GeoHumanities: Press Release

Actual material copies of the first issue of GeoHumanities exist and the first issue is available on line as open access. I think it is a wonderful collection that brings something quite different to the table for our conversations across and between disciplines about space and place etc. Here is the press release.

Press Release, 26 October 2015

New AAG journal published

This month sees the publication of the first issue of a brand new journal from the Association of American Geographers: GeoHumanities.

GeoHumanities is a new kind of journal, connecting the traditional humanities to both science and the creative arts.

Dr. David Green, Publishing Director International for Routledge Journals, explains: “In the past decade, there has been a convergence of transdisciplinary thought characterized by geography’s engagement with the humanities, and the humanities’ integration of place and the tools of geography into its studies. GeoHumanities journal will now provide the latest, cutting edge information and peer-reviewed research in the field.”

The journal’s editing is being shared by two scholars well qualified for the job. Tim Cresswell is Professor of History and International Affairs at Northeastern University in Boston, as well as Associate Director for Public Humanities at its Humanities Center. Deborah Dixon is Professor of Geography at the University of Glasgow in the UK.

Dixon explains: “GeoHumanities is an opportunity to bring together original, scholarly articles that blur and blend disciplinary specialisms, but that also carve out new lines of inquiry, and new ways of doing research. And, it is an opportunity to present these alongside practice-based commentaries that speak to all manner of timely issues, from the wicked problems of the Anthropocene to the shifting sense of place created by geolocative media.”

In Issue 1, Cresswell notes, “a philosopher considers the role of place in western movies, a creative video artist engages with the politics of the Amazonian forest, a geographer explores the strange history of a perfumer, a poet contemplates the global connections enacted by a desert train, and a historian uses GIS to study eighth century China.”

This exciting new title adds to the AAG’s historic and prestigious portfolio of journals. As Executive Director Douglas Richardson points out, “GeoHumanities builds on a decade-long AAG initiative to engage research and scholarship at the intersections and convergences of Geography and the Humanities, and the resultant recent publication (also by Routledge) of two ground-breaking AAG books examining these trends and interactions.”

Green adds: “It is Routledge’s pleasure to extend our publishing partnership with the AAG. We are most grateful to the Association, and specifically Doug Richardson and the teams of Editors, for continuing to entrust their journals to Routledge, one of the world’s leading geography publishers.”

All content in the first issue is freely available until the end of January 2016. Visit to browse the papers. New submissions are welcome at any time. Visit the AAG website for further information and guidelines:


About the Association of American Geographers
The Association of American Geographers is one of the world’s leading scientific and professional societies for geographers, with over 11,000 members worldwide. Since its founding in 1904, AAG members – comprising academics, teachers, students, and professionals – have been sharing interests in the theory, methods, and practice of geography.
The AAG has four scholarly journals, all published by Taylor and Francis: the Annals of the Association of American Geographers, The Professional Geographer, the AAG Review of Books, and GeoHumanities.
Websites: and
Twitter: @theAAG
Contact: Dr Jenny Lunn, Journals Director, Association of American Geographers, email:

About Taylor & Francis Group
Taylor & Francis Group partners with researchers, scholarly societies, universities and libraries worldwide to bring knowledge to life. As one of the world’s leading publishers of scholarly journals, books, ebooks and reference works, our content spans all areas of Humanities, Social Sciences, Behavioral Sciences, Science, and Technology and Medicine.
From our network of offices in Oxford, New York, Philadelphia, Boca Raton, Boston, Melbourne, Singapore, Beijing, Tokyo, Stockholm, New Delhi and Johannesburg, Taylor & Francis staff provide local expertise and support to our editors, societies and authors and tailored, efficient customer service to our library colleagues.
Taylor & Francis Online –
Follow us on Twitter @tandfnewsroom
Contact: Amanda Patterson, Marketing Associate (Geography), Taylor & Francis Group, email:, tel: 215-606-4200

City Break (Tim Cresswell)

A blast from the past… aah Lisbon!

Paulo Jorge Vieira


City Break       

The smart hotel in Lisbon              
we ran to in foreign rain,       
child-­free and eager,                     
touching more, together,       
duvet discarded, a new              
city outside. Who’d have guessed       
the whole shebang was on the verge              
of economic ruin?              
What mattered? Me inside you.              
The absence of necessity.       

a poem of Tim Cresswell from the book Soil

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Periodizing Mobilities and Scales of Transition

By Tim Cresswell

A Guardian report on April 30th 2015 suggested that the US, UK and other advanced economies might have reached or passed their point of peak car use.[1] The economic crash of 2008 meant that car traffic, growing since cars were invented, plateaued and fell. This has led to discussions of whether this was simply a result of less money circulating or something more fundamental in the world of mobility. One hypothesis is labeled the “interrupted growth” hypothesis and this simply suggests that car traffic will increase again once the economies recover and grow. Some evidence for 2013 and 2014 suggests this may be the case. Other arguments suggest that there has actually been a cultural shift in favour of forms of mass transit and dense city living. It might also be the case that roads have simply become saturated and there is little desire to have more of our landscape given over to more and bigger roads. This is a hypothesis put forward by David Metz the former chief scientist of the Department for Transport in the UK. He argues that we are entering a new fourth era of travel.

