Tag Archives: United Kingdom

What happened to the American geography department?

By Benjamin Sacks

Today, Dartmouth College remains the only Ivy League institution to maintain a distinct geography department. (c) 2015 Wikimedia  Commons.

Today, Dartmouth College remains the only Ivy League institution to maintain a distinct geography department. (c) 2015 Wikimedia Commons.

Tim Hall et al.’s recent Area examination of the changing fortunes and distribution of British geography departments identified both shifts in scope and funding. The geography department was ‘neither stable historically nor universal in nature’, and has been subject to merging, reclassification, separation, and redistribution since the mid-1990s (p.58). This problem however is also the discipline’s trump card: inherently interdisciplinary, geography can stand on its own and be classified with other related disciplines without significantly threatening its future. The United Kingdom continues to dominate geographic research and study, leading most recognised international league tables (e.g., QS World University; THES). The 2013 ESRC-RGS-AHRC report into Britain’s standing within academic geography trumpeted the country’s extraordinary impact in primary (field) research, geographical theory, and GIS development, despite the fact that the number of free-standing geography departments dropped from 47 (1995) to 33 (2013). In sum, geography’s preeminent position in British higher research and education is guaranteed as long as further fiscal cuts are not implemented. Hall et al also noted other, mostly Commonwealth countries, where geography research and education has expanded or diversified since the end of the twentieth century.

The situation is unfortunately vastly different in the United States. Despite longstanding efforts by the National Geographic Society and the American Geographical Society to expand geography education at the secondary- and university-levels respectively, geography remains a little-studied or even -understood discipline. At present it remains the only major academic field not to receive national education funding. As recently as 2010 the National Assessment Governing Board admitted the failure of American geography education. ‘The consequence’, they conceded, was ‘widespread ignorance of our own country and of its place’ in the world. World events change the situation little. This time last year, Kyle Dropp (Dartmouth), Joshua Kertzer (Harvard), and Thomas Zeitzoff (Princeton) surveyed 2,066 Americans on their knowledge of Ukraine and the Russian Federation. Eighty-four per cent could not identify Ukraine on a world map. The average answer, calculated from all guesses, suggested that Ukraine was located somewhere in Western Europe and the Mediterranean – over 1,800 miles from its actual position. Distressingly, they uncovered a direct inverse correlation between knowledge and support for US military intervention. The less likely participants were able to accurately identify Ukraine’s geographical position, the more likely they wanted Washington to intervene on Kiev’s behalf.

In 1900, nearly all major American colleges and universities maintained active (even thriving) geography departments. Today, only one Ivy League university – Dartmouth – still hosts an independent department, and few programmes still exist at private universities. The situation at flagship public universities has fared somewhat better, largely thanks to their role as ‘land-grant’ institutions. The University of California at Berkeley and Los Angeles, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison stand out as particularly internationally competitive programmes. This dilemma is all the more worrying when one considers the importance and impact of United States’ foreign policy.

What accounted for this seismic change, particularly given the rapid expansion of international affairs programmes at the undergraduate and postgraduate level? In 1987 Neil Smith, then at Rutgers, examined the collapse of Harvard’s geography department following the end of the Second World War. Echoing Jean Gottmann’s declaration that the closure of the Harvard department was ‘a terrible blow’ from which American geography ‘has never completely recovered’, Smith recounted how Harvard president James Conant declared that ‘geography is not a university subject’, ignoring both British investment in the discipline and competing American universities own departments (159). Geographers on both sides of the Atlantic criticised Harvard’s decision, adding that the university had neglected the programme for at least a generation, crippling its scholarly output and the careers of its faculty even as knowledge of international studies, lands, and peoples rapidly expanded in importance. Other American private institutions soon followed Harvard’s decision to terminate the department. Yale’s programme dragged on – near death – until 1967; Pennsylvania incorporated theirs with Wharton Business School, only to close the department in 1963. Columbia’s department – easily the most prodigious of the Ivy League – finally ended in 1986 due to a lack of popularity and funding. The collapse of Columbia’s department evidenced the American geography education’s cyclical crisis: lack of investment in primary-level geography education led to little undergraduate or postgraduate interest in geography, which in turn led to calls for programme closures.

