Tag Archives: historical geography

Speaking for science: does it matter how and where?

By Diarmid Finnegan, Queen’s University Belfast

Company: ArcSoft (hangzhou)

A diagram used to demonstrate the art of ‘chironomia,’ a system of gestures suitable for oratory taught to Michael Faraday by the elocutionist Benjamin Smart. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chironomia_Sphere.jpg Image in the public domain and out of copyright.

During every American election season, pundits find something to say about the way Presidential candidates speak. Perhaps more than ever before, the contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump invited this kind of attention. Trump’s hand gestures and Hillary Clinton’s voice were just two aspects of their campaign speeches that were closely scrutinised. Psychologists, journalists and media coaches all offered their take on the nonverbal strategies and automatic reflexes of the two nominees. One expert in embodied cognition even counted the number of times Trump sniffed during the second presidential debate (answer: 104). If nothing else, fixation on these dimensions of the live performances of Trump and Clinton demonstrated public appetite for close descriptions of their voices and body language.

However difficult it may be to demonstrate the influence of vocal performance over voting patterns, there is a long history of political speechmakers and their critics drawing heavily on the arts of oratory. But what happens when we look not at political argumentation but at efforts to persuade live audiences of the importance of science? Should any significance be placed on the voice and body language of the science communicator? One understandable reaction is to say no. After all, the truth of scientific claims is not supposed to be measured according to emotional resonance or alignment with public tastes or political convictions. Science, as one early historian of the Royal Society put it, should be communicated with ‘mathematical plainness’ (Sprat 1667).

It might be surprising to learn, then, that one of the most celebrated science communicators in the nineteenth century, Michael Faraday, argued that lectures ‘depend entirely for their value upon the manner in which they are given. It is not the matter, it is not the subject, so much as the man’. Among other things, this reflected a career-long engagement with the arts of oratory. It is perhaps yet more surprising to find Thomas Henry Huxley, the famous nineteenth-century exponent of science as trained common sense, pointing out that less than a tenth of Faraday’s audiences understood him. According to Huxley, the crucial thing was that most thought they had grasped Faraday’s meaning. Huxley was convinced that the intellectual value of lectures was extremely low. Why, then, did both Faraday and Huxley invest huge amounts of energy in delivering lectures to non-specialist audiences? As I argue in a paper published in the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, both Faraday and Huxley were acutely aware of the power of speech to nurture sympathy for science and to support an agenda that placed science within a wider vision of social progress. Huxley declared on a number of occasions that he held oratorical techniques in contempt, but he also realized that the living voice could be used as a powerful means for swaying public opinion. There are good reasons, then, to reflect on how Faraday and Huxley used the power of voice and non-verbal action to persuade audiences of the relevance and public value of science.

Taking seriously the lecture performances of Faraday and Huxley also means taking seriously where they spoke. In basic terms, Faraday rarely spoke anywhere else than the lecture hall of the Royal Institution in London. Huxley, by contrast, travelled extensively. Faraday’s style of speaking, which included carefully choreographed gestures and vocal performances, was well suited for an auditorium custom designed for science lectures. Huxley’s manner and mode of address – standing stock still and speaking extemporaneously – remained constant even as he moved from one venue to another. This, of course, does not exhaust the geography of these speech events. Both Huxley and Faraday took care to position themselves within a wider landscape of oratorical performance. Their efforts to speak with influence, and assessments of those efforts, reflected unique combinations of expectations and assumptions about what constituted effective communication. Their lectures on science also helped forge novel spaces of speech that had influence beyond their own particular sphere.

Cultural and historical geographers, among others, have paid increasing attention to where and how any kind of ‘live talk’ is delivered and heard. An undergirding argument is that speech performance of whatever kind is closely tied to the place in which it unfolds. That this turns out to be true for talk about science lends special support to this argument. At least in the case of Faraday and Huxley, there was no single way to persuade an audience of the virtues, values and veracity of science. The voice, and the body, had to be mobilized in different ways and in different cultural locations to win an audience’s sympathy and assent.

About the author: Dr Diarmid Finnegan is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Natural and Built Environment at Queen’s University, Belfast. His research interests fall within three main themes: (1) Science, space and culture; (2) Historical geographies of ideas; and (3) History of geographical knowledge. 