In the first era of human travel, our hunter–gatherer ancestors walked out of Africa and populated the earth. In the second era, they settled in agricultural com- munities and towns, where travel was generally limited to about an hour a day on foot. The third era began early in the nineteenth century with the coming of the railways, when the energy of fossil fuels could be harnessed to achieve faster travel through a succession of technological innovations, culminating in mass mobility made possible by the motorcar. There is now emerging evidence that growth of personal daily travel has ceased, so that we are entering a fourth era in which, on average, travel time, trip rate, and distance travelled hold steady. The ‘peak car’ phenomenon, whereby car mode share in cities like London reached a peak and has subsequently declined, marks the transition from the third to the fourth era.[2]

Why would such a transition happen? Metz argues that this is because of a reduced marginal value of additional car travel in a world with decent and efficient public transport.[3] People in a city such as London simply do not have to travel more to reach the things they need or want. Supermarkets, clinics, schools, entertainment etc. are all near enough to make driving further and longer pointless. The increased use of mobile communications technology also plays a role. Metz argues that the macro-economic factors are not, in fact, the major determinant in the transition to a fourth era.

Metz’s argument for a transition to a fourth era of travel is certainly not the first argument focused on historical transitions in mobility. He is drawing on well-known periodizations that may not put mobility at the center but do, nonetheless, have something to say about mobility. Most famously there are the arguments about the birth of the city that Metz draws on. V. Gordon Childe’s ‘urban revolution’ hypothesis suggested that urban life was born as a result of an “Neolithic revolution” in Mesopotamia where the fertility of the land enabled the planting of crops and production of a surplus which allowed people to stop being nomads and settle down in proto urban settlements.[4] Perhaps the most famous theory of transition is Marx’s theory of history, the theory of historical materialism. While the key drivers in this transition theory were the relationship between the forces and relations of production – it was clearly key to the move from feudalism to capitalism that serfs and peasants were freed from the obligation to Lords and the land and formed a mobile army of workers moving in on the rapidly expanding cities. Any account of the industrial revolution in the UK and Western Europe is, at least in part, an account of the rise of steam power and the railway.

Perhaps more specifically the geographer Wilbur Zelinsky proposed a “mobility transition hypothesis” in 1971.[5] Zelinsky wanted to match the general hypothesis of the demographic transition model with a mobility transition model. He stated his mobility transition hypothesis as follows: “There are definite, patterned regularities in the growth of personal mobility through space-time during recent history, and these regularities comprise an essential component of the modernization process”.[6] Zelinsky broke this hypothesis down into a series of related statements that together confirmed an irreversible link between modernization and mobility through time that paralleled the demographic transition. Despite the universalizing nature of the hypothesis and the high level of generality at which it is stated, Zelinsky’s paper actually prefigures much of the more nuanced language of more recent mobility theory.

But perhaps the greatest of the new mobilities is that of the mind. Perception and thought are no longer tethered to the living memory and to the here and now but have been stretched to virtual infinity. Through such instrumentalities as the printing press, camera, telephone, postal system, radio, television, phonograph, electronic computer, library, museum, school, theater, and concert hall, as well as personal gadding about, there remain no effective boundaries beyond which the nimbler mind cannot penetrate.[7]

In many ways Zelinsky’s mobility transition hypothesis foreshadows the arguments of Metz. It traces a transition from a “Premodern Traditional Society” (such as medieval Europe) in which residential migration is almost non existent and circulation is limited to the very few through to “The Advanced Society” in which residential mobility is at a high level, migrants move between cities, unskilled and semi-skilled migrants move from underdeveloped lands and forms of circulation such as work-related travel and tourism are accelerating. The final phase in the transition is the “Future Superadvanced Society” in which improved communication and ‘delivery systems’ begins to cut into the rates of residential migration and we experience “further acceleration in some current forms of circulation and perhaps the inception of new forms” as well as, prophetically, “strict political control of internal as well as international movements” (Zelinsky, 1971, 231). Throughout his account Zelinsky differentiates between forms of mobility that transition at different rates. Zelinsky’s forms of mobility include rural to urban migration (very high as country’s transition from premodern to modern), inter and intra urban migration and various forms of ‘circulation’ that are very high in the advanced and superadvanced stages. Looking toward the future “superadvanced” society Zelinsky is quite prophetic.