A positive example, however, remains: the United States Military Academy at West Point continues to require its students to undertake courses in environmental, human, and scientific (engineering) geography, a tradition established with the introduction of French geographical and engineering methodology at the Academy’s founding in 1802.

books_icon Tim Hall, Phil Toms, Mark McGuinness, Charlotte Parker, and Neil Roberts, ‘Where’s the Geography department? The changing administrative place of Geography in UK higher education‘, Area 47.1 (2015): 56-64.

books_icon Roger M Downs, ‘The NAEP Geography Report 2010: What Will We Do Next?‘ Journal of Geography 111.1 (Jan., 2011): 39-40.

books_icon Kyle Dropp, Joshua D Kertzer, and Thomas Zeitzoff, ‘The less Americans know about Ukraine’s location, the more they want U.S. to intervene’The Washington Post, 7 April 2014.

books_icon ‘Geography Framework for the 2014 National Assessment of Educational Progress’, National Assessment Governing Board, accessed 8 April 2015.

books_icon Neil Smith, ‘“Academic War over the Field of Geography”: The Elimination of Geography at Harvard, 1947-1951‘, Annals of the Association of American Geographers 77.2 (Jun., 1987): 155-72.

Finding Geography’s place?

By Neil Roberts, Plymouth University and Tim Hall, University of Winchester

Despite UK geography’s high international research standing and continued success in attracting students, it is becoming less easy to identify geography and geographers within its universities.  A principal reason for the reduced disciplinary visibility is that only around half of all geographers are now located in traditional Departments. As we show in a current paper in Area, the proportion of single-discipline Geography departments in the UK declined from 55% to 37% between 1995 and 2010, largely at the expense of multidisciplinary “Schools”.

The naming of departments and what processes of change these new titles reflect are a concern way beyond geography. Eric Jaffe recently wrote about the case of Psychology departments in the US in the Association for Psychological Science’s Observer magazine. In many cases these departmental name changes were an attempt to address Psychology’s image problem or to more clearly convey the nature of the discipline and the work of faculty. However, Julie Winkler, the President of the Association of American Geographers, in her regular AAG Newsletter column reflected on concerns that changes in department names can also weaken disciplinary identity.

While this trend has affected many disciplines, it is having particular consequences for Geography because the discipline straddles the divide between the social and natural sciences.  As a result, Geography is now paired up administratively with sharply contrasting subjects in different universities in the UK. Pairings are most common with environmental and earth sciences, but sociology, archaeology and politics are also frequent subject partners.  A similar divide applies to higher-level administration, with Geography split between Science and Social Science faculties (figure 1). These changes create new opportunities for cross-disciplinary dialogue, but they also risk cutting off some human geographers from fellow social scientists, and isolating some physical geographers from their natural science bedfellows.

Word cloud analysis of faculties within which geography units are located in the UK

Figure 1: Word cloud analysis of faculties within which geography units are located in the UK

The weakening of Geography’s administrative autonomy has doubtless made it easier for University senior managers to re-allocate geographers between REF sub-panels, or to re-brand environmental scientists as geographers for undergraduate teaching programmes (or vice-versa).   On the other hand, thus far there have been only limited moves in the UK towards splitting the discipline in two, as is the case in Sweden and the Netherlands where human and physical geographers are found in separate departments, a fragmentation trend that is currently affecting in several Australian Universities.  None the less, any weakening of disciplinary identity and loyalty will only make it harder to defend Geography’s integrity as a discipline in the UK in the coming years.

About the authors: Neil Roberts is Professor of Physical Geography at Plymouth University and Tim Hall is Professor of Interdisciplinary Social Studies/Head of Applied Social Studies at the University of Winchester. Neil and Tim’s Area paper was co-authored with Phillip Toms, Charlotte Parker (both University of Gloucestershire) and Mark McGuinness (Bath Spa University).

books_icon Hall, T., Toms, P., McGuinness, M., Parker, C. and Roberts, N. (2015), Where’s the Geography department? The changing administrative place of Geography in UK higher education. Area. doi: 10.1111/area.12154

 Jaffe J  2011 Identity Shift Observer, Association for Psychological Science

 Winkler J 2014 ‘What’s in a Name? The Renaming and Rebranding of Geography Departments’ AAG News

 

 

Après le deluge: the UK winter storms of 2013–14

By Klaus Dodds, Royal Holloway University of London

Spurn Head on the Humber being broken by the December 2013 Storm Surge Photo Credit: Environment Agency (reproduced with permission)

Spurn Head on the Humber being broken by the December 2013 Storm Surge Photo Credit: Environment Agency (reproduced with permission)

