Category Archives: Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers

Before same-sex marriage: finding ‘homonormativity’ in rural Wales in the early 1980s

By Gavin Brown (University of Leicester)

World Pride Toronto (June 2014). Photo Credit: Gavin Brown

World Pride Toronto (June 2014). Photo Credit: Gavin Brown

On 26 June 2015 the US Supreme Court ruled that state-level bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional. Four days before marriage equality was approved in the United States, the Pitcairn Islands, with a population of just 48 people (and no known same-sex couples) also joined the growing list of nations to recognize and allow same-sex marriage. The accelerating acceptance of same-sex marriage around the world is part of a wider trend, over the last two decades, of greater social tolerance towards sex and gender minorities in many countries. This has been accompanied by new forms of legal recognition and protection for lesbian, gay and transgender people in some countries (at the same time as more repressive legislation has been threatened or enacted elsewhere).

Geographers and other social scientists have attempted to understand and make sense of these changes in social attitudes. One popular explanation is that these changes are an expression of a ‘new homonormativity’. This concept was first articulated by Lisa Duggan, a professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University, who argued that the incorporation of some lesbian and gay people (particularly those in settled couples) into American society’s normative understandings of appropriate sexual conduct was an expression of ‘the sexual politics of neoliberalism’. By this, she meant that society was increasingly willing to accept and support lesbian and gay people who took responsibility for their own well-being (without recourse to state welfare benefits) and who preferred to express their sexuality within domestic spaces rather than the public sexual cultures of earlier (lesbian and) gay neighbourhoods in major urban centres. Homonormativity is said to have domesticated gay culture. ‘Homonormative’ lifestyles are understood to be socially liberal, but fiscally and sexually conservative.

As I have previously argued (Brown 2012), although there is a lot of merit in many analyses of contemporary ‘homonormativity’, too often they focus on the experiences of people living in major urban centres (in Europe and North America) at the expense of those living in provincial cities, smaller towns and rural areas. By studying lesbian and gay lives in a wider range of locations, it is possible to reconsider what it means to be socially ‘normative’, and what it takes for sexual minorities to fit in, or feel part of, different types of localities. The geographical study of sexuality and sexual politics is diminished if scholars over-emphasize urban (and specifically metropolitan) sexual cultures at the expense of other places.

In the 1970s, lesbian and gay subcultures became more visible in the urban landscape and many lesbians and gay men migrated to large cities in the hope of finding community and the possibility of leading more open lives. At the same time, and in parallel with a wider ‘back-to-the-land’ movement, smaller numbers of lesbians and gay men left the cities for a ‘simpler’, more self-sufficient, and ‘environmentally friendly’ life in rural areas. I have recently been revisiting the archives of a lesbian and gay organization from the period, the Gay Rural Aid and Information Network (GRAIN), which offered practical support and encouragement to gay people who wanted to move to rural England and Wales (see my paper published recently in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers). Although many in the network believed that they were socially and politically progressive, I find their rejection of urban gay subcultures and their promotion to domestic-level self-reliance, to be more complex and contradictory, at times being socially and sexually conservative. Even so, the economic practices pursued by these lesbian farmers and gay smallholders were far removed from the emerging (urban) neoliberal economies from which they had fled. They engaged in all sorts of non-waged labour, domestic production, bartering and skill-swaps. Some of these practices were part of their ideological commitment to living sustainably on the land; but they also helped to embed them, as lesbians and gay men, in the existing diverse economies of the rural areas to which they had moved. Although these people (and the places where they lived) are very different to those normally considered in debates about contemporary ‘homonormativity’, I believe traces of emergent homonormative beliefs and practices can be found in their lives.

Thinking about the diversity of economic practices and social relations that might be associated with the emergence of homonormative attitudes over recent decades emphasizes that ‘homonormativity’ is not as a single entity, but a cluster of traits, relationships and values. Geographers can make an important contribution to understanding homonormativity by demonstrating that homonormativities are multiple, as well as time and place specific. A cultural and historical geography approach to these questions can help find traces of homonormativity in some very unexpected places.

