Tag Archives: Canada

“The ice edge is lost” – but can it be mapped?

By Philip Steinberg, Professor of Political Geography, Durham University and Berit Kristoffersen, Associate Professor, Department of Social Sciences, UiT – The Arctic University of Norway

Stein&Krist

Photo courtesy of US National Snow and Ice Data Center, http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/files/2012/09/Figure4b.png

Drawing chaotic natures onto mobile seascapes

Amidst a steady stream of news stories announcing record-setting lows in sea ice extent, our recent publication in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers asks a question that is fundamental to efforts to understand and manage our changing planet: What is sea ice?

Sea ice is never simply frozen sea water. It exists amidst dynamic processes of freezing, melting, and brine rejection; it supports complex ecosystems of primary algal production; its edge (where sea ice extent meets open water) is never clearly defined; and because that edge is perpetually moving it can never easily be mapped. Yet in spite of, or perhaps because of, sea ice’s indeterminacy its appearances and disappearances are regularly enrolled to support one political project or another – oil drilling, sovereignty claims, environmental protection, etc.

The politics of sea ice

The political utility of sea ice was driven home to us by the publication of two maps within months of each other in 2015: a Norwegian map that moved the sea ice edge 70 kilometers northward and a Canadian map that moved it 200 kilometers southward. In “’The ice edge is lost….nature moved it’: mapping ice as state practice in the Canadian and Norwegian North,” we research the genealogies of these maps to explore the pitfalls that emerge when sea ice is mobilized as a planning object.

Is the ice edge lost?

The title of our article is derived from two statements made about the Barents Sea ice edge. The first is from Nikolai Knipowitsch, a pioneer in sea ice research, who sent a telegram to his colleagues in 1930, proclaiming: “The ice edge is lost. Those who find it, please deliver it to the address: Longitude 81”. Knipowitsch was celebrating that he had correctly predicted that, due to higher temperatures and changes in the Gulf Stream, there would be an almost total absence of sea ice that summer in the Barents Sea. The title’s second quotation comes from a statement made 85 years later by Norway’s Prime Minister, Erna Solberg. Defending a map that, moved the ice edge northward and thereby lent support to efforts to open new areas of the Barents Sea to oil exploration, Solberg stated, “We are not moving the ice edge. It is actually nature that is currently moving the ice edge”.

Both statements can be contested. Knipowitsch knew very well that the ice edge was not mysteriously ‘lost’; indeed his research was devoted to uncovering the processes behind variation in its retreat and appearance. Solberg fails to share Knipowitsch’s sense of irony, but her statement can nonetheless be subjected to critique that resonates with the large body of geographic research that questions simplistic understandings of a unidirectional relationship where ‘nature’ influences ‘culture’. In this case, for instance, one could note that the ‘nature’ that Solberg blames for ‘moving’ the Barents ice edge is itself a product of carbon emissions from oil and gas extraction similar to that which would be facilitated by the map’s redrawing of sea ice extent.

But perhaps most profoundly, both quotations refer to the ice edge as an object that can be measured, mapped, and enrolled in economic development, state building, and a host of other projects. Our article suggests that whether the ice edge is said to be lost (as it was by Knipowitsch) or found (as it was by Solberg), the significance in both of these quotations – and in the Canadian and Norwegian maps that followed – is that the ice is said to exist as an object.

Toward a politics of probabilities and processes

In “’The ice edge is lost…nature moved it’” we urge that the retreat of sea ice should be incorporated into political discourse and conversation, not by drawing and reading lines on a map but by interpreting sea ice within a confluence of probabilities and processes: probabilities because sea ice cover is both spatially and temporally uneven and dynamic, and processes because the value of sea ice is less as an object with single purposes (e.g. to hinder ships, to support marine mammals and their hunters) than as an essential element of polar ecosystems and global circulations. Drawing a line on a map and calling it an ice edge smooths over insecurities, scientific knowledge gaps, and ecological risks involved in conducting economic activities above or below that line. It follows that sea ice management needs to be directed less toward protecting the places where sea ice was most recently located and more toward management of a zone where, amidst probabilities of its occurrence, environmental and social processes are preserved.

This presents a challenge for lawyers, legislators, and activists, as well as cartographers. New forms of mapping and legislating are required for a politics of probability and processes. We hope that geographers are up to this task.