60-world2 BBC News 2016, August 16. What Trump’s hand gestures say about him BBC News. Retrieved November 17, 2016

60-world2 Beattie, G. 2016, October 14. How Donald Trump bullies with his body language.  The Conversation, Retrieved November 17, 2016

books_icon Finnegan, D. A. 2016,  ‘Finding a scientific voice: performing science, space and speech in the 19th century’ Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers DOI: 10.1111/tran.12159

60-world2 Khazan, O. 2016, August 1. Would you really like Hillary more if she sounded different? The Atlantic, Retrieved November 17, 2016

books_icon Sprat, T. 1667, The History of the Royal Society of London. London.

Marking the bicentenary of 1816, the ‘year without summer’, in the UK

By Lucy Veale and Georgina Endfield, University of Nottingham, UK 

Etheridge, Francis; Stonehenge, 2 May 1816

‘Stonehenge, 2 May 1816’ by Francis Etheridge. Collection of Wiltshire Museum, Devizes.

As many people in the UK have been enjoying a brief heat wave, they have also been remembering past summers, as this year marks 40 years since the summer of 1976 – perhaps the ‘UK’s best ever summer’.  Beyond living memory, this summer also marks the bicentenary of the ‘year without summer’. The summer of 1816 is famous for having been cold, wet and generally miserable in the UK (the July of that year being the coldest on record), and much worse in parts of Europe and North America. The bad weather of that summer has been associated with the eruption of Mount Tambora, Indonesia, in April 1815, the largest known volcanic eruption in recorded. An estimated 72,000 people in Indonesia lost their lives because of the eruption, either directly or through linked famine and disease. Longer term and further afield, the huge volume of sulphur that was injected into the atmosphere changed global climate over the succeeding years (Oppenheimer, 2003).

Volcano weather

The 200-year anniversary of the eruption has renewed scholarly and popular interest in the climatic consequences of eruptions and so-called super eruptions. Two centuries on, there is still much to learn about Tambora, particularly its effects on global climate and local weather, and associated consequences for human health and wellbeing.

As part of a broader project on the history of extreme weather in the UK, we have been considering what impact the eruption had on the weather of the UK, and in turn, the impact of that weather on the people who lived through it. In our paper, recently published in The Geographical Journal, we draw on diaries, correspondence, and other unpublished documents to revisit the weather of the summer of 1816, and the 1810s more broadly. All of our accounts are geographically referenced, and have allowed us to begin to trace the impacts of the cold and wet weather around the country. Our reconstruction demonstrates the importance of studying global phenomena at the local level, and of situating the summer of 1816 within wider weather and cultural contexts. The 1810s were a very cool decade with multiple localised extreme weather events, and the bad weather coincided a particularly challenging time of cultural upheaval following the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars.

Summer 1816 in the UK

At the end of July 1816, continuous rains set in for 6 to 8 weeks. ‘On 31 July [in Norfolk] the rain descended in such torrents as to prostrate the heavy crops in many places, & by the violent effects of a water spout, acres of turnips were washed away, & in some villages the ditches & lanes were so full of water that boats might have been rowed in them’ (Matchett, 1822: 146). Abbot Upcher in Sheringham, Norfolk, reflected later, ‘During this year there was no summer whatsoever. Incessant rains during June, July & August, and tremendous gales’ (Norfolk Record Office, UPC 155).

Weather observers in 1816 were also clearly aware of human distress across the country. At Tissington, Derbyshire, bailiff James Hardy suggested that if not for the kindness of Sir Henry Fitzherbert, ‘more than two thirds of the Tissington labourers would want relief at this time’ (Derbyshire Record Office, D239/M/E/4535), whilst Reverend William Alderson feared the winter would produce ‘disturbances throu’out the country’ (Derbyshire Record Office, D239/M/F/8395). Discussion in the Farmer’s Magazine centred on farmers’ inability to pay rents, and many landlords were unwilling to offer abatement. W. Palethorpe of Kirton in Holland included a postscript to his letter to his landlord that ‘we have had extreme bad weather for the harvest and most shocking complaints of poverty’ (Nottinghamshire Archives, DD/1461/212).