About the author:

Gavin Brown is a Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Leicester where he leads the Critical and Creative Geographies research group.

60-world2 BBC (2015), ‘US Supreme Court rules gay marriage is legal nationwide’, 27 June,

books_icon Brown, G. (2012), “Homonormativity: a metropolitan concept that denigrates ‘ordinary’ gay lives,” Journal of Homosexuality 59 (7): 1065 – 1072.

books_icon Brown, G. (2015), ‘Rethinking the origins of homonormativity: the diverse economies of rural gay life in England and Wales in the 1970s and 1980s’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, doi: 10.1111/tran.12095

60-world2 The Guardian (2015), ‘Pitcairn Island, population 48, passes law to allow same-sex marriage’, The Guardian, 22 June

60-world2 Halberstadt, A. (2015), “Out of the Woods”, New York Times, 6 August.

The Life and Death of Zero Carbon Housing Policy

By Andrew Karvonen (University of Manchester), Gordon Walker (Lancaster University) and Simon Guy (Lancaster University)

On 10 July 2015, the UK government announced that it was abandoning its 2016 commitment to require all new housing in England and Wales to be zero carbon. In ‘Fixing the Foundations: Creating a More Prosperous Nation’, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne cited the zero carbon housing policy as a constraint on new homebuilding and an apparent drag on the productivity of the UK economy. The announcement served as an anticlimactic and rather brutal conclusion to a decade of active working towards decarbonising the future housing stock in England and Wales. This particular case provides a fascinating window on wider debates over sustainable transitions and the politics of reducing carbon emissions (see our paper Walker et al. 2015, recently published in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers).

About a quarter of the total UK carbon footprint is attributed to the construction, operation, and demolition of the British housing stock. Housing thus provides an important target for climate change mitigation policies. In December 2006, the mainstreaming of zero carbon housing was kickstarted in the UK with the introduction of the Code for Sustainable Homes (CSH). The CSH established a ten-year period of innovation for the homebuilding industry to improve the energy efficiency of new-build houses, culminating in the regulatory zero carbon standard taking effect in 2016. The Government simultaneously funded cutting-edge housing developments through the Homes and Communities Agency to demonstrate how zero carbon housing could be achieved in practice.

Park Dale zero carbon social housing scheme in Wakefield

Park Dale zero carbon social housing scheme in Wakefield

The UK’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions through the CSH was significant and tangible. The definition of ‘zero carbon’ was intentionally left to housing industry stakeholders (homebuilders, building professionals, policymakers, and NGOs) working together through the Zero Carbon Hub to ensure that the target was achievable. In the ensuing years, debates about the definition of zero carbon have revealed how deeply fossil fuels are embedded in the economy, planning regulations, and the daily life of British households. Reducing carbon emissions involved a wide range of discussions that centred on how energy and housing are connected. While some of the deliberations were highly technical and involved building scientists devising strategies to reduce carbon emissions through improved efficiency and renewable energy sources, others revolved around how to reduce and manage the costs of low-carbon strategies and technologies and how homeowners should (or should not) be drawn into shifts towards new patterns of zero carbon living.

As the zero carbon standard evolved, there was a clear separation between how a house was designed and built versus how it was occupied and lived in. This was particularly evident in March 2011 when the definition of ‘zero carbon’ was changed to create a distinction between ‘regulated emissions’ such as space heating, ventilation, hot water, and fixed lighting versus ‘unregulated emissions’ from plug-in appliances such as televisions, computers, and tumble dryers. This watered down the ambitions of the zero carbon target considerably by restricting the CSH to design and construction of building fabric and energy supply. The CSH effectively became just another requirement of building regulations (although one that was more stringent than existing energy performance requirements) while avoiding a broader social commitment to low-carbon lifestyles.

