All our very best wishes and…
Carly, Fiona, James K, James P & Richard
“Geography without fieldwork would be like science without experiments” (Bland 1996). Written in the Geography Teachers Handbook, this advice echoes the sentiments of Carl Sauer, American professor of Geography (1923-1957) who believed that fieldwork was the definitive activity of geographers. In his words, “the principal training of the geographer should come, wherever possible, by doing field work” (Sauer 1963:400). Indeed, fieldwork is a central component of most contemporary geography degrees and, as some earlier blog posts testify, much is understood from new perspectives only gained by being in the real world – in the field.
Bearing in mind Sauer’s emphasis on fieldwork as the best form of apprenticeship, it seemed fitting that earlier this week Sauer was also a key figure in discussions during a fieldtrip to Blenheim Palace. Moving out of the usual tutorial classroom setting, the first year cultural landscapes tute took place in the grounds of the Palace where the landscape was largely created by Capability Brown. Cultural landscapes, argued Sauer, were the result of interaction between nature and humans, with nature the medium and culture the agent. Sitting at picnic tables and observing the lake, clusters of trees, gently sloping land and the various tourists strolling the grounds, we sought to empirically describe the material traces as detached observers.
On the Palace’s western side, the idealist and naturalistic view of the sweeping grounds can be contrasted with a more formal garden design revealing symmetry and order in its geometric forms. Representations come to the fore as the landscape is read as a type of text to uncover the meanings behind its symbols. Acknowledging that landscape can provide a medium through which cultures understand themselves and their relation to nature, this way of seeing the formal gardens at Blenheim is not all that different from the interpretations of power and control associated with 17th century French renaissance gardens (indeed, prior to Capability Brown’s landscaping, the gardens at Blenheim were influenced by the French gardens of Versailles and Vaux le Vicomte).
While, on the one hand, Sauer’s fieldwork offered the geographer opportunity to gain knowledge through observation, on the other hand, fieldwork – the act of being-in-the-landscape – begins to reveal how the concept of practice might be exemplified.
Practice, performance or ways of doing create embodied ways of knowing the landscape through all of the senses, not just the visual. For example, sitting on the stone steps, the warmth of the sunshine on one’s bare skin, and the splish-splash of the water fountains constituted our embeddedness within the landscape, challenging the idea of the formal garden as an external object. In this way, it is understood that bodies and environments co-construct one another, thus theorising an alternative understanding of landscape than the empirical or discursive approaches above.
Fuller (2012) describes fieldwork “as an enjoyable, valuable learning experience outside in the real world”. With Blenheim on Keble’s doorstep, the BMW MINI plant in Cowley, and nearby Stowe, Bletchley Park and Highclere Castle (aka Downton Abbey), not to mention numerous other places, Human Geographers at Keble are well placed to apply geographical concepts in the field, and thus situate their studies in the ‘real world’.
Bland K., Chambers B., Donert K., Thomas T. (1996) Fieldwork. In Bailey P & Fox P., Geography teachers Handbook. Sheffield: Geographical Association.
We have discussed the increase in South-South development cooperation in general and the idea that China’s aid to African countries is becoming ever more significant. Attempts to draw comparisons between the activities of such ‘new donors’ and more traditional or Western donors (i.e. members of the Development Assistance Committee) are generally difficult. So-called non-DAC countries do not conform to the set of standardized accounting and transparency measures widely adopted by major donors of overseas development assistance.
A new joint report by AidData (based at William and Mary College, USA) and the Center for Global Development (Washington, DC) tries to tackle the question. The team of researchers experimented with ‘media-based data collection’, i.e. using published news accounts open to verification and correction by members of the public. They do acknowledge the potential weaknesses of this method: one cannot always assume a free press; where figures are reported for lines of credit being made available it does not means that they are actually used; sums of money pledged for a particular project may not always materialise. Nonetheless, they have worked for 18 months to approach as reliable a set of figures as possible.