Contextualising the ‘year without summer’

It is very difficult to discriminate between weather effects linked to volcanic events, and the natural variability of the climate. Disentangling the event-related socio-economic and ecological implications from ongoing changes in the historical record is no less problematic. Our sources help us to explore the anatomy of general crisis in this period and points to 1816 being a difficult year for many people across the UK. The material suggests that extreme weather recorded in the in the spring, summer and autumn months of 1816 conditions may have been ‘truly exceptional’ and ‘of a degree for which it is reasonable to invoke an external forcing mechanism’ (Sadler and Grattan, 1999: 187).

Although some parts of the UK have enjoyed further sunshine this week, and hope to enjoy more, some it seems can’t wait for autumn! Good riddance to summer, a thoroughly un-British season .

About the authors: Lucy is a Research Fellow and Georgina is Professor of Environmental History. They are both working on the AHRC funded project ‘Spaces of experience and horizons of expectation’: Extreme weather in the UK, past, present and future, and are based in the School of Geography at the University of Nottingham.

60-world2 BBC Radio 4 High Explosive: The Tambora Story  Fri 3 Arpil 2015.

60-world2 Groskop V 2016 Was the summer of 1976 the best Britain ever had? The Guardian July 2016

60-world2 Hambling D 2016 The outlook:perceptual freezing darkness The Guardian July 2016. 

books_icon Matchett J 1822 The Norfolk and Norwich Remembrancer and Vade-Mecus 2nd edition Matchett and Stevenson, Norwich

60-world2 Mitchell T 2016 Good riddance to summer, a thoroughly un-British season The Guardian 2016

books_icon Oppenheimer, C. 2003. Climatic, environmental and human consequences of the largest known historical eruption: Tambora volcano (Indonesia) 1815. 27: 230-259 doi: 10.1191/0309133303pp379ra

books_icon Sadler J P and Grattan J P 1999 Volcanoes as agents of past environmental change Global and Planetary Change 21 181-96 doi:10.1016/S0921-8181(99)00014-4

books_iconVeale, L. and Endfield, G. 2016. Situating 1816, the ‘year without summer’, in the UK. The Geographical Journal doi: 10.1111/geoj.12191

The Helping Hand Through History

By Morag Rose, University of Sheffield

Samuel_Crompton_memorial_statue,_Bolton_-_geograph.org.uk_-_980458 (3)

Samuel Crompton memorial statue, Bolton. Image Credit: Kenneth Allen CC BY-SA 2.0  via Wikimedia Commons

The impact of austerity, welfare cuts and the retreat of the state means voluntary organisations play an increasingly important role in the lives of many people. For example, The Trussell Trust have reported that use of food banks is at a record levels and the recently published UK Civil Society Almanac 2016 provides further evidence of the impact of the third sector. There are many important questions raised by this but in this post I will focus on volunteers. Individuals volunteer for many reasons, including altruism, and in turn often benefit from the experience of volunteering.

Francesca Moore offers a fascinating historical insight with  ‘” A Band of Public-Spirited Women”: Middle-Class Female Philanthropy and Citizenship in Bolton, Lancashire before 1918’, a paper recently published in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers.  Archive material contributes to her group biography of the eponymous women. Moore uses a Foucauldian analysis of power to consider what voluntary work meant for them and wider society. Philanthropy has moral, political, spiritual, philosophical, social and cultural dimensions, and she also explores what citizenship can mean for those without a vote or other legal rights.

The philanthropists Moore studies primarily focused on ‘poverty, child welfare, infant health, prostitution and drunkenness. These social issues were often understood at the time as a form of personal inadequacy, or moral failure, which rendered them solvable by behavioural change’ (2016: 153). This resonates with many current debates about entrenched inequality, unemployment and obesity amongst others.  After the Boer War (1899-1902) there were widespread concerns about falling birth rates and an unfit population so philanthropists fought for moral and physical health. A focus on children’s welfare illustrates a concern for the future not just of individuals but of the nation. Moore suggests ‘women philanthropists engaged in what could be termed race work through infant welfare clinics, improving the quality and vitality of the population…. Biopolitical concerns were addressed in a bottom-up fashion… (as) a biopolitical patriotism’. (2016:157). As a disabled person I am deeply concerned eugenics still lurks behind much contemporary rhetoric about welfare and we must beware of its pernicious influence.