The demise of zero carbon housing regulation diminishes but does not signal the end of the carbon reduction agenda. The Government apparently continues to work towards carbon emission reduction targets, although they are not specific to the housing stock and do not have a clear route to reduce domestic emissions. And it is likely that some if not all of the stakeholders in the homebuilding industry will continue on the innovation journey that began in 2006. The technical, economic and construction principles developed through the CSH might continue to influence the homebuilding industry (especially if they are not perceived to add to the costs of housing). However, without the regulatory push of Government, it is likely that decarbonisation of the housing stock will slow considerably rather than become embedded in the mainstream practice of homebuilding. Meanwhile, a bubbling undercurrent of localized experiments, demonstration projects, and community based initiatives will continue to take a more expansive approach to low-carbon housing design, development, and living that recognises domestic carbon emissions as unavoidably wrapped up in the combination of both the built environment and occupant practices.

About the authors: 

Dr Andrew Karvonen is a Lecturer in Architecture and Urbanism at the University of Manchester. Professor Gordon Walker is based in the Lancaster Environment Centre at Lancaster University and is the co-Director of the RCUK funded DEMAND Centre (Dynamics of Energy, Mobility and Demand). Professor Simon Guy is the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Lancaster University.

ICHC 2015: the global history of cartography

logo-ichcBenjamin Sacks, Princeton University

Antwerp, Belgium recently hosted the 26th International Conference on the History of Cartography, bringing together 150 of the world’s leading historians of cartography, geographers, spatial specialists, and young career scholars and practitioners. The biannual conference seeks to promote the critical historical study and analysis of maps, map makers and geographers, and their impact in society. conference director Joost Depuydt, Universiteit Antwerpen, and Imago Mundi, the history of cartography’s flagship academic journal, closely collaborated to bring the conference to fruition. A large Royal Geographical Society (with Institute of British Geographers) contingent attended, including (amongst others) retired RGS-IBG librarian Francis Herbert, Peter Barber, the British Library’s director of maps, former British Library map director Tony Campbell, Catherine Delano-Smith, Imago Mundi‘s chief editor, early modern map expert Chet Van Duzer, Matthew Edney, director of The History of Cartography series, and Imre Demhardt, a director of the International Cartographic Association.

The week-long conference has become famous for its single-panel, single-room format, with no concurrent sessions. Each panelist presents to the entire conference. The week format also provides ample time for panels on nearly every conceivable topic in the history of cartography and the history of geography. Both Karen De Coene (Universiteit Gent) and Joaquim Gaspar (Universidade de Lisboa) articulated the longevity of maps’ usefulness: De Coene demonstrated how composite atlases remain potent sources of understanding the formation of geographical knowledge networks; Gaspar investigated how accurate the 1569 Mercator world map proved to be for maritime navigation – some two centuries before its full adoption by shipping firms.

Linda Rui Feng (University of Toronto) highlighted how textual and non-cartographic evidence (e.g., manuscripts, letters, poetry) could be used to reconstruct early maps and regain previously lost geographic knowledge. ‘The concept of map (tu) in pre-modern China was a highly capacious one’, she argued, ‘and existed as part of an interface across the genres of text, pictorial illustration (also termed tu), and painting (hua)’ (Programme 32). Her work echoed David Cooper and Ian Gregory’s (Lancaster University)’s 2011 Transactions article ‘Mapping the English Lake District: a literary GIS’. In the latter piece, Cooper and Gregory discussed the possibilities of incorporating an array of visual, contemporary, quantitative, and qualitative information – from geographical coordinates to Thomas Gray’s 1769 account of his walking tour – via GIS to create a truly interdisciplinary understanding of one of the British Isles’ most famed natural regions.

ICHC 2015 Antwerp attendees. Photograph (c)  2015 Joost Depuydt.

ICHC 2015 Antwerp attendees. Photograph (c) 2015 Joost Depuydt.