About the authors: Philip Steinberg is Professor of Political Geography and Director of IBRU: the Centre for Borders Research at Durham University. Berit Kristoffersen is Associate Professor, Department of Social Sciences, UiT – The Arctic University of Norway.

books_icon Hjort J (1939) N. M. Knipovich. 1862–1939 ICES J Mar Sci 14 (3): 335-336. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/icesjms/14.3.335
books_icon Steinberg, P. and Kristoffersen, B. (2017), ‘The ice edge is lost … nature moved it’: mapping ice as state practice in the Canadian and Norwegian North. Trans Inst Br Geogr. doi:10.1111/tran.12184

60-world2 Thompson A (2017) Sea Ice Hits Record Lows at Both Poles Scientific American https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/sea-ice-hits-record-lows-at-both-poles/

By Jillian Smith, University of Birmingham 

Lake Michigan (c) Jillian Smith

Lake Michigan (c) Jillian Smith

The Great Lakes–at the U.S. and Canadian international boundary–are the planet’s largest system of freshwater (Government of Canada, 2016). The five Great Lakes (Lakes Superior, Huron, Michigan, Ontario, Erie) represent more than twenty percent of the world’s freshwater supply (Canadian Geographic, n.d.). This oft-repeated axiom, however, is somewhat misleading. A mere one percent of the waters of the Great Lakes are renewed each year in rain and snow-melt (Government of Canada, 2016). This supply cannot be carelessly utilised without destroying the stock. Freshwater systems are not inherently sustainable; water abundance is a myth.

Recent record low levels in three of the five Great Lakes have leaders to lawmakers to environmentalists sharing the common interest of conservation and restoration in the basin (Boyce, 2016). Nevertheless, a small Wisconsin city narrowly outside the basin is thirsty for Great Lakes water. Waukesha’s 70,000 residents can no longer drink from the city’s depleted aquifer. What little water remains is contaminated with naturally occurring cancer-causing radium. Though Waukesha is outside of the Great Lakes watershed, the city’s engineers can almost taste Lake Michigan’s water – they just need a pipeline or two. Certainly, one small city’s request for water beyond the Great Lakes watershed does not seem significant, but is it? What does this mean for the Great Lakes basin? And perhaps more poignantly, what does this potential test case mean for other thirsty American cities in the context of a changing climate?

More than 35 million people rely on the five Great Lakes (NOAA, n.d). Another 70,000 people drinking from a straw (or rather, a pipeline) seems somewhat inconsequential. The concern, therefore, is not necessarily about Waukesha; the concern is about who might be next. Las Vegas? San Francisco? Nearly all states west of the Rockies have experienced “abnormally dry” to “exceptional drought” conditions in recent years (USDA, 2017). It seems Waukesha could be poised to become a precedent-setting test case for moving water beyond the basin.

Water vaulting is nothing new – the Los Angeles Aqueduct, Qaraqum Canal, South-to-North Eastern, and South-to-North Central are just a few very large water diversions that immediately come to mind. Nonetheless, freshwater scarcity is a global problem just beginning to touch North America. Climate change impacts on freshwater supply and quality will undoubtedly intensify in coming years. Changes in precipitation patterns, increases in temperature, evaporation, and sea level rise will continue to threaten lakes, rivers, and coastal areas. While climate scientists are quick to point out that no single event can be attributed to climate change, extreme weather events are increasingly the norm and society will be forced to adapt to these altered patterns.

Understandably, adaptation is difficult. O’Neill and Graham (2016) note that adaptation decisions associated with climatic changes pose challenges to person-place bonds. In an era of changing climate and environmental quandaries, place attachments are at risk. While nobody wants to see Waukesha residents displaced due water travails, nobody wants to see the Great Lakes–one of the world’s most valuable resources–positioned for lackadaisical exploitation. To what degree have conservation efforts or alternate projects been considered in Waukesha?

Despite the deserved reverence for this remarkable resource, and our obvious dependence on it, modern society has proven to be a poor caretaker of the Great Lakes in the recent past. Pollutants, toxins, eutrophication, sewage, wetland loss, invasive species, climate change, and over-extraction are all threatening the Great Lakes and the species who depend on them. Is it fathomable that a large-scale diversion project could be a future threat? Waukesha is just one thirsty city beyond the Great Lakes basin, but it begs the question: who will be next? Waukesha could be precedent setting for water woes and climate travails throughout the parched United States.

References

books_icon Boyce, C. (2016). Protecting the integrity of the Great Lakes: Past, present, and future. Natural Resources & Environment, 31.2, 36-39.