The main findings are that the volume of China’s aid to African Countries is larger than previously estimated, but far less directed towards natural resource exploitation than sometimes believed. The researchers estimate that between 2001 and 2011 China made investments of around £48 billion, noting that not necessarily all of this has actually been spent. That’s roughly half the amount given by the USA over the same period. The team reckons that only a third of this £48 billion would be classified as aid if it were to originate from a DAC source.
Most of this investment is in areas such as health, culture and education rather than mining or infrastructure projects. The authors pick out a couple of examples: an opera house in Algeria and an Olympic-sized swimming pool in Ghana. The conclusion is that China’s efforts across Africa centre more on what US political scientist Joseph Nye calls ‘soft power’: “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments. It arises from the attractiveness of a country’s culture, political ideals and policies”
The AidData site on which the report is hosted features an interactive interface to allow you to explore the project data in more detail. It might be a good source for the odd case study.
First year geographers have recently studied landscapes and cultural geography. Recent events, including accidents in Scotland and the death of George Lowe, the last surviving member of the 1953 Everest team, have highlighted how mountains exert such a powerful sway over people.
During the 2012-2013 winter climbing season, there were a number of fatal avalanches and falls in the mountains of the UK. These events raised questions about why people take the risk of heading into the mountains. Climbers have been labelled as selfish and irresponsible, putting their own desire for thrills ahead of any thoughts for families or rescuers. They respond by saying that, statistically, the risk is extremely low. With the correct knowledge and equipment, individuals can greatly reduce the risk. However, there is no getting around the fact that mountaineering can be dangerous, so why do we expose ourselves to such dangers? Why, even in icy winds and with snow swirling around, are the summits of mountains often crowded with people?
In his book, Mountains of the Mind, Robert Macfarlane attempts to explain our fascination with mountains. Up to the mid-1700s, mountains were seen as dangerous and hostile places. Wild landscapes were not attractive. Unlike today, when we are prepared to travel vast distances to find wilderness, in the 17th and 18th centuries, cultivation, in the form of orchards and fields, was preferred. People wanted their landscapes to be tamed and managed. Gradually, opinions began to change. Artists such as J.M.W. Turner and Caspar Friedrich felt the need to document the landscapes that they found so impressive. The Romantic movement linked emotions to the sublimity (greatness) of untamed nature. The mountains began to be conquered by climbers – in the Alps, local guides would take up groups of people who were keen to enjoy this new pastime. Today, hillwalking and climbing continues to captivate millions of people around the world.
For many people, getting to the hills is a chance to escape the stresses of modern living. It is also a chance to experience wilderness – and we want it to remain that way, hence the opposition to wind farms from organisations such as the Ramblers. Alongside this, there is the thrill and excitement of activities such as climbing and skiing. It is more than just the physical activities, however, that draw people to the mountains. The landscape exerts a pull over people. In the same way that Norwegians talk of polarhullar, a longing for the polar regions, climbers feel drawn towards the mountains. This can sometimes be difficult to explain to others. George Mallory put it nicely when he said, “So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it …. then you won’t see why we go.”
Cultural geographers consider landscapes to be more than just a physical environment. They are an idealised way of seeing, shaped through our culture. Our response to them depends on our own experiences and beliefs. Few deny that mountain ranges are beautiful but to some they are objects to enjoy looking at whilst for others they are rocky and icy playgrounds. We inhabit these places through practices of walking, climbing, skiing and so on. Helicopter flights and cable cars now allow us to experience these places with much greater ease.
