Tag Archives: borders

Boundaries, Borders, and… The Trump Wall?

By Jillian Smith, University of Birmingham 

800px-Mexican-American_border_at_Nogales

The towns of Nogales, Arizona, left, and Nogales, Mexico, stand separated by a high concrete and steel fence. Image Credit: Sgt. 1st Class Gordon Hyde.

We have all heard it: “I will build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me – and I’ll build them very inexpensively – I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”  Trump’s words from 2015 are once again making headlines and the proposed wall is forcing society to pose some tough questions.  Are walls a knee-jerk protectionist response?  How is globalisation implicated?  Do walls work?

The Great Wall of China, the Western Wall, Hadrian’s Wall, and several more – there is a certain degree of romanticism invoked that somehow makes us believe that protectionist ‘walls’ are from a bygone era.  Nevertheless, it is certainly not difficult for many of us to remember the celebratory tone when East Germans reunited with West Germans as the Berlin Wall was joyously torn down.  Perhaps it is this nostalgia that makes so many reel in repulsion as they ponder Trump’s USA-Mexico border wall?

Romanticism and nostalgia aside, walls are not archaic.  Walls have actually become rather trendy.  Austria, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia all announced new walls in 2015 (Jones, 2016).  Additionally, in 2016, Norway and Pakistan announced plans to fence off Russia and Afghanistan respectively (Jones, 2016).  In fact, there were 15 documented walls in the world in 1989; there were 70 in 2015 (Vallet, 2016).

But do they work? Certainly, walls and fences can serve a purpose: When refugees flood Europe, fences can provide temporary relief to host nations; when warring factions enter peace talks, fences can cordon off cease-fire zones.  In these cases, and others, fences are temporary and justifiable.  In other cases, walls can antagonize relations, stifle trade, and increase disruption along borders.  For example: the UN has declared that Israel’s construction of the West Bank Wall has illegally fuelled tensions with Palestine; a 717 percent increase in illegal arrivals was reported in Bulgaria despite Bulgaria-Turkey border fencing; Calais refugees are desperately jumping lorries in attempts to illegally enter the United Kingdom (Danish Refugee Council, 2016; United Nations, 2016).

Meanwhile, heavily-guarded walls and fencing have been successful in stopping movement between the USA and Mexico (as observed in the 1990s when the USA reinforced border security near San Diego and El Paso).  Many, however, would argue that these reinforcements have not stopped flow; rather, they have shifted flows, increased migrant deaths, and expanded tunnel systems (Cornelius, 2001; Meissner et al., 2013).  In this case, a border wall has, perhaps, managed perceptions more than migration.  In other words, barriers can stem the flow, but desperate people are persistent and resourceful; they will find other means.  The colloquial elephant in the room remains – as long as vast inequality exists in society, there will inevitably be a flow of people.  Until these bigger societal problems are addressed, migration and immigration will occur.

Once upon a time, it seemed that globalisation might spur somewhat of a border-less, wall-less world.  With the reality of Brexit and President Trump, however, we can expect more, not fewer, protectionist policies.  Notions of territorial organisation are becoming more and more relevant as 2017 unfolds.  While migration and trade highlight interdependence, borders still play a significant role in shaping societies and economies (Diener & Hagen, 2009).  History can not tell us to build up or tear down a wall, but history can teach us some valuable lessons.  In the meantime, the legacy of an impending USA-Mexico Wall remains to be seen – the world is waiting with bated breath.

References

books_icon Cornelius, W. (2001). Death at the border: Efficacy and unintended consequences of US immigration control policy. Population and Development Review, 27: 661–685. doi: 10.1111/j.1728-4457.2001.00661.x

60-world2 Danish Refugee Council. (2016). Tightening borders, dangerous journeys, and shifting routes to Europe: Summary of regional migration trends, Middle East. Retrieved from: https://drc.dk/media/2885691/drc-middle-east-regional-migration-trends-august-september.pdf

books_icon Diener, A. C., Hagen, J. (2009). Theorizing borders in a ‘Borderless World’: Globalization, territory and identity. Geography Compass, 3: 1196–1216. doi:10.1111/j.1749-8198.2009.00230.x

60-world2 Meissner, D., Kerwin, D., Chishti, M., & Bergeron, C. (2013). Immigration Enforcement in the United States: The Rise of a Formidable Machinery. Retrieved from Migration Policy Institute: http://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/immigration-enforcement-united-states-rise-formidable-machinery

60-world2 United Nations. (2014). Ban says Israel’s construction of West Bank wall violates international law, fuels Mid-East tensions. Retrieved from UN News Centre: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=48236#.WIu0ihiZMhu

books_icon Vallet, E. (Ed.). (2014). Borders, fences and walls: State of insecurity? Border Regions Series. Surrey, UK and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing

Mobilising affinity ties for humanitarianism at the war-torn China-Myanmar border

By Elaine Lynn-Ee Ho, National University of Singapore

idp-camp-at-china-myanmar-border

Figure 1. An IDP camp at the China-Myanmar border. Source: Author’s own, 2012.