Although there is an absolute minimum for both fertility and mortality, it is more difficult to fix an effective upper limit to human mobility, even if the phenomenon is obviously finite. Is there a point beyond which mobility becomes counterproductive economically and socially or even psychologically and physiologically? … When and how will mobility saturation be reached? In any event, further general socioeconomic advance may well bring in its wake socially imposed mechanisms for controlling location and movement of populations. What might be technically and politically feasible is unclear, but planning for a restructured urban system and for circulation and migration therein may become urgent in the near future. The traffic-control systems on our streets may be a primitive precursor of much more elaborate devices.[8]

Despite their similarities, Metz and Zelinsky come from different domains of academic interest. Metz in firmly embedded in the world of transport and his account of transition is one of changing modes and intensities of transport. Zelinsky’s account is embedded in an interest in migration and although it includes references to advanced technologies and various forms of mechanized mobility it is looking a world historical transformation in the kinds of migration and circulation that humans engage in. This is where recent work on mobilities that seeks to centre all forms of mobility – their patterns, frequencies and velocities as well as their meanings and characteristic practices can do some useful work.[9]

Finally it is interesting to ask what the periodizations of Metz and Zelinsky have to bring to the discussion of transitions currently being carried out under the umbrella of “Multiple Level Perspective on Transition”. This work originates from the writing of the Dutch Professor of System Innovation and Sustainability – Frank Geels.[10]

The Multiple Level Perspective of Transitions (MLP) is based on three analytical levels – socio-technical landscapes, socio-technical regimes and niches. These levels are often described as a ‘nested hierarchy’ with niches existing inside of regimes inside of landscapes. Niches are protected sites (by implication small scale) where innovations most often take place. The example of a laboratory is frequently given. Niches are allowed to, or encouraged to, deviate from dominant regimes. Regimes are the established and relatively stable socio-technical contexts. Regimes (drawing on Giddens’ structuration theory) refer to the “deep-structural rules that coordinate and guide actors’ perceptions and actions”.[11] The socio-technical landscape is an even wider set of established structures including the actual physical landscape (and by implication, dominant socio-spatial arrangements) as well as dominant sets of values and economies. In most apparent senses these are also scales and are represented as such in diagrams, which show a base layer of small niches feeding into a large and higher regime which is, itself part of a still larger and higher landscape which seems to map nicely on to the scale of the nation. Geels and colleagues are not providing accounts of transition from era to era – but, more modestly, from one technology to another – such as the horse drawn carriage to the automobile. The models are being used to think about ways to transition in the future to more sustainable socio-technical regimes. Geels’ model of transition is very technology centred unlike the accounts of either Zelinsky of Metz.

So how do these different accounts relate. Geels’ account of transitions puts an emphasis on small-scale niche developments working their way up through levels to become part of the landscape. We can think of current work being done on electric cars in places like Tesla in these terms. But was this how older, large scale, transitions happened or are happening. Zelinsky’s account of the transition from premodern to advanced mobility societies is based on massive changes in patterns of mobility as people left the land and moved to the city. The drivers here were fundamental changes in agricultural productivity and cultural and social changes in what the relations of production. Hardly “niche” developments. Metz’s account of transition is one in which car use reaches saturation point and it simply becomes irrational to drive further of more often. Again – this is not fundamentally anything to do with niches (which is not to say that niches do not have a role to play here). So, my question is, where should we look for the drivers for transition to a new era of mobility (not transport or migration but both and more besides)?


[2] Metz D, 2013, “Peak Car and Beyond: The Fourth Era of Travel” Transport Reviews 33 255-270. P267

[3] Ibid.

[4] Childe V G, 1937 Man makes himself (Watts, [S.l.])

[5] Zelinsky W, 1971, “Hypothesis of Mobility Transition” Geographical Review 61 219-249

[6] Ibid. P221-222

[7] Ibid. P225

[8] Ibid. P248

[9] Cresswell T, 2006 On the move : mobility in the modern Western world (Routledge, New York), Cresswell T, 2010, “Towards a Politics of Mobility” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 28 17-31, Sheller M, 2012, “The Emergence of New Cultures of Mobility: Stability, Opening and Prospects”, in Automobility in Transition? A Socio-Technical Analysis of Sustainable Transportation Eds F W Geels, R Kemp, G Dudley, G Lyons (Routledge, New York) pp 180-202, Sheller M, Urry J, 2006, “The new mobilities paradigm” Environment and Planning A 38 207-226

