Tag Archives: Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers)

“Geography is a Great Adventure”

By Catherine Waite

December 2012a AntarcticaGeography is a great adventure” is the widely quoted opinion of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)’s out-going President, Michael Palin. The discipline has long been associated with exploration and expeditions have taken place for hundreds of years in the pursuit of new geographical and scientific knowledge. This association is just as relevant now as it was, for example, in the late 15th Century when Christopher Columbus first sailed to the Americas. December 6th 2012 saw the start of what has been described as “The Last Great Polar Challenge”, an expedition by Sir Ranulph Fiennes and a team of five other explorers who hope to cross Antarctica, a journey of 2,000miles, during the Antarctic winter.

This trip is not simply an adventure and a chance to conquer this polar challenge. The team are also running a major fundraising initiative for the ‘Seeing is Believing’ charity who help fight avoidable blindness across the world. However, perhaps the most important aspect of this event is its scientific potential. As soon as the expedition’s ship left from London’s Tower Bridge bound for Antarctica, data gathering commenced. In the course of the journey the team hope to collect data on oceanography, meteorology and marine biology. On arrival in Antarctica the extreme conditions will test the existing knowledge and scientific expertise that was required to prepare the equipment for this expedition, as the team will experience temperatures as low as -90oC and most of the trek will take place in complete darkness. Yet, the trip also provides a unique opportunity to collect data from locations previously inaccessible to humans and it is hoped the data set will include information on the true surface-shape of the ice sheet, the composition of the snow and ice, atmospheric dynamics over the ice and any bacterial life that exists at the heart of Antarctica.

It is clear that this is very much an adventure, yet one that is accompanied by the opportunity for ground-breaking research. This relationship between expeditions, exploration, science and education is one that has been recently discussed in Couper and Ansell’s (2012) paper in Area entitled “Researching the outdoors: exploring the unsettled frontier between science and adventure”. Fieldwork and outdoor research is likely to continue to be at the forefront of the quest for new geographical knowledge and whilst it may not be possible to classify all fieldwork as adventurous or an expedition, this trip by Sir Ranulph Fiennes and his team most certainly is!

books_iconCouper, P. and Ansell, L. 2012 Researching the outdoors: exploring the unsettled frontier between science and adventure Area 44 14–21

world_iconSir Ranulph Fiennes’ ‘coldest journey’ begins BBC News 6th December 2012

world_iconViewpoint: The last great polar challenge BBC News 17th October 2012

Content Alert: New Articles (2nd March 2012)

These Early View articles are now available on Wiley Online Library.

Original Articles

Land degradation in Mediterranean urban areas: an unexplored link with planning?
Luca Salvati, Roberta Gemmiti and Luigi Perini
Article first published online: 24 FEB 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01083.x

Neoliberalising violence: of the exceptional and the exemplary in coalescing moments
Simon Springer
Article first published online: 24 FEB 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01084.x

Who loses if flood risk is reduced: should we be concerned?
Edmund C Penning-Rowsell and Joanna Pardoe
Article first published online: 28 FEB 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01085.x

‘At the next junction, turn left’: attitudes towards Sat Nav use
Stephen Axon, Janet Speake and Kevin Crawford
Article first published online: 28 FEB 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01086.x

Original Articles

Scarcity, frontiers and development
Edward B Barbier
Article first published online: 24 FEB 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2012.00462.x

Commentary

Beyond trial justice in the former Yugoslavia
Alex Jeffrey and Michaelina Jakala
Article first published online: 24 FEB 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2012.00461.x

Content Alert: New Articles (24th February 2012)

These Early View articles are now available on Wiley Online Library.

Original Articles

Using Google Maps to collect spatial responses in a survey environment
Nick Bearman and Katy Appleton
Article first published online: 20 FEB 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01081.x

Content Alert: New Articles (17th February 2012)

These Early View articles are now available on Wiley Online Library.

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Original Articles

Diverging pathways: young female employment and entrepreneurship in sub-Saharan Africa
Thilde Langevang and Katherine V Gough
Article first published online: 13 JAN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2011.00457.x

Original Articles

Decolonising the diaspora: neo-colonial performances of Indian history in East Africa
Jen Dickinson
Article first published online: 13 FEB 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2011.00496.x

‘I would walk 500 miles…’: Discover the world in the UK, with Royal Geographical Society

by Fiona Ferbrache

Picking up a concept described in an earlier Geography Directions post (Ferbrache, 2011), a flâneur has been described as someone who walks the city in order to experience it.  Here is your opportunity to become a flâneur.

Walk the World is a project being led by the Royal Geographical Society, as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad campaign.  Through a series of walks, the goal of the project is to inspire people to discover multiple ways in which the 206 Olympic and Paralympic nations are linked to the UK.  Examples include walking Edinburgh’s Royal Mile and realising its international connections with Morocco, Greece and South Korea; or strolling through Liverpool and its legacy of international trade.  Walk the World encourages people to think beyond the UK as an isolated country, by revealing how deeply embedded it is in the wider world.