It is impossible to capture the whole experience of being in a place. Conveying the sense of being somewhere is difficult but we can try though the use of photography, film and painting, as well as literature. The Banff Mountain Film Festival shows a collection of films that show life in the mountains. It demonstrates how our activities are closely linked to the landscape and, with improvements in compact camcorders, this can be displayed to a public audience. The films that I saw included a climber free soloing (climbing without ropes) routes in Yosemite, a pair of Australians trekking to the South Pole and a group of young Norwegians skiing off-piste down steep mountains. These films demonstrate how mountains have such an appeal in popular culture. Mountains mean something to us because we associate them with freedom, exhilaration and beauty. Mountains are a symbol of geography, an arena showcasing the interaction between humans and the physical environment. They reveal the conflict between nature and culture: rockfalls, avalanches and storms remind us of the danger we face but mountains can also let us explore and achieve.
Josh O’Shaughnessy 4/4/2013
Mountains of the Mind: A History of Fascination by Robert Macfarlane is published by Granta Publications (2003) and is an excellent read.
A recent report by the House of Commons International Development Committee concluded that the UK government should withhold extra aid to Pakistan unless its government does more to gather taxes from wealthier individuals and ensure aid is more focused on anti-corruption efforts. In 2014-15 Pakistan is due to overtake India as the largest single recipient of UK development assistance, up to £446 million. But the Committee noted that only 0.57% of Pakistanis pay income tax: two thirds of the members of the National Assembly did not pay taxes in 2011.
This news is bound to further stoke the controversies surrounding UK aid. One national newspaper reported last year that the UK aid budget, which is ring-fenced by the coalition, would soon surpass the budget for policing. Late last year the UK government confirmed that it would be ceasing aid to India, previously the largest destination, in 2015. This decision sparked intense debate: should aid be directed at countries or people? It is well-established that the poorest people are not necessarily found in the poorest countries, as a recent report from the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative confirms.
A report published by the Institute for Public Policy Research written by Will Straw and Alex Glennie tries to chart a way forward in this debate. Noting how aid politics is inextricably linked with other inter-national relations, based on business, government and diaspora, the authors caution against the summary termination of development aid. Rather, they concluded “of ending aid at an arbitrary point in time, government should set out an ‘exit strategy’ for aid which specifies the development goals, relating to poverty and other objectives in recipient countries, to be met before aid is withdrawn”. Although remittances from non-resident Indians in the UK to India exceed development assistance by a factor of ten, the authors note that these are overwhelmingly channelled to a few regions, i.e. those from which most migrants and their families originate. Poverty remains stubbornly high, not least in those regions not in receipt of such flows. The authors argue that aid still ha a role in poverty reduction alongside flows of FDI and remittances, and that government (UK and India) could do a better job of managing the relationship between them.
Regarding Pakistan, it might be noted that tax evasion is not confined to developing countries. Today’s news carries more details about the 177,000 registered UK companies with overseas directors.
There’s a short video from Manuel Castells, the Catalan sociologist, that should interest those of you doing Spaces of Politics. Castells pioneered at least two fields of inquiry. First, his book The City and the Grassroots (1983) energised the comparative study of urban social movements – forms of political protest grounded not in places of work but in housing, neighbourhoods and identity. Second, his trilogy The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture (1996-2000) was a grand theorization of the changing relations between the internet and all walks of social life. It is no surprise then, to find him engaging with the new protests movements that have sprung up in the wake of the global economic crisis, from Iceland to Cyprus.
In the film Castells discusses the relationships between online activism and the politics of urban space. Although he makes no startling or original claims, it’s worth hearing what he has to say – if only to put a face to the name.
This month the UK Government published its latest draft guidelines for school curricula applicable to children under the age of 14, and they made particularly interesting reading for geographers. To the outrage of some, climate change will be axed entirely from the geography syllabus through key stages 1 to 3 (only in chemistry lessons will there be a requirement to teach children about the impact of carbon dioxide on the global climate system). References to sustainable development also don’t feature, and neither does the concept of environmental change, at least as the explicit product of human activity.
Former Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Sir David King, was especially scathing in his response to the plans, claiming: “You seem to have… major political interference with the geography syllabus.” At first glance perhaps, one might feel similarly aggrieved – after all, what other subject than geography is as well placed to address what Gordon Brown proclaimed, during his term as Prime Minister, to be “one of the greatest human endeavours of our time”?