A few days after Christmas 2016, a social media post caught my eye. It stated,

‘Dear Humanitarian Agencies, [the] IDPs regret to let you know that all the humanitarian assistance you provided […] has been abandoned again last night due to the offensive war of [the] Govt Military’.

The IDPs referred to internally displaced persons at the border of China and Myanmar, while the ‘Govt Military’ in question was the military arm of the Myanmar government.

On 8 November 2015, international news agencies had reported the landslide victory of the political party led by Aung San Suu Kyi. It appeared to herald a new era of democracy in Myanmar. But the civilian government has no oversight over the military, which retains the right to a quarter of the seats in parliament, and power over key ministries to do with defence, home affairs and border affairs. As the Washington Post reports on 28 December 2016, fighting at the border areas of Myanmar has escalated as the Myanmar military intensifies its attacks on ethnic groups it considers insurgents.

The IDPs mentioned in the social media post were displaced from their homes in Kachin state (henceforth Kachin IDPs) as a result of armed conflict between the Myanmar military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Kachin state of northern Myanmar. The breakdown of a ceasefire agreement (1994-2011) between the two parties renewed a civil war in Kachin state. Regional newspapers such as The Irrawaddy provide fuller coverage of the hostilities happening in Kachin state, Myanmar.

IDPs who fled further north to the border area that Myanmar shares with China were barred from crossing the border into Chinese territory. This act of refusal in turn prevents the IDPs from being recognised as refugees who have crossed an international border and thereby entitled to protection under international law. For several years following the renewed conflict, local humanitarian workers faced challenges channelling humanitarian aid to the IDP camps at the China-Myanmar border. The remote location of camps at the border area meant the supplies could be delivered only via routes controlled by the military in Myanmar or the government in China.

However, both parties denied international humanitarian agencies access to the camps citing sovereignty reasons or concerns over the safety of international personnel in the conflict zone. Only in recent years has advocacy by humanitarian workers succeeded in pressuring the Myanmar military to provide safe passage for the international humanitarian agencies to assess the IDP camps and the needs of the IDPs. Even so, as the social media post above informs us, the humanitarian supplies remain at risk of being destroyed through ongoing conflict.

Considering these humanitarian challenges is an article published in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers which examines the geographical and geopolitical constraints that deter international humanitarian assistance, yet provide opportunities to engage a different set of humanitarian actors at the China-Myanmar border.

The paper first argues that the Kachin IDPs are treated as surplus populations by the sovereign states in both Myanmar and China. Surplus populations come into existence when nation-states impose punitive measures that compromise the survivability of populations that are considered threatening to national sovereignty. Second, the paper examines how mobilising affinity ties enables Kachin humanitarian workers to leverage the citizenship resources of empathetic Chinese nationals across the China-Myanmar border for negotiating humanitarianism constraints.

Overall, the paper considers how physical and cognitive borders establish taxonomies of social difference but also provide opportunities for identifying connections and forging transversal dialogues (henceforth transversal webs of connections) to bridge people of different social positionings. The paper argues that transversal webs of connections engender affinity ties that can be mobilised towards nurturing empathetic identification and caring relationships in societies characterised by cultural diversity and social complexity. This approach provides a potential ethical stance and productive analytical lens for advancing wider migration and citizenship debates.