60-world2 Canadian Geographic. (n.d.). The Great Lakes. Retrieved February 26, 2017, from http://www.canadiangeographic.com/atlas/themes.aspx?id=watersheds&sub=watersheds_flow_thegreatlakes&lang=En

60-world2 Government of Canada. (2016). Great Lakes quickfacts. Retrieved February 26, 2017, from Environment and Climate Change Canada https://www.ec.gc.ca/grandslacs-greatlakes/default.asp?lang=En&n=B4E65F6F-1

60-world2 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). (n.d.). About our Great Lakes: Great Lakes basin facts. Retrieved February 26, 2017, from https://www.glerl.noaa.gov//education/ourlakes/facts.html

books_icon O’Neill, S. J., and Graham, S. (2016). (En)visioning place-based adaptation to sea-level rise. Geo: Geography and Environment, e00028, doi: 10.1002/geo2.28.

60-world2 United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). (2017). United States Drought Monitor. Retrieved February 26, 2017 from http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/Home/RegionalDroughtMonitor.aspx?west

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.

A British Arctic Policy for the Twenty-first Century

by Benjamin Sacks

HMS Alert's 1875-76 expedition to the Arctic. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

HMS Alert’s 1875-76 expedition to the Arctic. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Britain retains significant interests in the Arctic Ocean, according to a recently published commentary in The Geographical Journal. To the general reader, this point may be somewhat surprising: physical geography aside, the United Kingdom’s more famous interests in the South Atlantic and Antarctica tend to make headlines. The Cold War, in particular, popularised the Arctic environment as the preserve of Russia, the United States, and Scandinavia. In 2007 and 2010 the House of Lords formally discussed Britain’s supposed lack of a coherent and tangible Arctic policy, proposing that the House of Commons, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the National Oceanographic Centre formulate at least a mission statement outlining British objectives in the region. Britain’s intimate relationship with Canada, and increasingly with Norway, have also been cited as key motivators to both expanding Arctic goals and defining the terms of Arctic activity. Various Parliamentary committees have discussed the possibility of establishing a powerful Arctic scientific research body similar in scope and size to the British Antarctic Survey.

The Arctic has long drawn British explorers, entrepreneurs, strategists, and naval planners. The British Empire brought Canada’s vast Arctic territories into the public imagination, and the Second World War catalysed a strong bilateral British-Norwegian relationship which continues to the present. In the twenty-first century, this exploration- and defence-based relationships have been complemented with an increasing range of corporate and public interests, from environmental activism and scientific inquiry to petroleum and rare earth minerals exploration.

Yet as of present, the British government has yet to publish or promote a formal Arctic policy. Duncan Depledge (Royal Holloway) suggests that this is because London remains concerned ‘about over-committing itself where the UK’s interests are often peripheral in relation to wider global concerns’ (p. 370). But as Depledge contends, Britain’s economic and strategic interests require a strong Arctic presence.

From a defence point-of-view, Britain both retains and will need to increase its Arctic interests. In a 2012 white paper authored for the United Royal Services Institute, Depledge and Klaus Dodds recalled their first-hand experiences observing a series of joint operations between Britain and Norway. Referring to it as the ‘forgotten partnership’, the authors stress Norway’s strong reliance and confidence in its North Sea neighbour to ensure the North Atlantic’s protection in the event of conflict. Physical geography also plays an important role: extreme weather training remains as important as ever for British forces.

Scientific and corporate interests are no less important. Beyond never-ending Parliamentary quibbling over white paper naming and policy terminology (pp. 370-72), London has repeatedly claimed that it wishes to become a leader in environmental protection and rehabilitation. World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace, and BBC Earth awareness programmes have accomplished significant strides in raising public awareness for ‘saving’ the Arctic from excessive human development. Ultimately, Depledge stresses the need for clarifying British Arctic policies across defence, scientific, environmental, and corporate spheres, as well as recognising Britain’s position as a non-Arctic state. Britain will need to work with Scandinavia, Russia, Canada, and the United States to seek common ground while respecting national interests.

books_icon

Duncan Depledge 2013 What’s in a name? A UK Arctic policy framework for 2013, The Geographical Journal 179.4: 369-72.

books_icon Duncan Depledge and Klaus Dodds 2012 Testing the Northern Flank: The UK, Norway and Exercise Cold ResponseThe RUSI Journal 157.4: 72-78.