[10] Geels F W, Kemp R, 2012, “The Multi-Level Perspective as a New Perspective for Studying Socio-Technical Transitions”, in Automobility in Transition? A Socio-Technical Analysis of Sustainable Transport Eds F W Geels, R Kemp, G Dudley, G Lyons (Routledge, New York) pp 49-79

[11] Ibid. P54

Malta and the Politics of Mobility

Malta and the Politics of Mobility[1]

Today, in the business section of the New York Times. There is a story with the title “Malta Citizenship and Perks for a Price”.[2] The story recounts how the wealthy mobile elite – people referred to in the story as the “0.1%” – are able to claim citizenship of Malta by renting a property on the island for one year in order to establish residency. Once residency has been established these super-elite avatars of a global world can claim citizenship of Malta and thus of the European Union.

One Vietnamese businessmen, eager to start the clock ticking on the 12 month timetable for residency, sent the necessary paperwork on his private jet to expedite renting a property he had never seen.” (pB1)

An immigration lawyer on the island claims that these new “citizens” come to Malta exactly twice – to claim a residency card and then to get a passport. They do not actually have to be in Malta during the 12 months. There is one other small matter. The would be “residents” have to pay 1.2 million euros in order to claim their passport. Some hope the scheme will raise 2 billion euros which equals 25% of the island’s GDP. It turns out that the two times the new citizens have to visit the island is a dramatic improvement on an earlier version of the scheme where the global elite could simply pay. The residency requirement is a new hurdle they have to cross. The scheme is defended in the following way by the chief executive of “Identity Malta” – the body which administers the program.

“We want to attract individuals who can add value to our country because of their ideas, and their networks and their businesses and their talent.”


The article is framed within a recognition of Malta’s history as a node of multiculturalism formed through a series of invasions “The Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Fatimids, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, French, a European lay religious order and the British all tried to conquer or rule Malta and many succeeded. Maltese, the official language with English, looks and sounds Arabic, but its speakers are primarily Roman Catholics who pray to Allah, or God.”(B7).

The article concludes with the Identity Malta chief executive expressing his belief that it would be too much to expect the new citizens to actually spend more time in Malta as they want to attract the “real high flyers”. Given the case of the private jet owning Vietnamese businessmen this would appear to be both figurative and literal.


The idea of the citizen has, of course, long been attached to two geographies, the geography of a particular place or territory that the citizen belongs to (originally the city-state, then the medieval market city then the nation-state in the classic formulation) and a geography of mobility. The citizen belonged to a place and was able to move within that place and across its borders.[3] It has increasingly been argued that those geographies are being reconfigured. One form of reconfiguration is the new global elite for whom, it is argued, national boundaries are becoming less and less important. These are the private-jet owners – the inhabitants of a smooth space of flows in which bodies move alongside capital at a global scale. Another form of reconfiguration is the shadow-citizens who are increasingly incarcerated within ever more limited worlds. For these citizens even being a member of a nation-state does not appear to bring the full parcel of rights you might expect.

On both of these cases geographies of citizenship are tangled up with meanings and practices of mobility as well as emerging senses of borders as things which are being relocated and multiplied in such a way that they can no longer be simply reduced to the black lines on a political world map.[4] This question of the meaning of borders has become particularly acute in the European Union where the promotion of mobility as an ideal has been matched by the removal of internal borders (particularly in the Schengen zone) and the strengthening of external borders. Etienne Balibar, the French political theorist, has argued that the whole of Europe has become a “borderland” in which the external borders have been replicated internally along lines of race and national identity such that some Europeans (ones with dark skins mostly) experience borderness as part of daily life – not just at an actual political border.[5] So what is happening in Malta is part of this process of “bordering” and the reconfiguration of geographies of citizenship.


This raises the issue of a strange absence in the New York Times Malta piece. There is one other reason that Malta has been in the news over the last few years that is logically and politically related to the story of the global mobile elite. Malta has also been the site of the mass incarceration of African immigrants arriving, uninvited, by boat. And these are just the ‘lucky’ ones who do not drown in the attempt. On 12 October 2013 the BBC reported the Maltese Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, as saying that the Mediterranean was turning into a cemetery due to the number of Africans who were drowning in and around Malta during attempts to enter the European Union. “I don’t know how many more people need to die at sea” he said, “before something gets done”.[6] Part of Muscat’s complaint was that the European Union was doing nothing and leaving it up to Malta (and Italy) to deal with what was an EU problem. Between then and now the issue of dangerous attempt by Africans to migrate in unseaworthy and overcrowded boats (the opposite of private jets with residency papers) has become many times worse. Muscat attempted to have some of the migrants flown back to Libya against their wishes. Malta, he pointed out, is an island with 400,000 people that was struggling to deal with tens of thousands of uninvited guests. In the last few years Malta has developed a regime of detention as the immigrants who want to arrive in the European mainland arrive instead in Malta and do not want to be there. They are stuck within a fairly unique regime of mandatory detention. The states of the EU, meanwhile, do not want the immigrants either and effectively use Malta in its historic role as fortress island. The geographer Alison Mountz has been examining this use of islands as sites for the management of global migration – where the process of ‘bordering’ gets relocated “offshore”. Malta becomes part of what Mountz calls “the enforcement archipelago”[7] – a collection of islands that includes Guantanamo, Christmas Island, the Canary Islands and Lampedusa.