About the author: Elaine Lynn-Ee Ho is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography at the National University of Singapore. Elaine’s current research interests include China-Myanmar borderland migrations, Chinese diaspora and transnationalism, Asian forced migration, and urban aspirations of new immigrants in China. 

books_icon  Ho, E. L-E. 2016 Mobilising affinity ties: Kachin internal displacement and the geographies of humanitarianism at the China–Myanmar border. Trans Inst Br Geogr. doi:10.1111/tran.12148

60-world2  Htusan E 2016 Kachin rebels see more Myanmar attacks, no hope for peace The Washington Post online Dec 28 2016

60-world2  The Irrawaddy http://www.irrawaddy.com/

Israeli authorities impose new spatial barriers in Jerusalem after violence escalates

By Ryan McCarrel, University College Dublin

Ofer Prison near Jerusalem. via Wikimedia Commons

Ofer Prison near Jerusalem. via Wikimedia Commons

Over the last several days an unfortunate spike in violence has once again shaken Jerusalem to its core – stoking fears of reprisals among Palestinians and Israelis alike. According to Peter Baumont of The Guardian (2015), most of these violent attacks have occurred along, “the city’s so-called ‘seam line’, which marks the boundary between Jewish west and largely Palestinian east Jerusalem.” As the situation threatens to spiral out of control, Israeli authorities have taken to establishing check points and blockades to try and “seal off” some Palestinian neighborhoods.

Israeli officials have a long history of using spatial tactics like these in order to try and control the mobility of Palestinians. The most prominent of which is a 422 mile long separation wall. This has notably led many activists and academics alike to draw parallels between the separation wall and the United States government’s construction of barriers along their southern border with Mexico. In the latest issue of Area, geographers Geoffrey Boyce, David Marshal and Jeffrey Wolson suggest that that such comparisons are problematic and potentially misleading.

They argue that, “the function, origin and impact of specific security walls within a larger nexus of ‘borderisation’ becomes an empirical question to be established through careful exploration and research” (Boyce et al., 2015: 294). In other words, while there may be seemingly obvious parallels in practices, these shouldn’t be assumed at the outset. Instead, they suggest that careful empirical research reveals small details that open up, “opportunities for strategic intervention and collaboration”  (Boyce et al., 2015: 294).

Their intervention responds to a growing body of academic work in the field of geography, that looks into, “spatial tactics, or the use of space to control people, objects, and their movement” (Mountz et al., 2012: 523). Geographical research into these tactics is growing in importance as governments  around the world, including Israel and the United States, continue turn to them in order to try and manage issues ranging from migration to conflict.

References
books_icon Alan Boyce, G., Marshall, D. J., & Wilson, J. (2015). Concrete connections? Articulation, homology and the political geography of boundary walls. Area, 47(3), 289–295. http://doi.org/10.1111/area.12200
60-world2 Beaumont, P. (2015, October 14). New checkpoints and fears divide Jerusalem’s Jews and Palestinians. The Guardian. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/oct/14/new-checkpoints-and-fears-divide-jerusalems-jews-and-palestinians

books_icon Mountz, A., Coddington, K., Catania, R. T., & Loyd, J. M. (2013). Conceptualizing detention: Mobility, containment, bordering, and exclusion. Progress in Human Geography, 37(4), 522–541. http://doi.org/10.1177/0309132512460903

Housing Refugees: Prejudice and the Potentials of Encounter

By Julian Shaw (King’s College London)

Syrian Refugees at Keleti Railway Station in Budapest, Hungary Photo: Mstyslav Chernov/Wikimedia Commons

Syrian Refugees at Keleti Railway Station in Budapest, Hungary
Photo: Mstyslav Chernov/Wikimedia Commons

This summer the British media opened its eyes, cleared its collective throat, and eventually gave voice to a global refugee crisis that has been growing for years. Initially the tragedy traversed the narratives of public and political figures, then it made its way into the private discussions of British families (via TV news and online petitions). Now the tragedy’s spatial journey appears to have followed suit – moving from the public spaces of train stations and border checkpoints, it is now poised to enter private space. In The Independent it was revealed that “one in 14 people – the equivalent of almost two million UK households – said they would be prepared to offer a room or space in their home to a refugee” (The Independent, 2015); what an amazing thought.

Concurrently in September’s issue of The Geographical Journal, Valentine et al. published the latest instalment in their investigation of the geography of encounter; looking in this article at “encounters…within the context of family life” (Valentine et al., 2015: 280). Their article specifically turns the significance of everyday intimate encounters with diversity in the home, and how these may have the potential to challenge wider prejudices evident in public life.

Turning to the cities of Leeds and Warsaw, Valentine et al. surveyed over 3,000 social attitudes and made in-depth qualitative explorations with 60 of these respondents. Their findings revealed that indeed “intra-familial diversity does produce more positive attitudes in public life” (ibid.: 291). Should such a result be consistent across the UK, this has made me wonder about the wider positive implications that could occur if British families were to house refugees in their spare rooms, as was suggested in The Independent.