Borders, boundaries, and their complex geographies constitute an important, recurrent theme in RGS-IBG journals. In ‘Border Landscapes’ (Area June 1989) Dennis Rumley (University of Western Australia) reported on a conference held to grapple with borders’ historic and contemporary problems: combating negative perceptions of border regions as poor, peripheral frontiers (175), critically examining ongoing bilateral border disputes, and re-examining historical disputes in a search for future solutions. Alec McEwan (International Boundary Commission) took a more focused slant, carefully deconstructing a century-old African boundary dispute. In ‘The establishment of the Nigeria/Benin boundary, 1889-1989’ (The Geographical Journal March 1991) he concluded that despite two clear imperial agreements cementing the boundary, a propitious lack of accurate and readily available maps, combined with the constantly-changing nature of the Okpara River, led to a nearly a hundred years of sociopolitical headaches, antagonism, and missed diplomatic opportunities. In a similar vein, Madalina Veres (University of Pittsburgh) turned her attention to the Habsburg’s forty-year failed effort to secure late eighteenth-century Lombardy’s frontier. She concluded that despite the Habsburg Empire’s best efforts, the deft use of conflicting maps and surveying engineers by three other monarchs prevented the region from being conclusively demarcated or controlled. Catherine Dunlop (Montana State University), author of the recently-published book Cartophilia: Maps and the Search for Identity in the French-German Borderland, buttressed Veres’ and McEwan’s respective points. In her analysis of Alsace’s fractured history, she promoted the role of maps as peaceful tools of negotiation and clarity, even in regions famed for armed conflict.

As Federico Ferretti’s 2014 study on the role of cartography in the promotion of a unified Italy keenly demonstrated (see ‘Italy: A tale of popular geographic circulation‘, Geography Directions, 15 November 2014), maps have and continue to serve as vital assets in legitimising particular conceptions of ‘the state’, while subordinating or eliminating competing visions from public and private discourse. At ICHC 2015 Zef Segal (Ben Gurion University) examined how competing German states, actors, and organisations created, promulgated, and manipulated maps to promote their particular perspective of territory generally and ‘Germany’ specifically. In so doing, his ongoing research intends to unearth the complex cartographic and geographic politics of Germany’s modern formation.

Geography is inherently global, a fact Max Moerman (Barnard College/Columbia University) kept close to heart as he embarked on his now in-press book, The Japanese Buddhist World Map: Religious Vision and the Cartographic Imagination. After identifying ships on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Japanese Buddhist world maps ‘that otherwise vehemently rejected the cartography of European exploration and its attendant cosmology of a global Earth’ (Programme 52), Moerman launched an investigation into Japanese maps’ global history. He uncovered that Buddhist map makers negotiated the inclusion of particular European and Far Eastern geopolitical and topographical elements into a ‘cartographic hybridity’ that both reflected Japan’s gradual opening to the West and Japanese efforts to rectify their position within this globalising world. Moerman’s focus on the negotiated symbiosis of ‘East and West’ fits well with current trends in RGS-IBG scholarship.

Mark Monmonier (Syracuse University) identified an area of geographical scholarship little examined in RGS-IBG journals: patents and invention. Transactions, for instance, has only discussed patents and the invention of geographic/cartographic-aiding devices in the context of agricultural efficiency (e.g., David Nally, ‘The biopolitics of food provisioning’ January 2011). In ‘Inventors and cartographic creativity’, he detailed how geography, exploration, cartography, and transportation has spurred a vast range of inventions, inventors, and gadgets, ranging from the vital to the curious.

Building off of James Ackerman’s 2009 The Imperial Map and Peter Barber and Tom Harper’s Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda and Art (2011), Katariina Kosonen (University of Helsinki) discussed the influence of maps in popular newsprint and media. In ‘Passive resistance and raging propaganda’, she recounted the various means newspaper and magazine maps influenced or reflected charged public opinions in young Finland’s struggle to maintain independence from Soviet Russia. Kosonen tapped into a important topic of current geographic inquiry: the diffusion of geographic knowledge through mass media, how it is manipulated, and what it means for geopolitics and the discipline itself. Geography, as Frances Harris (Kingston University) wrote in a 2011 Geographical Journal commentary, is especially well suited to take an important place in media’s visual future.