It is surprising that the New York Times journalist does not connect these two stories. They illustrate the increasingly stark politics of mobility in today’s mobile world.[8] In one case we see a set of laws made up to encourage Maltese and thus EU citizenship based on money and a spurious notion of residency. On the other we see the policing of citizenship through the outsourcing and offshoring of border construction. Malta is a semi-permeable membrane. The Maltese Immigration Act that regulates the African arrivals defines a group known as prohibited immigrants – immigrants who are not authorized or whose authorization is invalid because they are unable to support themselves of their families. Once labeled in this way the immigrants are issued a “removal order” which requires that they are removed from Malta – an action that cannot actually take place. Any person with a removal order can then detained.[9] The chief executive of ‘Identity Malta’ wanted to attract the “real high flyers” in order to “add value to our country” through the enrollment of their ideas and networks. Clearly there are other networks they would rather not be part of.

Balibar E, 2004 We, the people of Europe? : reflections on transnational citizenship (Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J.)

Balibar E, 2009, “Europe as borderland” Environment and Planning D-Society & Space 27 190-215

Cresswell T, 2009, “The Prosthetic Citizen: New Geographies of Citizenship” Political Power and Social Theory 20 259-273

Cresswell T, 2010, “Towards a Politics of Mobility” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 28 17-31

Cresswell T, 2013, “Citizenship in Worlds of Mobility”, in Critical Mobilities Eds O Soderstrom, S Randeria, D Ruedin, G D’Amato, F Panese (Routledge, London) pp 81-100

Mountz A, 2011, “The enforcement archipelago: Detention, haunting, and asylum on islands” Political Geography 30 118-128

Rumford C, 2006, “Theorising Borders” European journal of social theory 9 155-169

[1] I am grateful for conversations with Owen Jennings concerning the role of Malta as an island in the politics of migration.

[2] Jenny Anderson, ‘Malta Citizenship and Perks for a Price’ New York Times, Friday May 1, 2015 pages B1 and B7.

[3] For my accounts of this see Cresswell T, 2009, “The Prosthetic Citizen: New Geographies of Citizenship” Political Power and Social Theory 20 259-273, Cresswell T, 2013, “Citizenship in Worlds of Mobility”, in Critical Mobilities Eds O Soderstrom, S Randeria, D Ruedin, G D’Amato, F Panese (Routledge, London) pp 81-100

[4] See Rumford C, 2006, “Theorising Borders” European journal of social theory 9 155-169

[5] Balibar E, 2004 We, the people of Europe? : reflections on transnational citizenship (Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J.), Balibar E, 2009, “Europe as borderland” Environment and Planning D-Society & Space 27 190-215


[7] Mountz A, 2011, “The enforcement archipelago: Detention, haunting, and asylum on islands” Political Geography 30 118-128

[8] Cresswell T, 2010, “Towards a Politics of Mobility” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 28 17-31

[9] For an account of the detention regime in Malta see

FENCE – “The whale is a sea beast of a huge bigness”.

The new Penned in the Margins catalogue came out today. And a thing of beauty it is too. It has been great to feel part of an “artisan” publisher’s upward trajectory. I have so many of their books on my shelf and, despite their fantastic diversity and range, they feel cohesive as a statement about what publishing in poetry/essays/performance etc. can be. FENCE is in it. It comes out in October. It is a sequence – essentially a book length poem divided into numbered segments. It features a number of different voices other than my own and uses historical journals from visitors to the island of Svalbard in the early seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. It is a kind of polyvocal fragmented montage arctic epic. Or, to put it in the words of the catalogue

Fence is an epic of fragments that is at once beautiful and beautifully strange. In his exploration of the vast, frozen Svalbard islands, poet and geographer Tim Cresswell has created a kind of travel poetry whose taut, minimalist lyric synthesises subjects as diverse as history, politics and Arctic ecology. Echoing the mournful atmospherics of the great Anglo-Saxon elegies, this book-length poem is a powerful meditation on places that are slipping away, where ‘compass gone haywire/so north’.