It is clear class was an important constituent of the philanthropic relationship. The work the women engaged in was also profoundly gendered, being considered maternal and caring.  Such endeavours were one of many ways women challenged and transcended the divide between private and public spheres. The divide between “citizen” and “other” is also blurred and complex. Philanthropy demonstrated an ability to contribute to civic society and staked a claim for full citizenship. These women campaigned for, and influenced, social policy in many areas. Many of Moore’s sample were active in the Suffrage movement and their philanthropy was, at least in part, a way of demonstrating they had earned the vote. Moore’s study ends in 1918 when the First World War had changed the landscape and The Representation of The People Act gave women over 30 the right to vote. Today in Bolton something of the legacy of those “public-spirited women” lives on.  The Greater Manchester for Voluntary Organisation (GMCVO) profiles a thriving and diverse voluntary sector which continues to provide valuable support services to many people.

References

60-world2 GMCVO online at https://www.gmcvo.org.uk/

books_icon Moore, F. 2016 “A band of public-spirited women:” middle-class female philanthropy and citizenship in Bolton, Lancashire before 1918 in Transactions of The Institute of British Geographers 41 pp 149-162. doi: 10.1111/tran.12114

60-world2 NCVO 2016 UK Civic Society Almanac  online at https://data.ncvo.org.uk/

60-world2 The Trussell Trust online at https://www.trusselltrust.org/2016/04/15/foodbank-use-remains-record-high/

Collecting the Archive: How eBay is Transforming Historical Geography

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Imagine a stereotypical historical geographer, waist deep in dusty old books and documents in the darkest depths of a library or museum. No food or drink is allowed within sniffing distance of the archive collection, no photography is permitted, and only pencils may be used. This common experience of archival research will be familiar to a lot of historical geographers, although DeLyser’s (2015) recent Transactions article suggests that a call for more creative approaches to archives is changing the ways in which geographers engage with historical research. DeLyser’s (2015) article considers the idea of collecting as a methodology, and identifies eBay as a tool for this. Such a modern approach to historical research transforms both the role of the researcher and the nature of the archive.

Collecting is a very popular pastime, and has long been the case. In the 16th Century, for instance, the wealthy aristocrats collected natural history, archaeological, and geological artefacts. These displays were called ‘Cabinets of Curiosities’, encyclopaedic collections designed to provide a microcosm of the world. Such collections expressed the status of their owners and reflected their wealth. Today, whether it’s Pokémon cards, football stickers, Star Wars memorabilia, stamps, or teddy bears, collecting is a practice to which most of us can relate. The process of collecting, and our passion for it, become part of our identity and can, at times, become almost an obsession. In short, the things we collect come to define us. In her article, DeLyser (2015) suggests that collecting can be a tool of nostalgia and a transformative practice. The idea, then, that geographers can use collecting as a tool for research, poses many interesting questions. This shift in methodology means archive collections are constantly growing, as researchers contribute more to them, but also creates some uncertainty about positionality.

DeLyser (2015) coins the term ‘autoethnography’ to refer to the process of geographers collecting and contributing to the archive themselves, creating an alternative archive. Any archive is already a ‘collection’, but the moment the researcher starts adding to it themselves, it is important that they critically reflect on their impact and positionality. Collecting involves passion and desire and, therefore, can never be separated from personal motivations. In DeLyser’s (2015) own research, for instance, she collected kitsch souvenirs of the novel Ramona. The items in her collection became embedded in her personal life; the collection lived in her house, she encountered it every day, and it reminded her of places, stories, people, and events.

Traditional archives are fixed, stored in an institution, and distinct from researchers’ personal lives. Access to them has to be requested, and there are often long lists of “dos” and “don’ts” policing researchers’ behaviour. The idea that researchers can collate their own archive through the process of collecting, and store it in their own home, starts to challenge and redefine the space of the archive. Oh how some archivists would shudder at the idea of researchers sat on their sofas reading items one hundred years old, coffee in hand! Heaven forbid that they should let their dog settle next to them! And don’t mention those chocolate biscuits…

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Internet has “transformed the spatialities of collecting” (DeLyser, 2015:212) and, indeed, researching, by providing us with new ways of accumulating items. Eradicating the need for human-to-human contact, the Internet proves a powerful tool for communication, and has the effect of compressing space. Previously unreachable people and unreachable items in unreachable places are all now accessible at the click of a button. Arguably the most influential website in this respect has been eBay, which recently celebrated its 20th birthday last month. Featured in a recent Telegraph article, eBay is now the best known online auction website in the world, and is available in more than 180 countries. As DeLyser (2015) states, eBay has become a useful tool for historical geographers in search of ‘one-of-a-kind’ items to add to their alternative archives.