Tim Hall, Phil Toms, Mark McGuinness, Charlotte Parker, and Neil Roberts’ vital January 2015 Area article ‘Where’s the Geography department?’ sounded the alarm to secure maintaining academic geography’s future as a distinct discipline in British higher education. At ICHC 2015, scholars and research librarians detailed various efforts to keep geography and cartography influential, relevant, and technologically advanced. Martijn Storms announced the successful merger, digitisation, and promotion of the Netherlands’ three most important map collections, with the intent of connecting historical and contemporary Dutch mapping and geographical knowledge to academics and policy-makers.  G. Salim Mohammed updated the academic community on Stanford University’s acquisition of the David Rumsey Map Collection, one of the most important private, digital collections in the United States. Later in 2015 Stanford will open the David Rumsey Map Center, a fully-digital geographic and geospatial library, to the public. ICHC 2017 will be held in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

books_iconCooper D and Gregory I N (2011), Mapping the English Lake District: a literary GISTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers NS 36: 89-108, DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2010.00405.x

60-world2Ferretti F (2014), Inventing Italy and the circulation of geographical culturesGeography Directions, 5 February 2014.

books_iconFerretti F (2014), Inventing Italy: geography, Risorgimento and national imagination: the international circulation of geographical knowledge in the 19th centuryThe Geographical Journal 180: 402-13, DOI: 10.1111/geoj.12068.

books_iconHall T, Toms P, McGuinness M, Parker P, and Roberts N (2015), Where’s the Geography department? The changing administrative place of Geography in UK higher educationArea, 47: 56-64, DOI: 10.1111/area.12154.

books_iconHarris F (2011), Getting geography into the media: understanding the dynamics of academic-media collaborationThe Geographical Journal, 177: 155-59, DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2010.00396.x.

books_iconInternational Conference on the History of Cartography (2015), ICHC 2015 Antwerp: Programme & Abstract of the 26th International Conference on the History of Cartography: Theatre of the World in Four Dimensions, Antwerp: FelixArchief.

books_iconMcEwan A C (1991), The establishment of the Nigeria/Benin boundary, 1889-1989The Geographical Journal 157: 62-70, DOI: 10.2307/635145.

books_iconNally D (2011), The biopolitics of food provisioningTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers, NS 36: 37-53, DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2010.00413.x.

books_iconRumley D (1989), Border landscapesArea 21: 175-76.

60-world2Sacks B J (2014), Italy: a tale of popular geographic circulationGeography Directions, 15 November 2014.

60-world2Sacks B J (2015), What happened to the American geography department? Geography Directions, 8 April 2015.

Dinosaur displays, talking teddy bears, and plotting pets: what the movies (don’t) teach us about human-animal relationships

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

As an animal geographer, the heading ‘Becoming Human’ in The Guardian’s g2 film supplement immediately caught my eye. The title rang true of Deleuze and Guatarri’s notion of becoming, a transformative process of identity formation, which has influenced so many who study animals, including Donna Haraway. The article by Steve Rose (2015), the Guardian’s film critic, is also available online, and pays homage to shifting attitudes towards animals in Hollywood. As anyone studying animals will tell you, animals help shed light on what it means to be human. The reinforcement of their ‘otherness’ through the human-animal binary highlights human superiority and helps to redefine the category of ‘human’ as opposed to ‘animal’.