The ‘Foreign Dimension’ in Transport Geography

By Benjamin Sacks

‘A platitude is that which every one admits and no one remembers’, W L Grant surmised in May, 1911, ‘[t]he platitude with which I begin is that Canada is a large country…a great truth’. In the aftermath of the American Civil War, British and Canadian officials scrambled to strengthen Canada’s authority from the relatively urbanised Atlantic and Great Lakes regions to the sparsely populated West. They undertook construction of one of the longest railroads in the world, a line traveling west from the rivers and inlets of Québec, across the expansive Alberta prairie, and through the Rocky Mountains to British Columbia. Today, Canadian National Railways (CN) stands as one of Canada’s most important assets, a symbol of the Dominion and Canadian pride, and an economic lifeline stretching the length of the North American continent (p. 598). But its name, Canadian National, is perhaps misleading, for CN’s network, through corporate acquisition, now extends south, through the Midwest and down the length of the Mississippi River, through the heartland of the United States (see image).

Julie Cidell’s (University of Illinois) analysis in the most recent edition of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers both acknowledges resurgent interest in transport geography and explores a contentious recent episode in CN’s expansion into the United States. In late 2007, CN approached US Steel with an offer to purchase Elgin, Joliet, and Eastern (EJ&E), a vital connector railroad network in Chicago. Similar in scope to Boston’s (in)famous ‘Big Dig’, the EJ&E was constructed to increase transport efficiency in one of the United States’s busiest railroad centres. As is often the case in densely populated areas, local residents protested against CN’s plans to increase railroad traffic from an estimated five trains per day to nearly thirty trains per day (pp. 598-601).

Cidell’s article is an excellent definitional source, explicating how planning officials understand ‘sky’, ‘airspace’, and Cidell’s own variant: ‘trainspace’ – the legal, safety, and geographical environment surrounding the trains, railroad tracks, and properties. The author seeks to explore how trainspaces interact with other spaces, including (perhaps most notably) national space.

Although the United States and Canada are traditionally extraordinarily close allies, CN’s ambitious proposal catalysed highly defensive reactions from US residents. Although those affected by the suggested changes cited noise, smog, and other intrusions, a principal concern was that a foreign corporation wanted to manage a vital American trainspace. Although CN officials were quick to point out that US employees could benefit from the company’s proposal, legitimate concerns were repeatedly raised over how the acquisition of US railroads by a Canadian firm would benefit any actors other than Canadian interests. Ciddell’s article provides an exciting framework to model other air- and trainspace conflicts throughout the world.


W L Grant, 1911, Geographical Conditions Affecting the Development of Canada, The Geographical Journal 38 362-74.

Julie Cidell, 2012, Fear of a Foreign Railroad: Transnationalism, Trainspace, and (Im)mobility in the Chicago Suburbs, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 37 593-608.

Also see: Benjamin J Sacks, 2010, Rethinking Transport Geography, Geography Directions, 25 August 2010.

Content Alert: New Articles (11th May 2012)

The following Early View articles are now available on Wiley Online Library.

Original Articles

Migration, urban growth and commuting distance in Toronto’s commuter shed
Jeffrey J Axisa, K Bruce Newbold and Darren M Scott
Article first published online: 8 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01097.x

Original Articles

Mobile ‘green’ design knowledge: institutions, bricolage and the relational production of embedded sustainable building designs
James Faulconbridge
Article first published online: 27 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00523.x

Creating and destroying diaspora strategies: New Zealand’s emigration policies re-examined
Alan Gamlen
Article first published online: 27 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00522.x

The demographic impacts of the Irish famine: towards a greater geographical understanding
A Stewart Fotheringham, Mary H Kelly and Martin Charlton
Article first published online: 27 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00517.x

Transnational religious networks: sexuality and the changing power geometries of the Anglican Communion
Gill Valentine, Robert M Vanderbeck, Joanna Sadgrove, Johan Andersson and Kevin Ward
Article first published online: 25 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00507.x

Geographies of transition and the separation of lower and higher attaining pupils in the move from primary to secondary school in London
Richard Harris
Article first published online: 23 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.519.x

Rethinking governance and value in commodity chains through global recycling networks
Mike Crang, Alex Hughes, Nicky Gregson, Lucy Norris and Farid Ahamed
Article first published online: 23 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00515.x

The ‘missing middle’: class and urban governance in Delhi’s unauthorised colonies
Charlotte Lemanski and Stéphanie Tawa Lama-Rewal
Article first published online: 20 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00514.x