For some though, the question of where to teach children about climate change in schools is not the real issue at all; instead what is at stake is our current definition of the nature and remit of geography itself. In this vein it is indeed fascinating to note that both the Geographical Association and the Royal Geographical Society are supportive of the Department for Education’s latest plans – RGS director Dr. Rita Gardner argues for instance that the new curriculum would provide “a much better grounding in geography”, and that it would importantly prevent students from “starting on climate change without really knowing about climate”.
For those of you in your second year, these issues will come to the fore at the start of next term in Richard Powell’s lecture on ‘Canonising Geography’, as part of the Geographical Research course. In a pithy article from Dialogues in Human Geography, Powell (2012: 339) argues that questions about teaching are always inherently political – they are about: “what we want to remember and what we want to forget”; “what we want to transmit to future generations and to cognate disciplines”. Similarly, for Noel Castree and others, there is no getting away from the fact that, “consequential choices are constantly made about what sort of knowledge to create, disseminate, revise, validate and challenge – choices that could, in theory, be otherwise” (2008: 683).
Applying these insights to this latest scuffle over the place of climate change in the UK school curriculum then, we might wonder why so few have asked the question: “What exactly should be taught about climate change?” The answer is not as straightforward as it might seem on the surface. For sure, there is near total scientific consensus on the occurrence of climate change, and indeed on the causal role played by anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, but despite decades of negotiations, this level of certainty has not (yet) been translated into meaningful political agreement on how to tackle the issue, at least at the global level. Meanwhile, as an issue of which we are all acutely aware, climate change engenders protracted and acutely political questions about the nature and purpose of justice and development, about inequalities and the uneven distribution of rights and wealth, about the claims and expectations of non-human populations and future generations, about the level of trust that we place in experts, and about the fundamental values that we wish to aspire to – as a global society – in the twenty-first century (see Hulme, 2009). If children under 14 are to be taught about climate change in British schools today, I for one would like to think that geography’s role should be to do justice to the complexity and importance of these questions, to encourage future generations to debate them openly and explicitly, and not simply to promulgate a naïve faith in the power of global climate science to “solve” the issue once and for all.
So, as you contemplate the many fascinating and contentious issues that will be covered in lectures on Geographical Research next term then, a key question to keep in mind throughout is perhaps the simplest one of all: “What should Geography actually be for?” In an era of increasingly stark penury and upheaval for the education system of this country, the time is arguably ripe to think very hard indeed about what it is that we want geography students to remember, and what we are happy for them to forget.
The Prelims Geographical Controversies course includes an option to make a presentation on one of the most enduring mysteries in mountaineering: who reached the summit of Mount Everest first? There’s a film about the mystery which will be shown on the BBC this Friday. Made by Anthony Geffen, the Wildest Dream: Conquest of Everest (2010) weaves together the stories of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine on the one hand, with the story of Conrad Acker, the man who found Mallory’s body in 1999.
It is a well-known fact that the summit of Mount Everest was first reached by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hilary on May 29 1953. News reached Britain the day of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. But what if, 29 years earlier, two men had actually beaten them to it?
In 1924 George Mallory and Andrew Irvine were selected to push for the summit. Having twice failed, they set out from the North Col before visibility declined. They were briefly sighted two days later heading for the summit before the clouds returned. They never returned. A further expedition in 1933 found an ice axe and their tent. In 1975 a Chinese climber claimed to have found the body of an Englishman but it was not recovered, and its exact location is now uncertain. Then, in 1999, an expedition under Eric Simonson found a body at 27,000 feet. At first it was thought to be Irvine, but labels on his garments identified it as Mallory. His body was well-preserved, but he had fallen and broken his leg. But, was he on the way up or the way down? And where was the camera that might prove whether the pair had succeeded? Experts and amateurs have speculated over the meaning of various clues in his clothing, location and equipment, enough to keep the mystery going. Subsequent expeditions in 2001 and 2004 uncovered more clues, but nothing conclusive. The film follows another attempt being made in 2010.