More Thought on the GeoHumanities

Space, Place and the Triumph of the Humanities.

Over this academic year the annual theme of the Humanities Center fellowship program has been Space and Place. As a geographer displaced to History and International Affairs here at Northeastern it has been a delight to be involved in an interdisciplinary discussion of these themes that I believe are so important to life in the 21st Century. Our conversations have criss-crossed the humanities and social sciences in ways which point towards the richness of an emerging inter-disciplinary field known as GeoHumanities. The rise of GeoHumanities has been prompted by recent emerging techniques in Digital Humanities and various forms of Geo coding and mapping. It was these developments that led the eminent Professor of English, Stanley Fish to declare, possibly a little prematurely, “The Triumph of the Humanities” in a New York Times op ed piece back in 2011. He was responding to the publication of the edited collection GeoHumanities: Art, History, Text at the Edge of Place[1] – a volume that arose from discussions within the Association of American Geographers.


Fish was excited about a number of technical and theoretical developments that allowed time and space to be represented as constantly in co-constitutive motion. He called this new project a synthesis of Geographic Information Science (GIS) and history that brings to the fore a geographic imagination and poetics that asserts the active and dynamic role of space and place in most, if not all, important questions. It is worth quoting at length his confident assertions.

“What this all suggests is that while we have been anguishing over the fate of the humanities, the humanities have been busily moving into, and even colonizing, the fields that were supposedly displacing them. In the ‘70s and the ‘80s the humanities exported theory to the social sciences and (with less influence) to the sciences; many disciplines saw a pitched battle between the new watchwords — perspective, contingency, dispersion, multi-vocality, intertextuality — and the traditional techniques of dispassionate observation, the collection of evidence, the drawing of warranted conclusions and the establishing of solid fact. Now the dust has settled and the invaded disciplines have incorporated much of what they resisted. Propositions that once seemed outlandish — all knowledge is mediated, even our certainties are socially constructed — are now routinely asserted in precincts where they were once feared as the harbingers of chaos and corrosive relativism.


One could say then that the humanities are the victors in the theory wars; nearly everyone now dances to their tune. But this conceptual triumph has not brought with it a proportionate share of resources or institutional support. Perhaps administrators still think of the humanities as the province of precious insights that offer little to those who are charged with the task of making sense of the world. Volumes like “GeoHumanities” tell a different story, and it is one that cannot be rehearsed too often”.[2]

It was certainly heartwarming to read Professor Fish’s words. But it was also a little strange. To someone such as myself it felt as though he has just discovered the wheel. It is ironic that a term such as GeoHumanities should arise as a result of the technical ability to process and display data in new ways. I prefer to see the term as an affirmation of several thousand years of humanistic thought – a history that I will now rehearse in two minutes or so.

A concern with space and place was at the center of classical thought. Aristotle famously argued that place takes precendence over all things[3] because everything that exists must be somewhere “because what is not is nowhere – where for instance is a goat-stag or a sphinx?”[4] Greek philosophers and historians were also geographers. Herodotus, claimed as the father of both anthropology and history, spent much of his time trying to find the source of the Nile and might reasonably be claimed as the father of geography too. Meanwhile, the librarian of Alexandria, Eratosthenes, was busy measuring the earth and developing the system we now know as latitude and longitude and which locates your every thought and move through your cell phone. He is known as a mathematician, geographer, poet, astronomer and music theorist.


The first person to call himself a geographer was Strabo of Amasia – who was a philosopher and historian as well as a geographer. The teaching of Aristotle on the fundamental importance of place was revived in Europe by Albertus Magnus, the German Dominican scholar who tutored Thomas Aquinas. His De Natura Locorum (the Nature of Places) combined cosmology with natural science to insist on the importance of location to everything. He was a philosopher, theologian and Catholic saint. And then there’s Immanuel Kant – most definitely a philosopher who spent forty years giving lectures on geography. This story could go on and includes the great Muslim scholar Ibn Khaldun claimed as one of the fathers of history, sociology and economics as well as the unnamed Chinese cartographers of the Han Dynasty.[5] And many more.