Science, scientific instruments and questions of method in nineteenth-century British geography
Charles W J Withers
Article first published online: 20 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00513.x

Genome geographies: mapping national ancestry and diversity in human population genetics
Catherine Nash
Article first published online: 18 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00512.x

Militant tropicality: war, revolution and the reconfiguration of ‘the tropics’c.1940–c.1975
Daniel Clayton
Article first published online: 18 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00510.x

Beginners and equals: political subjectivity in Arendt and Rancière
Mustafa Dikeç
Article first published online: 13 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00508.x

Scaling up by law? Canadian labour law, the nation-state and the case of the British Columbia Health Employees Union
Tod D Rutherford
Article first published online: 13 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00506.x

Global Airwaves Part I

Bush House, London. Longtime home of the BBC World Service. © 2012 Wikimedia Commons.

Benjamin Sacks

This year the BBC World Service, the oldest and largest international broadcaster in the world, celebrates its eightieth birthday. Founded in 1932 as the Empire Service, it has become a vital fixture in global news and information, available on FM, mediumwave, shortwave, longwave, satellite, and the internet. In many respects, the World Service has shaped Britain’s international persona and culture. Like the rest of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), its editorial independence has  repeatedly drawn the ire of British politicians and diplomats as well as the respect of millions of peoples, many of whom were (or remain) unable to obtain impartial news from their local services. In its storied history, both the World Service and the BBC have developed into explorative spaces for geographers, scholars, and activists. The Royal Geographical Society actively documented the roles the BBC played in geographic exploration and education.

In one of the earliest BBC/RGS collaborations, the nascent broadcaster permitted portions of explorer and aviator George Binney’s commentary on Roald Amundsen’s 1925 Arctic flight to be reprinted with analysis in The Geographical Journal. The collaboration resulted in Amundsen’s feat being broadcasted across Europe and to be simultaneously disseminated by the RGS to the British imperial scholarly community. The 1925 work catalysed a series of intersections between RGS-IBG and BBC projects, reports, and activities throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. In a 1955 discussion of geographical and social descriptions of domestic landscapes, A E Smailes resourced Michael Robbins’s BBC home service talks concerning the ‘anatomy of the countryside ‘(p. 100).

The BBC also filled an important role for the geographer of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s: often, it was the only relatively reliable means of communicating with explorers traversing Earth’s extremes. In 1955, Commander C J W Simpson, DSC, of the Royal Navy, recounted in detail to the RGS, HM The Queen, and The Duke of Edinburgh his 1952-1954 expedition to the northern fringes of Danish-controlled Greenland. He led some thirty scientists and specialists on a major venture involving the RGS, the Royal Society, the RAF, Royal Navy, and Army, and the Scott Polar Research Institute (p. 276). The group traversed across the vast island, from Germania Land and Britannia Sø on the eastern coast to Thule near Canada (pp. 277-79). In a harrowing 1953-1954 Arctic winter, the BBC broadcast special messages each month; a collection of well-wishes from family, friends, and admirers of the British expeditionary effort (pp. 285-86). In 1958, designated the International Geophysical Year, the RGS described the role of the BBC in transmitting national and international solar weather warnings and praised UK engineers and scientists (p. 28). The BBC’s political and scientific roles were further explored in a 1966 article recounting the experiences of Charles Swithinbank, of the Scott Polar Research Institute, who spent a year living and working with Soviet specialists at Antarctic stations (p. 469). The men, despondent for news and culture from home, listened for updates from both the BBC World Service and Radio Moscow shortwave services in a rare moment of Cold War friendship.

 ‘Amundsen’s Polar Flight‘, The Geographical Journal 66.1 (Jul., 1925): 48-53.

 A E Smailes, ‘Some Reflections on the Geographical Description and Analysis of Townscapes‘, Transactions and Papers (Institute of British Geographers) 21 (1955): 99-115.

 C J W Simpson, ‘The British North Greenland Expedition‘, The Geographical Journal 121.3 (Sep., 1955): 274-89.

 D C Martin, ‘The International Geophysical Year‘, The Geographical Journal 124.1 (Mar., 1958): 18-29.

 Charles Swithinbank, ‘A Year with the Russians in Antarctica‘, The Geographical Journal 132.4 (Dec., 1966): 463-74. Also see Dudley Stamp and Vivian Fuch’s discussion here.