Aside from curiosity about who climbed the mountain first, one reason for such sustained inquiry may be Mallory himself. George Mallory was a charismatic, heroic individual, well-connected into British society and widely feted. He had been on two previous expeditions to Everest, and despite witnessing death and suffering could not resist returning. His letters to his wife in England attest to his ambiguous relationship to the mountain. When asked why he wanted to climb it, Mallory allegedly replied ‘because it is there’. Behind the mystery of who reached the summit first, there is another: why do they do it?
Keble College is superbly placed across the road from the Pitt Rivers Museum: home to the University of Oxford’s anthropological and world archaeological collections. Founded by Augustus Pitt Rivers in 1884, the musuem enables the visitor to explore the past through objects; an idea that became increasingly popular during the 19th century.
With free admission, the Pitt Rivers Museum it is very convenient as a place to pop into for 10-15 minutes every now and then. Each time, I find something new to explore, from the regular displays of objects arranged in type and form, to special exhibitions.
In a recent episode of In Our Time (Radio 4) Melvyn Bragg discusses with academic guests the life and work of Pitt Rivers, and the role that his collections play in helping us understand the world.
Recommended viewing:Monty Don’s French Gardens
Prelim. cultural geography lectures delivered by Derek McCormack are designed “to explore the importance of cultural processes in shaping the meaning and experience of space and place”. You are asked to consider how cultural landscapes, and the capacity to shape them, may be understood as forms of power. We will examine these questions in a tutorial next term, but in the meantime, there is a very useful example available on i-player (until 22 February) in “Monty Don’s French Gardens“. The first episode clearly illustrates the themes of the cultural landscape lecture as the presenter explores a series of formal French (Renaissance) gardens and shows how order, structure and smooth surfaces were constructed on an increasingly grand scale as expressions of power, passion and ambition. I recommend the first half hour to supplement your lecture notes.
by James King
You may have noticed that in some of your lectures recently that a picture of a very white and very large salt pan (Google Map) has been shown with reference to a project that some faculty are involved in here at Oxford. What they might not tell you is that this is where I spent almost eight months over the last year and a half! I will tell you first about the project, who is involved, why this project is interesting, and then go into detail on what I could have been doing out there for so long. Dust Observation for Models (DO4 Models) is a NERC funded project to ultimately improve the modelling of the dust emission process in regional and global climate models. The project includes many researchers: Richard Washington is the Principal Investigator; while, Dr. Giles Wiggs and Professor Dave Thomas are Co-Investigators. Other institutions involved include University of Sheffield, Imperial College London, University of Southampton, UK Met Office, and University of Cape Town.
The project has a very intensive field data collection period to provide the first dust emission measurements tailored to regional and global models. The methodology normally employed during dust measurement campaigns involves ‘finding the dust’; or, only measuring when and where the dust is emitted from. This has an obvious bias when trying to translate the surface and atmospheric processes into a larger scale model of all processes (i.e., where the dust is not coming from). However, this methodology is normally followed because the dust emission process is still not very well known and therefore many campaigns trying to measure these events are only trying to improve the understanding of dust production mechanics. That is where the DO4 Models approach is different. The project is attempting to not only to improve the understanding of dust production mechanics through mutli-sensor intensive field campaigns, but under a disciplined and informed approach, provide representative measurements that can be entered directly into larger-scale models.