Joseph Murphy (2011b) touches upon a politics of walking and walking narratives, from a methodological perspective, in his article: Walking a public geography through Ireland and Scotland.  Drawing on his own hikes along west coasts of Ireland and Scotland, Murphy illustrates how walking alone, or with a guide, can lead to alternative ways of experiencing and thinking about places.  In his examples, Murphy rethinks contemporary understandings of (postcolonial) public geographies (2011b) and the concept of exile (2011a).

If you would like to Walk the World where you live, or even make your own discoveries and create a new route for the website, then everything that you need to know is provided at www.walktheworld.org.uk

  Murphy, J. (2011a) From place to exile. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. Vol.36,4. pp.473-478

  Murphy, J. (2011b) Walking a public geography through Ireland and Scotland. The Geographical Journal. Doi/10.1111/j.1475-4959.2011.00406.x

Walk the World

Syria at a Crossroads

Contested Syria: the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement. Wikimedia Commons.

Benjamin Sacks

HOURS AFTER Syrian president Bashar al-Assad addressed a nation overwhelmed by protests and violence, British foreign secretary William Hague retorted that ‘if President Assad is to restore any credibility the Syrian people need to see concrete action [of reform], not vague promises’. Syria, Hague implied, is at a vital crossroad in its history. The future presents many questions, but few (if any) concrete answers. Will al-Assad maintain his family’s forty-year grip on power? Or will democratic opponents force the Ba’ath Party from Damascus? Can the West really impact Syria’s fate through international sanctions? One fact, however, is certain. Syria’s convulsions lie not only with its current socio-political crisis, but also in its geo-historical position, particularly with Turkey.

Syria, as Sir Leonard Woolley pronounced in the June 1946 issue of The Geographical Journal, ‘indeed occupies a wonderfully central position’ (p. 12). Situated in the heart of the Middle East’s ‘Fertile Crescent’, and bounded by the Mediterranean Sea, Syria stretches across Turkey’s southern border, down along Iraq’s western frontier, before reaching its contentious boundary with Israel, near the Sea of Galilae (Lake Tiberias).  The earliest known civilisations spread across the Syrian heartland, fostering some of the world’s oldest cities: Antioch (third century BC), Damascus (second century BC) and Aleppo (first century BC). The most important east-west trade routes passed through Syria, connecting India and the Orient with Europe and North Africa (Carruthers 1918, pp. 157-58). Syria enjoyed tremendous wealth from the Age of Antiquity through the Renaissance.

Syria’s wealth and location also targeted the region for conquest. Turkey’s vital contemporary role as arbiter between Syria and the international community is the result of centuries of Turkish influence (and, more often than not, interference) in Syrian culture. Syria lay at the centre of the Ottoman Empire; its political and economic importance underscored Turkish power. As Ottoman power waned at the turn of the twentieth-century, Western powers stepped in. Syria proved to be the most contentious region. The Royal Geographical Society, in its dual capacity as learned society and imperial instrument, initiated a series of excavations and survey projects. After the outbreak of war in 1914, the Royal Geographical Society increasingly pressured the British Government to ignore France’s own Syrian claims (formally enshrined in the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement). The Society’s cartographers, as well as those seconded from the Army and Navy, produced numerous topographical and military charts of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and the eastern Mediterranean coast. Unfortunately, so much conflicting data was submitted to the Society’s cartographers that their maps’ intelligence information was often out-dated by the time they reached front lines (Heffernan 1996, pp. 515-16).

Competing Anglo-French claims, however, did not entirely extinguish Turkish and Arab objectives. Syria lost Antioch in 1939 when France, its protector, transferred the region to Kemal Ataturk. Syria continues to claim the province. In 1958, Syria joined Egypt in short-lived ‘United Arab Republic’, intended by nationalists to assert a strong Arab federation. More recently, Turkey protested Syria’s tacit support for separatist Kurds; the Syrians had viewed the Kurds as compatriots against the Turks since at least the First World War (Hogarth 1915, p. 459).  Geography, for better or worse, has forced the fates of Syria and Turkey together. Although relations are often fraught with difficulty, modern Turkey remains Syria’s most important partner, a state that enjoys the rare privilege of favour in both Western and Arab diplomatic circles. History suggests that Turkish-Syrian relations will be crucial in solving Damascus’s populist crisis.

 Douglas Carruthers, ‘The Great Desert Caravan Route, Aleppo to Basra’, The Geographical Journal 52.3 (September, 1918): 157—84.

 William Hague,  ‘President Assad’s Speech Today was Disappointing and Unconvincing’, The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 20 June 2011, accessed 22 June 2011.

 Michael Heffernan,  ‘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.

 D G Hogarth,  ‘Geography of the War Theatre in the Near East’, The Geographical Journal 45.6 (June, 1915): 457—67.

 Leonard Woolley,  ‘Syria as the Gateway between East and West’, The Geographical Journal 107.5/6 (May-June, 1946): 179—90.

Also see: 

 Felix Driver, Geography Militant: Cultures of Exploration and Empire (Oxford and Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing, 2006).

 Felipe Fernández-Armesto,  Civilizations: Culture, Ambition, and the Transformation of Nature (New York, London, Toronto and Sydney: Simon & Schuster, 2002), 189.