Taking the new blockbuster, Jurassic World, as his starting point, Rose (2015) considers the radical new ways in which more recent films with animals in their starring roles are re-framing what it means to be human. The dinosaurs in Jurassic World are highly problematic; genetically-modified ‘creations’, they are ‘attractions’ for a human audience and live unnatural lives in captivity. However, this monster movie turns the argument around, leaving us instead pondering the animality of the human owners of the dino-resort; it is the humans who are presented as the real monsters. As fetishized cultural products, however, the dinosaurs in Jurassic World raise questions about animal rights, human-animal relationships, and the ontological differences between ‘human’ and ‘animal’. There are similarities that can be drawn with Holloway et al’s (2009) paper, which applies Foucauldian biopower to genetic technologies used in livestock breeding. Here, the use of new genetic technologies to (re)create and (re)define farm animals’ bodies serves to control and regulate animal bodies and behaviour. Intervention in these animal lives – similar to the human intervention into the lives of the dinosaurs in Jurassic World – produces particular truths and subsequently affects human-animal relationships.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Rose (2015), then, draws comparisons with another new film, Ted 2; a highly anthropomorphized story of a walking, talking teddy bear. This film presents an extreme illustration of changes in attitudes towards animal rights, tracing Ted’s battle to legally be recognised as a ‘person’ in order to adopt a child with his human partner.  Rose (2015) compares this rather surreal situation to changing animal rights attitudes. Citing examples in New York, the article suggests that animals are increasingly being given human legal rights. Animal rights activists, for example, are arguing that chimpanzees be given legal personhood, a decision that would redefine their imprisonment as illegal. Such examples of increasing animal rights refute the human-animal divide, blurring the boundary between ‘human’ and ‘animal’, and redefining animal subjectivity. Animals, it seems, have transgressed the species boundary; they are becoming human.

The re-definition of animal rights and subjectivity in films is by no means a new phenomenon. Take any Disney film with animals as its focus, and there are hidden geographical stories about animal rights, their daily struggles, and their identities. Bambi’s heart-breaking bereavement at the hands of a hunter; the objectification of Dumbo as a ‘performer’; the canine battle against a cruel, fur-crazed woman in 101 Dalmations; these are just a few of many examples in which Walt Disney has challenged us to re-think our treatment of, interactions with, and relationship to animals. Yes, any film written about animals is loaded with anthropomorphism, an approach to understanding animals that is heavily criticised in academia, but can such a device, in fact, help stress the importance of treating animals as our equals rather than an inferior ‘other’? Bear’s (2011) study of Angelica the octopus, after all, promotes the idea of ‘responsible anthropomorphism’ as a useful tool for understanding individual animals and increasing sensitivity towards their rights and subjectivities.

The recent release of the trailer for The Secret Life of Pets (, an animated film by Illuminated Entertainment, poses another extreme in animal-centric films. The film, due for release next June, challenges us to reconsider our views of pets, giving an insight into what they get up to while we’re out. Whilst obviously fiction (I’m not suggesting that our pets are forming rival gangs in the battle for human companionship!), the film will ask us to consider the extent to which our pets are, in fact, active agents with complex subjectivities and the ability for conscious, rational thought. This is a stark contrast in the light of recent controversy over dog meat in China. The annual Yulin Dog Meat Festival, in which 10,000 dogs are slaughtered for their meat, took place at the end of last month, and reminds us that we are still far from achieving equal rights for animals (BBC, 2015 [online]).

The films mentioned above may be little more than light-hearted distraction. The reality may be, as harsh as it seems, that any hint of our changing relationship with animals and their rights is, in fact, as real as Hollywood’s dinosaur displays, talking teddy bears, and plotting pets.

books_iconBear, C. (2011). “Being Angelica? Exploring individual animal geographies”, Area, 43(3):297-304.

books_iconHolloway, L., Morris, C., Gilna, B., and Gibbs, D. (2009). “Biopower, genetics and livestock breeding: (re)constituting animal populations and heterogeneous biosocial collectivities”, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 34: 394-407.

60-world2BBC, (2015). “China Yulin dog meat festival under way despite outrage”, BBC News online, June 22nd 2015. Available at:

60-world2Rose, S. (2015). “Becoming Human”, The Guardian, g2. June, 2015. Available at:



New in Transactions: Editor’s issue spotlights

Issue three of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers is now available on line.