So what was done differently to provide this drastically improved result? Through a combination of remote sensing and ground-truthing areas of known dust emissions were identified in southern Africa as potential areas to be monitored. Further use of multi-band packages were used to isolate variations in mineralogy and moisture within these areas to provide a land surface classification map based on the propensity of the surfaces to emit dust. From these analyses a 12 x 12 km box was selected within one of the areas that would provide a realistic range of potential dust emissions for this region. This 12 x 12 km box was chosen as it was the finest scale that the current working regional model would be using. It was then the responsibility of the group to outfit this 12 x 12 km area with instrumentation to monitor and measure the range of variables that could influence its ability to emit dust. Working within the budget attainable eleven meteorological stations were deployed consisting of a vertical profile of anemometers, wind vane, pyronometer (or net radiometer), air temperature and relative humidity probes, soil moisture and temperature meters, dust concentration monitors, sand traps, and sand transport meters. These were strategically placed within the 12 x 12 km grid based on the remote sensing data to represent the variation in surface types. In addition, a portable wind tunnel was deployed in conjunction with surface strength measurements to ‘map’ the emissivity of the 144 km2 grid. As a tool to improve the link between ground-based and remotely-sensed measurements two Cimel sun photometers were erected, that measure the amount and size of particles in the atmosphere. Additional equipment was brought in by specialists include: a terrestrial laser scanner to measure the surface roughness at millimetre accuracy and surface moisture properties; and a portable field spectrometer to determine the mineralogy and water content of the surface.
All of this monitoring instrumentation was setup for 3 months in 2010 and another 3 months in 2011. It required around ten days for everything to be up and running (not including the delays in getting all of the equipment to Botswana) and a slightly longer time to take everything apart to be put back into boxes for shipping (Time Lapse Videos of: setup and dismantle). Although most of the equipment is autonomous, most of it is not specifically made to handle environments as harsh as this one and there were many instrument failures and issues. In addition, issues surrounding security from vandalism and contamination had to be taken seriously as to not interrupt the measurement process. Results from these two campaigns are now being analysed and used within the current dust production models to identify limitations within the models that can be improved.
The DO4 Models project is going to Namibia this year to measure the dust emissions that originate from the dry valleys along its western coastline. A very different terrain to the flat salt pan of Botswana, the dry valleys bring new challenges for equipment placement and security. Another first for the DO4 Models will be the ground-based observations of dust emissions from many of these valleys, which will provide new insight into the role they play in the global dust cycle, nutrient inputs into the southern Atlantic, and accuracy of current remote sensing products for identifying dust in the atmosphere.
One or two of the third years have expressed anxieties about the Environmental Geography course. Part of this concern centres on what environmental geography is about. It wouldn’t surprise me if there was precisely a question on this in the FHS paper. To get you started on this I can offer an excusive (sneak) preview of the entry on ‘environmental geography’ in A Dictionary of Human Geography (Oxford University Press) to be published in a couple of months:
environmental geography Geographical inquiries that formally relate some aspect of the human world (society) and some aspects of the physical world (nature) to one another. Environmental geography can be conceived in at least three related ways. It can be regarded as a middle ground between human and physical geography, unifying parts of the discipline that are otherwise moving apart. It can also be regarded as the most recent manifestation of a distinct tradition within geography that attempts to hold humans and the environment together in a single explanatory framework, termed ‘the geographical experiment’ by David Livingstone. This tradition includes *environmental determinism, *possibilism, human ecology, *cultural ecology, *hazards research, systems approaches and others. Although possibly neglected in the post-war decades, this tradition has been revivified by the increasing interest in global environmental issues and environmental change. An important departure from past versions of environmental geography is that the inquiries are more likely to involved teams of specialists rather than individual generalists. Lastly, it can be thought of as an interdisciplinary field of research spanning the natural and social sciences, but within which the contribution of geographers per se is no necessarily central. In this sense, its component fields comprise *political ecology, research on environment and development, *hazards and *disasters research, *animal geography, Land Change Science, and several more besides. See also sustainability science.
Castree, N., Demeritt, D., Liverman, D. & Rhoads, B., (eds) A companion to Environmental Geography (2009).
Livingstone, D. N., The Geographical Tradition (1992).