Of course, housing someone does not necessarily make them family – or at least not in the traditional sense. However, Valentine et al. acknowledge in their study that the intimate encounters they explore do not presume the traditional sense of family – in the modern world family structures are much more malleable and changeable than they used to be. Instead they extend their investigation of families to the wider spatial setting of “the home and associated spaces of family life” (Valentine et al., 2005: 281). In this case, I suggest that their findings could be directly relevant to UK families welcoming refugees into their homes.

However, the obvious caveat here is that likely volunteers to house refugees are those already holding positive views towards them. I guess the challenge is – if intimate encounters can break prejudice – enabling intimate encounters with refugees to enter into the homes of those harbouring intolerance? Yet, don’t most of us have some distant or extended family members that we might reluctantly describe as being intolerant, even while we hold broad and accepting views ourselves? If this is the case then the intimate encounters described by Valentine et al. (2015) could indeed happen in the families of those offering to house refugees. Let’s hope the offer becomes reality.

References:

60-world2 The Independent (2015) Online article: “Revealed: the extraordinary response to the Syrian refugee crisis – and how it shames David Cameron”, by Adam Withnall and Matt Dathan on 23rd September 2015, Accessed online at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/refugee-crisis-the-true-extent-of-the-british-publics-extraordinary-response-revealed-10514341.html (Accessed on 23rd September 2015)

books_icon Valentine, G., Piekut, A., and Harris, C., (2015) Intimate encounters: the negotiation of difference within the family and its implications for social relations in public space, The Geographical Journal, 181(3): pp.280-294 (open access).

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.

Cartography in Times of War & Peace

An c.1855 military map of the Crimean theatre, from Francis Herbert's personal collection. © 2015 The Author.

An c.1855 military map of the Crimean theatre, from Francis Herbert’s personal collection. © 2015 The Author.

By Benjamin Sacks

On 2-6 December 2014 an international group of leading scholars of historical geography – including a large Royal Geographical Society contingent – converged in Ghent, Belgium to mark the centenary of the First World War and cartography’s extraordinary role in it. Soetkin Vervust, a PhD candidate in the University of Ghent’s Department of Geography, successfully organised and directed this week-long summit critically examining armed conflict’s diverse impacts on cartography, surveying, geographical information collection and dissemination, spatial awareness, and culture.

Francis Herbert, the RGS’s retired research library director and Fellow of the Society for the History of Discoveries, exhibited well over one hundred maps, guidebooks and ephemera from his personal collection. The trove spanned from the Crimean War (1853-1856) to decolonisation, with an appropriate emphasis on the two world wars. As a whole, Herbert’s collections vividly demonstrated how globalisation and technological advances in communications and transport brought military mapping from the battlefield into the very heart of popular culture. The Herbert Collection is particularly interesting as the source of much of much of his extensive scholarship, including (amongst numerous examples) ‘The “London Atlas of University Geography” from John Arrowsmith to Edward Stanford’ (1989).

A number of presentations pursued this theme. James Akerman, director of the Newberry Library’s Hermon Dunlap Smith Center for Cartography, discussed the fascinating, and occasionally bizarre, proliferation of battlefield guidebooks circulated immediately following the First World War. While many volumes published between 1918 and the early 1920s were authored with due care, respect, and deference to the conflict’s nearly unimaginable horrors and extraordinary loss of life, some guides smacked of sensationalism and reductionism, pointing out the best restaurants and stage shows to enjoy following an afternoon jaunt to the still-fresh craters of Ypres. Ralph Ehrenberg, director of the Library of Congress’s Geography and Map Division, similarly recounted the War’s dynamic role in popularising military engineers and cartographers, pilots, and their maps in the rapidly-globalising United States. Ehrenberg’s work on cartography, cartographers, and aviation complements and extends Michael Heffernan’s 1996 Transactions article examining the RGS’s intelligence-gathering role(s) in the First World War, and provides a fascinating historical context to Alison Williams’ 2011 Transactions article on the ‘multiple spatialities of UK military airspace’.

Joel Radunzel, a veteran of the US military in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a current graduate student of Mark Monmonier at Syracuse University, combined a technical expertise of military strategy with historical and contemporary cartography data to critically examine how and why British forces reacted in particularly ways before, during, and after the 3rd Battle of Gaza (1-2 November 1917). Radunzel shed important new light, unavailable from existing, non-geographical analyses, into the British military’s decision-making processes, identifying the extents and limitations of their battlefield knowledge, and geographically-pinpointing where and when their intelligence of allied and enemy movements was correct, incorrect, and by how much.