I tell this story to make three points. One is that inquiry in the humanities is rooted in a time before disciplines when key thinkers were unhampered by the disciplinary boundaries we live with today. All of those I have mentioned today are claimed my multiple disciplines. Second – in each case some notions of space and place were central to their intellectual endeavours. Spatial thinking was not the invention of either the spatial turn in the humanities or the advent of geocoding and GIS. Third, in many of these cases, forms of representation were key to their endeavours. What GIS is to us now, the invention of longitude and latitude, papyrus or cartographic pens were to them. Fourth, this interest in space and place constantly matched something we might today refer to as humanistic – an interest in the particularities of place – with something we might now call scientific – the measurements and exactitudes of cartographic representations of space. During the Renaissance in northern Italy the arts of cartography and landscape painting were reborn hand in hand with the architecture of Alberti and the science of Leonardo. Humanism – as a world view reborn in the Renaissance – was a world view that included both the arts and the sciences within it. These are entangled in Raphael’s painting of the School at Athens from 1509 which includes Strabo and Ptolomy holding models of the world in the bottom right corner.[6]


Which is all to say that it would be too easy to take a reductive view of the GeoHumanities as emerging fully formed in the 21st Century as a result of the sudden popularity of the prefix ‘Geo’ which is taken to mean something like ‘locatable on the earth’s surface’. Everything is geocoded and geolocatable. Things can be geotagged. “Geo” of course, comes from the Greek for ‘earth’ or ‘ground’ and it is this, much older Geo that I would like to see included in the term GeoHumanities. The twin dangers facing this new endeavor are first that it is too easily reduced to a technical exercise in using GIS for typically humanistic endeavours without any of the academic context I have pointed too in this talk[7] and, second, that it ignores all these developments and becomes a version of the sub-discipline I know and love called ‘cultural geography’ – just given a different name. I hope that, like this year’s fellowship here at Northeastern, the GeoHumanities is genuinely interdisciplinary or even postdisciplinary. I hope that it does take the remarkable abilities of the Digital Humanities seriously but does not mistake them for something entirely new on the face of the earth. Finally I hope that it does, indeed, help further what Stanley Fish calls ‘the triumph of the humanities’. I do not, however, believe that this triumph is a product of the theory wars of the 1980s (though I have no doubt that the last thirty years of insisting on the importance of space and place for social and cultural theory is massively important). I think the rise of the GeoHumanities is more the current instantiation of humanistic thought that has had spatial thinking at its heart that arose some 2000 years earlier.

It is with this in mind that I have taken on the editorship of the new AAG journal, GeoHumanities along with my colleague Deborah Dixon in Glasgow. Despite its home in an august scholarly association of geographers its editorial board will be genuinely interdisciplinary including both scholars and creative practitioners. It is the next phase in the process that the GeoHumanities volume Stanley Fish referred to was a key part of. I hope it can be as lively and inspiring as the conversations the space and place fellows have engaged in over the past year.



Bodenhamer D J, Corrigan J, Harris T M, 2010 The spatial humanities : GIS and the future of humanities scholarship (Indiana University Press, Bloomington)

Bodenhamer D J, Corrigan J, Harris T M, 2015 Deep maps and spatial narratives (Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indiana)

Casey E S, 1997 The fate of place : a philosophical history (University of California Press, Berkeley)

Cosgrove D E, 1984 Social Formation and Symbolic Landscape (Croom Helm, London)

Cresswell T, 2013 Geographic thought : a critical introduction (Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford)

Dear M J, 2011 GeoHumanities : art, history and text at the edge of place (Routledge, London)

Glacken C J, 1967 Traces on the Rhodian shore; nature and culture in Western thought from ancient times to the end of the eighteenth century (University of California Press, Berkeley,)

Knowles A K, 2014 Geographies of the Holocaust (Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN.)

Knowles A K, Hillier A, 2008 Placing history : how maps, spatial data, and GIS are changing historical scholarship (ESRI Press, Redlands, Calif.)

Relph E C, 1981 Rational landscapes and humanistic geography (Croom Helm, London)

Unwin P T H, 1992 The place of geography (Longman Scientific & Technical, Harlow)

[1] Dear M J, 2011 GeoHumanities : art, history and text at the edge of place (Routledge, London)


[3] Casey E S, 1997 The fate of place : a philosophical history (University of California Press, Berkeley)

[4] Ibid.

[5] For accounts of this history see Cresswell T, 2013 Geographic thought : a critical introduction (Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford), Glacken C J, 1967 Traces on the Rhodian shore; nature and culture in Western thought from ancient times to the end of the eighteenth century (University of California Press, Berkeley,), Unwin P T H, 1992 The place of geography (Longman Scientific & Technical, Harlow)

[6] See Cosgrove D E, 1984 Social Formation and Symbolic Landscape (Croom Helm, London), Relph E C, 1981 Rational landscapes and humanistic geography (Croom Helm, London)

[7] For some excellent examples of inventive uses of GIS in the humanities see Bodenhamer D J, Corrigan J, Harris T M, 2010 The spatial humanities : GIS and the future of humanities scholarship (Indiana University Press, Bloomington) Bodenhamer D J, Corrigan J, Harris T M, 2015 Deep maps and spatial narratives (Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indiana), Knowles A K, 2014 Geographies of the Holocaust (ibid., Bloomington IN.), Knowles A K, Hillier A, 2008 Placing history : how maps, spatial data, and GIS are changing historical scholarship (ESRI Press, Redlands, Calif.)