Turner II, B. L., (2002) Contested Identities: Human-Environment Geography and Disciplinary Implications in a Restructuring Academy. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 92: 52-74.
The dictionary, edited by Noel Castree, Rob Kitchin and Alisdair Rogers, is due to be published in April 2013 and can be pre-ordered from here.
I would like to share this photograph with you for the way the artist has played with ideas of relative mobility and stillness. Is your eye most drawn to the red-sailed yacht nearest the foreground which, in its sharpness, appears frozen in motion? Or do the blurred images of the yachts behind hold your gaze? The photographer has captured and represented the kinetic.
In Mobility, Adey (2010) cites Henri Bergson as one of the key philosophers of movement. Bergson was a strong contender of the view that human perception sought to fix things and eliminate from them any sense of continuity, flow and movement (through time). It was understood that mobility was suppressed through perception and representation, in the same way that the commonsense notion of snapshot photography is to create a still image of movement. In the photograph above, we can see this stillness represented in the definite outline of the red-sailed yacht.
Representations of mobility have been crafted in a range of ways: from the pioneering work of Muybridge using photography to capture motion (see Cresswell 2006), to the computer-aided analysis of cyclists in wind tunnels for understanding the dynamics of airflow. Within photography, slowing the shutter speed makes it possible to capture the kinetic, as illustrated in the blurred yachts above.
Mobility and stillness are juxtaposed in this image in at least two ways: firstly within the image through the mobility and stillness of the yachts, relative to one another; and secondly the image as an object freezing a moment in time (the overall race), but using the technology to re-veal that sense of time and flow.
Mobility has become central to contemporary human geography. There is a series of lectures on mobilities in SPS and the second year have just written tutorial essays arguing for its disciplinary significance alongside. Cresswell (2012:648) makes an observation:
Usually, it does not take long for the academically inclined to start to explore the seeming opposite of what is currently fashionable. This has been true of mobilities research with a considerable amount of work emerging on themes of waiting and stillness.
This stillness is not a resurgence of fixity and rootedness but an acknowledgement of relative immobilities (moorings; stuckness), speeds and alternative ways of understanding the world (Adey 2009; Massey 2005). Ali’s post below notes that the “tension between rootedness and mobility lies precisely at the centre of modernity”. I would thus recommend Cresswell’s (2012) Mobilities II: Still, as essential reading alongside his Mobilities I: Catching Up (2011).
Adey, P. (2010) Mobility. Abingdon: Routledge
Cresswell, T. (2006) On the move: the politics of mobility in the modern west, London, Routledge
Cresswell, T. (2011) Mobilities 1: Catching up. Progress in Human Geography 35(4):550-558
Cresswell, T. (2012) Mobilities II: Still Progress in Human Geography 36(5):645-653
Massey, D. (2005) For Space. London:Sage
I was very pleased to receive a copy of Robert Macfarlane’s latest book The Old Ways: a Journey on Foot amongst the many kind gifts at my leaving do. Having enjoyed his first book, Mountains of the Mind, I was looking forward to this one – in fact the third of a trilogy on ‘landscape and the human heart’. Although Macfarlane is a Lecturer in English at Cambridge, his writings have a strong appeal for geographers.
The Old Ways describes 15 separate journeys on foot organised geographically into southern England, the Scottish Highlands and islands and a number of overseas locations – Spain, Tibet and Palestine. Shod and barefoot, he traverses granite, gneiss, chalkland, silt, snow, tidal flats following relic and vernacular paths. These include drove roads, pilgrim routes, crofters’ paths and the routes of Mesolithic England. Although there is a thread connecting them, his wayfaring is a way of prompting reflections on prehistory, history, biography, family history, environment and the human condition. The focus is promiscuous.