Cartography in Times of War and Peace highlighted the maturation of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) as a vital tool of historical analysis. Sandra Domingues and the Centre for Geographical Studies at the University of Lisbon brought the work, travels, and lives of the First World War’s Portuguese military postal service to life with a remarkable fusion of traditional maps and ArcGIS-based visualisations. Photographs and letters were georeferenced to their precise location in the trenches. Likewise, Utrecht University Library showcased how GIS digitisation revealed the city’s many fortresses and their centuries of influence on urban development.

The University of Ghent Conference Centre, host of 'Cartography in Times of War and Peace'. © 2015 The Author.

The University of Ghent Conference Centre, host of ‘Cartography in Times of War and Peace’. © 2015 The Author.

Napoleonic Iberia was a hotbed of cartographic experimentation and development. Pilar Chias and Tomas Abad (University of Alcala) elucidated the little-known world of Spanish military cartographers who operated alongside the Duke of Wellington’s forces against the French emperor. Spanish field surveyors incorporated their intimate knowledge of local geographies to create beautiful, highly useable, and secretive three-dimensional maps. These works of art provided allied armies with a level of battlefield intelligence the French could never hope to obtain, and undoubtedly played an important role in Napoleon’s eventual defeat in Spain. Kelly Henderson (Adelaide, Australia) reminded the audience that one British engineering surveyor active in the Iberian campaign was William Light (1786-1839), the ‘genius’ behind Adelaide’s equitable grid plan. The Light model subsequently became an important method in designing and administering nineteenth century Victorian colonial cities as far afield as Mumbai (Bombay) and Hong Kong. Henderson’s deep biographical and cartographical research articulated the global acquisition, production, and reproduction of planning knowledge from Britain and Spain to Australia. Their respective studies remind geographers from all fields of the very personal nature of maps, mapping, and exploration.

Belgium has been an importance centre of geographical discourse and cartographic advancement since at least the sixteenth century. Participants visited the Mercator Museum in Sint-Niklaas, where Gerard Mercator’s groundbreaking aardglobe (1541) and hemelglobe (1551) are carefully preserved and displayed. Jan de Graeve’s extensive personal collection of surveying instruments, another conference ‘treat’, also stressed Belgium’s historical position as a crossroads for geographers and cartographers. His collections include a rare copy of Roland and Duchesne’s Atlas-Manuel de Géographie, in effect, a cartographic proclamation of King Leopold’s global imperial ambitions.

On Saturday, 6 December the Brussels Map Circle hosted a one-day annual meeting celebrating the Ghent conference and highlighting ongoing major research in cartographic/geographic scholarship. Imre Demhardt (University of Texas, Arlington), a chair of the International Cartographic Association, updated audiences on his ongoing investigation into the diverse origins of the United States Corps of Engineers, and their efforts to survey, map, and rework the vast American landscape.

Suggested Sources

60-world2 ‘Cartography in Times of War and Peace‘, The University of Ghent (archived).

books_icon Herbert, F, ‘The “London Atlas of Universal Geography” from John Arrowsmith to Edward Stanford: Origin, Development and Dissolution of a British World Atlas from the 1830s to the 1930s‘, Imago Mundi 41 (1989).

books_icon Heffernan, M, ‘Geography, Cartography and Military Intelligence: The Royal Geographical Society and the First World War‘, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers New Series 21.3 (1996): 504-33.

books_icon Williams, A, ‘Reconceptualising Spaces of the Air: Performing the Multiple Spatialities of UK Airspaces‘, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers New Series 36.2 (Apr., 2011): 253-67.

Border Abstractions: Competing Notions of Sovereignty

The Himalayas: a traditional physical boundary. New geographies have complicated political and cultural borders. Wikimedia Commons.

Benjamin Sacks

THE AMERICAN raid on Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden on Sunday, 1 May raised Islamabad’s concerns that its borders could be so easily breached by a foreign power. Washington cited Pakistan’s inability to control traffic through its borders as a factor behind the US decision not to inform the Pakistani military or the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) prior to the operation’s execution. Beyond the immediate coldness in Pakistani-American relations, however, is the broader relevance and role of boundaries in international affairs.