The advent of online auction websites, such as eBay, has changed the ways in which people value items, and facilitated collecting. You can buy absolutely anything on eBay. Just last month, the Metro featured the story of a £5 note, chewed up by a 10-month old Labrador puppy, which was sold on the site for £3.70! Gaining 4,425 views, 111 watchers, and 10 bids, the item’s winning bidder claimed to have been interested in it because the accompanying photograph of the guilty dog had reminded him of his late dog. The new owner is hoping to submit the note for the Tate Gallery’s Turner Prize in 2017, claiming that the story behind the item gave it added value. Thus, the biographies of items on eBay – their history of ownership and anecdotal stories associated with them – affect their value. For researchers, however, this can pose challenges, as competitive bidding by dealers, hobbyists, and other interested parties can place a lot of historical items out of their financial reach. ‘Value’, then, is very subjective and problematic for researchers using online auctions to accumulate ‘alternative’ archive collections.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The use of eBay creates a personal space of collecting, changing researchers’ interactions with research materials and broadening the definition of ‘archive’. Searching for, bidding on, and taking ownership of items redefines them and the ways in which they are used in research. Could it be that the traditional historical geographer in the archive is becoming as rare and fragile as the dusty documents they seek, soon to be replaced by an unlikely new character who spends their time on-line shopping?

books_iconDeLyser, D. (2015). “Collecting, kitsch and the intimate geographies of social memory: a story of archival autoethnography”, Transactions of the                Institute of British Geographers. 40:  209-222. DOI: 10.1111/tran.12070

60-world2Bhatia S 2015 The History of Ebay The Telegraph 

60-world2Willis A 2015 Half eaten £5 note sold on ebay ‘to be entered for Turner Prize’ by new owner The Metro

 

Academic Writing and Geography Narrated

by Fiona Ferbrache

The ruins of Erskine Beveridge, is Fraser MacDonald’s (2013) narrative essay available as an early view article in Transactions. It tells the story of a house – Taigh Mòr, built by Erskine Beveridge on an intertidal island in the Outer Hebrides – and its inhabitants – the Beveridge family, who used the property as a summer retreat. It is also a first class piece of geographical writing.

Ruined_house_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1428145

House ruins (Source: Wikimedia Commons: Graham Horn)

MacDonald’s narrative non-fiction is unusual in style and form, and may at first appear unconventional for some geographers. This is not a style that appears frequently in published journals of our discipline, but may be situated within a renewed interest in literary geographies, including geographies of storytelling, and bio-geo-geography (see for example Lorimer and Wylie). In another way, the text reminded me of the personalised and enquiring travels made and recounted by Robert Macfarlane in The Old Ways. The style and methods are not dissimilar.

MacDonald’s aim in this piece is to “maintain a primary commitment to storytelling as an exemplar of geographical writing” (p.2). Yet, it goes further than this as it is inherently about (historical) geography. The deteriorating Taigh Mòr is situated at the centre of the tale, around which the lives of its inhabitants are explored and retold. The work touches at least three geographical themes: ruins, spaces of science and antiquarian knowledge, and fieldwork. The methods underpinning the ‘fieldwork’ included walking, interviewing, synthesising published sources, interpreting material remains in the landscape, and triangulating observations against other archives. Thus, the rich text is descriptive and analytical as it probes, explores and lays a thread for the reader to follow.

MacDonald argues that geographers “have some way to go before matters of form and style receive the same sort of attention currently given to methodology” (p.2). For young geographers, this commitment to storytelling, as an exemplar of geographical writing, will hopefully inspire creativity and originality, beyond geography’s more familiar writing conventions.

books_icon  MacDonald, F. 2013 The ruins of Erskine Beveridge. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers.  DOI: 10.1111/tran.12042

books_icon  Lorimer, H. 2003 Telling small stories: spaces of knowledge and the practice of geography. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 28, pp.197-217

books_icon  Wiley, J. 2009 Landscape, absence and the geographies of love. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 34, pp.275-289

60-world2  Stylish Academic Writing – a guide

Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers Content Alert: Volume 37, Issue 1 (January 2012)

The latest issue of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers is available on Wiley Online Library.

Click past the break to view the full table of contents.

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