The Old Ways touches on at least three of the themes that you may encounter in Derek McCormack’s lectures on Moving Bodies this term. Firstly, Macfarlane is concerned with the relations between walking, thinking and feeling. Some thoughts and feelings can only arise in movement, step by step. From a Cartesian perspective, in which mind and body are separated, thinking inhabits the mind only. Reason is unrelated to movement. More recent work by geographers and others, not least Derek McCormack, seeks to restore thinking as a bodily activity. Throughout his journeys, Macfarlane also describes how he feels through and with his body in motion. Secondly, and following on from this, the principle relation between body and landscape is achieved through motion. In geography, landscape has conventionally been conceived and presented as a matter of vision, and vision connected to the unmoving eye. Landscape was something seen from a point, a perspective. Macfarlane, whose sensibility in this mirrors the work of British cultural geographer John Wylie, is attuned to paths and ways rather than hilltops or vantage points. Thirdly, Derek McCormack will address the affiliations between modernity and mobility, using the idea of a new ‘structure of feeling’ arising from the acceleration of life 1880-1920. This is most obviously captured in the revolutions in transport – bicycles, trains, powered flight – as well as the new kinetic technologies of cinema and free-frame photography. He may illustrate this with a slide of a well-known painting by Eric Ravilious, Train-Landscape, showing the Westbury White Horse through the window of a railway carriage. Macfarlane bases a chapter around Ravilious’ paintings of the chalklands and pathways of the South Downs and Ridgeway. But he also recovers a less celebrated episode of modern mobility, the increase in tramping and wayfaring among men in the wake of the First Word War. Driven by both recession and the injuries of conflict, thousands of men took to the byways of England, sleeping rough, looking for work and searching for rest.
These three themes converge on the story of one man in particular, Edward Thomas (1878-1917); Thomas supplies the thread for The Old Ways. Walker, writer and poet, Thomas sought relief from his depression by walking ‘the old ways’, leading to a series of poems produced in a prolific rush in the months leading up to his call-up to the Front. He died at the battle of Arras, fought across the same chalk landscapes he knew from Kent and Hampshire. Macfarlane’s walking brings him closer to Thomas, perhaps in the way a tracker follows the scent of a creature though without ever setting eyes on it. Of Thomas he writes:
He is slowly working out a model of thought – no, more than thought, of self – not as something rooted in place and growing steadily over time, but as a shifting set or properties variously supplemented and depleted by our passage through the world. Landscape and nature are not there simply to be gazed at; no, they press hard upon and into our bodies and minds, complexly affect our moods, our sensibilities.
This tension between rootedness and mobility lies precisely at the centre of modernity.
I must mention the Keble connection in The Old Ways. It is made by three individuals. One chapter concerns paths on water, not land, in this case the routes taken by peoples inhabiting the Atlantic coasts of Europe from Mesolithic times to the present. Macfarlane recommends a thought experiment that I too encourage. Look at a map of the British Isles, preferably centred on the Irish Sea, and try to see the land as impassable and the sea as traversable. See the land as blue and the sea as green if you like. You get a sense of how, from 8000 BC onwards, the peoples of the coastlands trafficked with one another by well-defined sea routes. The definitive work on these cultures is by Sir Barry Cunliffe, professorial fellow at the College 1972-2007, in Facing the Ocean (2001). But, among other sources, Cunliffe built upon observations made by Osbert ‘O.S.G.’ Crawford (1886-1957) concerning the distribution of Bronze Age artefacts around the Irish Sea, from which he inferred ancient seaways. Crawford read geography at Keble, graduating in 1910, and later pioneered the use of aerial photography in archaeology. The third link can be found tucked away in the acknowledgements, where one finds the name James Macadam, Keble geographer (2006-9). James, who secured both the top first in the department and a blue in cricket, introduced me to Mountains of the Mind during his last term at College.
I can recommend The Old Ways to anyone who read and enjoyed Waterlog for Geographical Controversies or who is intrigued by the ideas in Moving Bodies but intimidated by how they are sometimes expressed.