Editor’s issue spotlights include:

Forced migration in the United Kingdom: women’s journeys to escape domestic violence Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 40: 307–320. doi: 10.1111/tran.12085, by Janet Christine Bowstead, London Metropolitan University (UK)

In search of ‘lost’ knowledge and outsourced expertise in flood risk management Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 40: 375–386. doi: 10.1111/tran.12082, by Graham HaughtonUniversity of Manchester (UK), Greg Bankoff and Tom J Coulthard,  University of Hull (UK)

The distinctive capacities of plants: re-thinking difference via invasive species Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 40: 399–413. doi: 10.1111/tran.12077, by Lesley Head and Jennifer Atchison, University of Wollongong (Australia), and Catherine Phillips, University of Queensland (Australia)

‘This restless enemy of all fertility’: exploring paradigms of coastal dune management in Western Europe over the last 700 years Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 40: 414–429. doi: 10.1111/tran.12067, by Michèle L Clarke, University of Nottingham (UK), and Helen M Rendell, Loughborough University (UK)

Crowd-Sourced Maps: A Way Forward?

by Benjamin Sacks, Princeton University

OpenStreetMap is catalysing an open-sourced mapping revolution.

OpenStreetMap is catalysing an open-sourced mapping revolution.

In the mobile Internet age, nearly every individual has the capacity to create. Despite the rapid transformation of cartography from analogue to digital, elite to everyman, maps remain biased, nuanced, meaning-laden documents, much as J B Harley and David Woodward first argued in their respective late twentieth century scholarship. Joe Gerlach (University of Oxford) has sought to both connect existing studies of maps with open-sourced cartography, as well as investigate digital, crowd-sourced mapping on its own terms and merits. In ‘Editing worlds: participatory mapping and a minor geopolitics’ (Transactions April 2015) he examined what OpenStreetMap means for cartography as a geopolitical tool in international affairs.

According to Gerlach, the Cold War dominated twentieth century geopolitical cartography; he recalled Gearóid Ó’Tuathail’s weaved narrative imagining ‘Halford Mackinder and Henry Kissinger acting out manifold “belligerent dramas” over the spectre of a world map’ (273). This intimate association with realpolitik and its manifestations (war, trauma, Mutually Assured Destruction, colonisation, proxy conflict) might have provided geopolitics with a measure of ‘institutional rigour’ (borrowing from Edoardo Boria) but at the expense of cartography’s legitimacy. Grassroots, open source mapping moves to restore cartography’s geopolitical credentials by distancing itself from the Cold War’s more onerous legacies. Gerlach suggested that a ‘minor’ revolution in cartography is underway. Not minor in size or scale, but rather in its sociological and literary sense: ‘an examination of the non-representational aspects of this representational practice as a way of spotlighting the often unspoken, anticipatory politics of mapping’ (274). Or, in other words, the culture(s) and movement(s) of open-source, grassroots mapping.

This is a brave new world, at least from a scholarly standpoint. What does cartographic inclusiveness mean? How does mass-participatory, often non-moderated cartography influence geopolitics at the local, regional, or international levels? By its very nature, such mapping is ‘uncertain and experimental’, outside the bounds of traditional scholarly or political cartographic analysis. At its core, the maps are moved, influenced, and popularised by the crowd; subject to its rational and irrational drifts, pulls, and tendencies.

Programmes like OpenStreetMap seek to free the user from restrictions imposed by such official, controlled maps as Ordnance Survey and United States Geological Survey charts. In so doing, users become active authors in cartography and, by extension, the multi-dimensional geographical landscape. In Peru, for instance, a digitally-aware audience has effectively and efficiently subverted the military’s de facto monopoly on maps, identifying, creating, manipulating, and distributing their own cartographies via OpenStreetMap. Through social gatherings, group GPS expeditions, and checking each others’ work, contributors established themselves – however deliberately or accidentally – as a national cartographic force, competition to the military’s own carefully controlled maps.

Of greatest importance is the sheer excitement open source mapping brings to cartography. Like Wikipedia of the 2000s, OpenStreetMap is still in its childhood, subject to referee issues, inaccuracies, and end-user problems. Regardless, by providing free-to-use, easily manipulated cartographic tools to the public on desktop and mobile devices, geographic knowledge can reach an audience few twentieth century geographers – and especially those of a Cold War persuasion – could have foreseen.

books_iconBoria E (2008) Geopolitical maps: a sketch history of a neglected trend in cartography Geopolitics 13 278-308.

books_iconGerlach, J. (2015), Editing worlds: participatory mapping and a minor geopolitics. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers,                         40: 273–286. doi: 10.1111/tran.12075

books_iconÓ’Tuathail G, Dalby S and Routledge P eds (2006) The geopolitics reader 2nd edn Routledge, London 237-54.