2015 – Adventures in Critical Geosophy

2015 is shaping up to be an eventful year. A number of significant projects and events are on the horizon and they are all exciting and somewhat interconnected. The connecting point is my longstanding interest in what I call ‘Critical Geosophy” – the interpretation of geographical knowledge and its role in the constitution of culture and society. I am thinking here of the ways we are informed by ideas such as ‘place’ and ‘mobility’ in particular. The particular projects/events are:

1) Fence My second poetry book, Fence, is being published by Penned in the Margins in October. I am at the final editing stage. I have been fortunate to read this in its entirety three times (Guelph, Concordia, Queens) and am going to read it again at Cornell later this month. I will also do a selection of it at the Nordic Geography conference in Estonia in June. The book is a sequence that takes the form of a polyvocal montage of my own journey to Svalbard (with Nowhereisland) along with fragmented versions of parts of the travel accounts of English explorer, Robert Fothery from 1613 and 1614 and Leonie D’Aunet – the first woman to visit Svalbard in 1838.The sequence uses a number of different vocabularies to explore the relationship between language, a particular place, the flows in and out of it and a fence. The fence stands for both the separations of territories and the flows that make up place. Along the way we encounter whaling, migrant species, a disco, geology and economic imperialism. It is a form of place-writing that enacts and enlivens my more academic considerations of place and mobility.

2) GeoHumanities Fence is also a example of GeoHumanities in action. While GeoHumanities is a recent term it represents an exciting coming together of the humanities side of geography (the longest standing version of geography), the spatial turn across the humanities and social sciences, recent developments in geocoded software, GIS, forms of visualisation of space, place and mobility, and new ways of engaging with the earth in the creative arts and practices. I have been appointed as one of the first Managing Editors of the new Taylor and Francis journal – GeoHumanities (along with Deborah Dixon at the University of Glasgow). The journal is an initiative of the Association of American Geographers and is the culmination of years of meetings and special sessions at AAG conferences. Despite its disciplinary home, GeoHumanities is a genuinely interdisciplinary journal and will include contributions from across the humanities as well as creative contributions from creative practitioners. We are putting together an international and interdisciplinary editorial board which includes creative writers and artists. The journal will be launched at the AAG conference in Chicago in April and the first issue will appear in October.

3) All Possible Worlds In the summer of 2007, on holiday with my family, we got to the end of reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I had been reading the whole series  aloud to Owen and Sam and now Maddy too (she wasn’t around when all this started). The whole reading aloud as a family thing had centred on this series. Anyway – suddenly there was nothing to read so I started writing my own story for the same age group. I wrote 1000 words a day and read it aloud in the evening. Since then I have continued to write it and read it aloud (even as Owen became 21) on family holidays. This last year the momentum has grown and I am almost done. About three chapters left and I know everything that is going to happen. I am excited about the story and my kids all apparently love it. At the centre of it is lovely London (actually several Londons) and the magic of maps. It was partly inspired by the book Sophie’s World which introduced children to philosophy and partly by the Inkheart series which I also read aloud and which featured the danger of writing stories that become real. So – this is another exercise in representing geographical knowledge and its relationship to power. I just need an agent!

4) Living in the Mobility Transition 2014 saw the start of a large comparative project on the future of mobilities. More specifically the project looks at the possible transitions to low(er) carbon mobilities in a range of sites around the world including Canada, the UK, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, New Zealand, South Korea, the Netherlands, Russia, Singapore, South Africa and Turkey. This has meant engaging with the literature on socio-technical transitions as well as the policy arena – both of which are new to me. Central to the emerging project is the way imaginations about mobility and the practice of mobility need to be part of any transition to a post-peak oil and lower carbon world. This is something a geographical imagination can bring to this crucial field of enquiry.

5) Topo-poetics I recently finished and defended my doctorate in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway that involved 50 pages of poems as well as 40,000 words of theory. The theory section revolved around the idea of poems as space and places (as well as poems about spaces and places). I developed ideas around the topos of the poem and then explored this in four poets – Elizabeth Bishop, John Burnside, Don McKay and Jorie Graham.  I am going to add a few more poets to this list – probably Lorine Niedecker and Roy Fisher and submit it as a book.

These are all linked by critical geosophy. They all engage with the way geography informs imaginations and forms of representation in worlds that are shot through with power.

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).