Physical geography defined the earliest boundaries. The first empires—including those of South Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa—followed the course of rivers and hugged the sands of oceans. As civilisation moved into less-hospitable territory, Earth’s extremities became natural dividers. In the Americas, the wax and wane of the occidental mountain ranges determined the edges of the Mesoamerican civilisations. In Africa, the Sahara drew a nearly impassable barrier across the belly of the continent, fostering the development of multiple, distinct peoples. Perhaps most prominently, the Himalaya range sharply divided the Indian and Chinese civilisations from one another; even with tremendous cultural exchanges, the mountain peak-boundaries have changed little in the last two thousand years.

Political boundaries relied less on topographical geography. Products of nation-state organisation, many (but by no means all) political borders were formed from the machinations of seventeenth-, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European empires. Their efforts resulted both in regions of relative geopolitical harmony (North America) and, as documented by Ieuan Griffiths in a 1986 article, vicious instability (Africa, the Indian Subcontinent). RGS explorers and scholars have long been fascinated with how these borders came to be. In 1836, Colonel Don Juan Galindo read a paper to the Royal Geographical Society of his recent Central American travels. He classified borders along strictly political lines:

Central America comprehends the five states of Costarrica [sic], Nicaragua, Honduras, Salvador, and Guatemala, united in one federation, and whose seat of government is at the city of San Salvador, within the federal district… (121).

As well as physical boundaries:

The principal points of the boundary towards Mexico are the ruins of Palenque, the river Nojbecan in latitude 19° north, and the Rio Hondo. Towards New Granada the river Escudo of Veragua, which falls into the Caribbean sea [sic], and the river Boruca, which runs to the Pacific (121).

A similarly traditional article appeared in the May 1927 edition of The Geographical Journal. W E D Allen documented the dissolution of the Tsarist Russian ‘Vice-Royalty of the Caucasus’ in favour of the new, ‘people’s republics’ that, after a very brief period of independence, were brought under Soviet control.

But physical and political boundaries only tell a small part of the story. Transnational borders, as the name suggests, are more difficult to quantify. They cover a vast spectrum of diasporas, international organisations, historical and contemporary treaties and various attributes of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ power. In 2005, John Pickles (University of North Carolina) asked how the European Union and the collapse of formal empires have radically altered continental perceptions of borders in a Schengen Agreement world. Geographers are also returning to historical movements that transcended political boundaries. Morag Bell (Loughborough University), for instance, extensively documented the rise of ethical-environmental standards across numerous borders in the last years of the nineteenth-century.

The haziness of contemporary cultural and nation-state boundaries often allows multiple border layers to overlap and contradict one another. A now famous example occurred in 1983, when the United States invaded the small Caribbean island of Grenada. Grenadian authorities protested that the invasion violated their sovereignty. The United States responded, arguing that the island’s Communist coup had endangered the lives of Americans studying there, thus threatening US borders. London also formally protested an incursion into what it saw as its own sphere of influence; Grenada is officially a constitutional monarchy, with Queen Elizabeth II as head of state.

The current row between Washington and Islamabad is similarly complex. Pakistan’s assertion of sovereignty violation is based on traditional, geopolitical boundaries. But if we look deeper, the truth is less precise. Since partition, Islamabad has enjoyed an intimate, if complicated relationship withWashington. These long-term bilateral relations permeate throughout both cultures—from Karachi’s markets to Chicago’s Diaspora community. Strong bilateral relations thus gradually bend the country’s relative boundaries with each other as trust builds. Too, the United States’ continuing role as the ‘World’s Policeman’ (and Pakistan’s official support, or at least acquiescence of that arrangement) further reshape bilateral boundaries. It is a point reviewed in Reece Jones’s (University of Hawai’i) ‘Geopolitical Boundary Narratives, the Global War on Terror and Border Fencing in India’.

W E D Allen, “New Political Boundaries in the Caucasus“, The Geographical Journal 69.5 (May, 1927): pp. 430-41.

Morag Bell, “Reshaping Boundaries: International Ethics and Environmental Consciousness in the Early Twentieth Century“, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers New Series 23.2 (Jun, 1998): pp. 151-75.

Don Juan Galindo, “On Central America“, Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 6 (1836): pp. 119-35.

Ieuan Griffiths, “The Scramble for Africa: Inherited Political Boundaries“, The Geographical Journal 152.2 (Jul, 1986): pp. 204-16.

Reece Jones, “Geopolitical Boundary Narratives, the Global War on Terror and Border Fencing in India“, Transactions of the Institute for British Geographers New Series 34.3 (Jul, 2009): pp. 290-304.

John Pickles, “New Cartographies’ and the Decolonization of European Geographies“, Area 37.4 (Dec, 2005): pp. 355-64.