ideas drive poems. I have tried to write idea-free poems and have only recently embraced the possibility that it might be ok to write poems driven by ideas (abstractions). I saw Alice Oswald read recently in Boston and she was asked about American poetry and she said she admired its ability to tackle ideas and that she could not do that. I am not sure if she was being serious or giving a coded criticism. But it is certainly true that there is a more intellectual bent to much of the work being done over here than back in the UK. I quite like that.

Why do I write what I do?

I don’t really know the answer to this. I know that is something I enjoy immensely. It feels like it has no ulterior motive – it is just itself. The specific themes that preoccupy me might come from being born to an airforce family that moved around quite a bit. I think I went to five primary schools. Since leaving school I have never lived anywhere for longer than 7 years. I have no really deep attachment to anywhere but envy those who do. But I also like the endless possibilities of other places which I fall for again and again. I can get off a plane sick from travel and it only takes a few days to think of the next trip. I look at contrails from planes in the sky in the same way people used to talk about the lure of the train’s whistle in the American Midwest (British trains don’t have alluring whistles). In addition to these quite embodied senses I am also generally fascinated with the way people attach themselves or do not attach themselves to the world. And how those attachments (or lack of them) mess up the earth so much. I love things that are a little out of place – that don’t seem to belong. It may be that that is all I ever write about.

How does my writing process work

There are several ways poems come about for me. One is simply based on a line or sound that catches my attention – something I want to work with. Often I am inspired by reading other poems. I tend to work with books by my side which vary depending on which mood I am in. I often have Elizabeth Bishop moods or Jen Hadfield moods. Sometimes I am in more of an Anne Carson or Lorine Neidecker frame of mind. I think it will take decades of doing this over and over again before something that might be more purely me might emerge. I am happy to be derivative in the sense that blues musician might do blues songs over and over hoping to get it right. Sometimes it is an idea that drives a poem. I will want to write a poem about something in particular. I have been trying to write a poem about turbulence – a turbulent poem – without much success. Sometimes it is even a form that I want to try on for size. I walk around with poems in my head as companions. I like this stage – having company – and get antsy if there no poem I am thinking about. At some point I write in a note book – a few lines or perhaps something resembling a whole poem. I often arrange poems into sonnets or into couplets just to see how they look. I also change points of view and tenses. I write poems and then take away the endings or beginnings – sometimes I turn endings into beginnings. Another moment I enjoy is typing them out so they look like a poem on the screen and then the page. But this has the danger of thinking they might be finished. There are usually moments months, or even years, later when a sudden jolt and rearrangement makes the poem approach its final form. It amazes me how they can exist so long before something suddenly becomes obvious about how the poem needs to be.

For the next stop on the blog tour (coming next week) please visit Joanna Lilley‘s blog.

Joanna Lilley is a writer living in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada. Her poetry collection, The Fleece Era was published by Brick Books in 2014 and her short story collection, The Birthday Books is due to be published by Hagios Press in 2015. Her poems are widely published in leading Canadian poetry magazines.

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