Collecting as Archiving

By Will Andrews, Aberystwyth University

In a recent article published in Transactions, Didier DeLyser (2015) explains the importance of the what she refers to as ‘archival autoethnography’ (p209) as a way to approach and analyse the intimate spatialities of social memory tied up in amateur collections.  The article explores DeLyser’s own collections of souvenirs related to Helen Hunt Jackson’s 1884 novel Ramona, whilst contextualising this within wider enthusiasm for the novel and its impacts.  Many of these souvenir items, such as written postcards are tied to certain geographical locations in Southern California, in this way they connect people to place as well fitting into broader narratives of collection and enthusiasm the postcards in particular providing clear and intimate accounts of social memory in place.

800px-Collection-of-cameras                                        A Collection of Old Soviet Cameras (Dzhepko, 2007)

April 7th saw the second series of BBC 2’s Collectaholics (BBC, 2015a), a popular culture lens on the personal collections and archives compiled by various individuals who have interests in subjects which do not always attract more mainstream archival attention. The programme details, “the weird and wonderful collections of some of Britain’s passionate and avid…collectors” (ibid). As DeLyser (2015) explains such collections transcend cultural capital or monetary value (p209) and have more to do with the personal experiences and memories of the collectors. Collections on the BBC series range from an archived collection of natural history items in the first episode to more performative archives as in the sixth episode when Mark Hill explores a home transformed by its owner into a recreated early twentieth century cottage (BBC, 2015a). Both collections can be seen as pertinent examples of DeLyser’s observations, that people collect items which connect them to certain places and broader narratives, preserving their own, ‘intimate spatialities of social memory” (p210).

p02nbbzz                                                 Episode 1. Collectaholics (BBC, 2015b)

Beyond the importance of collecting as a creative process or practice DeLyser (p209) argues the methodological importance of collecting as archiving. That by gathering texts and artefacts ourselves we can contribute to important alternative archives which through the scholarly realm may ultimately bring more attention and inquiry to their circumstances, as is true of Ramona as a result of DeLyser’s work. Furthermore by collecting souvenirs we can better understand the work these do in the lives of those who purchase them. Through my own autoethnographic research within modified car culture I have begun to see the building of the modified car as a sort of collection of parts and indeed many people collect parts in order to maintain a sort of archive. In this way I would argue that DeLyser and Greenstein’s (2014) account of rebuilding a classic Tatra car is itself another example of creating an alternative archive. Traditionally historical geographers have approached the archive as something separate from the domestic or professional spaces of their homes and offices instead we can and should turn to the collections which “reside with us in our homes and offices” (DeLyser, 2015: 209).

Cake_drums_-_Belgium                                               Cake Drums- Belgium (Spotter2, 2009)
To conclude, the current BBC series Collectaholics shows that there is a popular fascination with collecting and the subsequent informal and personal archives created, by watching these episodes through a lens informed by DeLyser’s (2015) article we can begin to see the geographical and intimate spatialities woven into the tales of these weird and wonderful collections.

globe4 BBC (2015a) ‘Collectaholics‘, BBC Two website

60-world2 BBC (2015b) ‘Episode 1. Collectaholics‘, BBC Two website

books_icon DeLyser, D. (2015) ‘Collecting, kitsch and the intimate geographies of social memory: a story of archival autoethnography‘, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 40(2), 209-222

books_icon DeLyser, D. & Greenstein, P. (2015) ‘ “Follow that car!” Mobilities of Enthusiasm in a Rare Car’s Restoration’, The Professional Geographers, 67(2), 255-268

60-world2 Dzhepko, L. (2007) ‘A collection of old Soviet cameras on sale in the Vernisazh in Izmailovky Park, Moscow, Russia‘, Wikimedia Commons

60-world2 Spotter2 (2009) ‘Cake Drums- Belgium‘, Wikimedia Commons