The UK winter floods of 2013-14 were unquestionably severe caused by winter storms that brought with them record levels of rainfall and long standing flooding to southern England, most notably the Somerset Levels. Other parts of the UK were also affected, coastal towns in Wales were battered by stormy weather and parts of the Scotland also recorded some of the highest levels of rainfall ever recorded. Political leaders of all the main parties were swift to visit affected areas, and the government organization responsible for flood management the Environment Agency and its embattled chief Lord Smith endured a barrage of criticism for late and or inadequate flood preparation, warnings and responsiveness. For weeks, stories and images of the flood and its impact on communities and infrastructure filled the airwaves. Some communities were affectively cut off while others lost their homes and possessions. The insurance industry estimated that the cost of the flooding exceeded £1 billion but it was lower than the estimated cost of the 2007 summer floods, which were put at over £3 billion.

As a recent themed section on the UK winter floods 2013-4 published in The Geographical Journal argues, there is a great deal more analytical work to be done in terms of how we make sense of such extreme events and what we might learn in the aftermath. One noticeable element in the 2013-4 winter storms was the presence of social media and the role that tweeting and Facebook played in raising flood awareness (#floodaware #thinkdontsink) and the sharing of images and stories relating to the flooding. This autumn the Environment Agency has taken again to social media to warn audiences about flood risk and prevention measures. Citizens, in potentially affected areas, are encouraged to check the real time mapping and monitoring of rivers and coastlines.

Combining historical and cultural geographers with fluvial geographers and hydrological modellers, the themed section ruminates on the social, economic, political and physical geographies of the flooding and the storm surges. It poses questions not only about how flooding is understood (both scientifically and culturally) but also how it impacts on communities and landscapes, some of whom enjoyed greater publicity than others. Campaigners for the affected Somerset Levels were particularly successful in generating media attention, as were home-owners and businesses along the River Thames. Flood geographers, as we might term it, are also in the thick of things when it comes to flood forecasting and advising agencies on how government and communities should prepare in the future for such extreme events. Preparedness combined with individual and communal resilience have been championed as indispensable and perhaps social media provided a resource of sorts for such resilience as people shared advice and experiences of flooding.

But as our themed section also shows that rivers including flood plains are complex and lively spaces. They vary in terms of flood risk vulnerability and this is as much to do with their materiality as it is due to historic and contemporary patterns of human occupation. For centuries, humans have intervened in such environments and introduced flood embanking, channel dredging, and manipulated the volume and flow speed of rivers. Moreover coastal environments have experienced a patchwork of interventions from hard to soft forms of coastal engineering. We have, over the years, sought to intervene in order to mitigate, and even prevent unwelcome futures.

Lets hope if severe winter storms affect the UK again in 2014-5 we will be able to conclude that we are somewhat wiser as a consequence of our experiences in the winter of 2013-4.

About the author: Klaus Dodds is a Professor of Geopolitics within the Department of Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London. Klaus is also the Editor of The Geography Journal.

The Geographical Journal themed section in full:

books_icon Dodds, K. (2014), Après le deluge: the UK winter storms of 2013–14. The Geographical Journal, 180: 294–296. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12126

books_icon Thorne, C. (2014), Geographies of UK flooding in 2013/4. The Geographical Journal, 180: 297–309. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12122 (open access)

books_icon Stephens, E. and Cloke, H. (2014), Improving flood forecasts for better flood preparedness in the UK (and beyond). The Geographical Journal, 180: 310–316. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12103

books_icon Lewin, J. (2014), The English floodplain. The Geographical Journal, 180: 317–325. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12093

books_icon McEwen, L., Jones, O. and Robertson, I. (2014), ‘A glorious time?’ Some reflections on flooding in the Somerset Levels. The Geographical Journal, 180: 326–337. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12125

books_icon Clout, H. (2014), Reflections on The draining of the Somerset Levels. The Geographical Journal, 180: 338–341. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12088

Other references:

60-world2 Ugwumandu J (2014) Severe winter weather to cost UK insurers £1.1bn, says ABI The Actuary, 13 March 2014

60-world2 Gov.uk (2014) Check flood warnings and river levels  

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.

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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.

Gibraltar: The Fortune of Location

by Benjamin Sacks

'The Rock' looms large in political and geographical discourse. © 2013 Wikimedia Commons.

‘The Rock’ looms large in political and geographical discourse. © 2013 Wikimedia Commons.

As is the case every few years, Gibraltar recently returned to many newspapers’ front pages as London and Madrid exchanged heated words over the British-controlled territory. Speaking to reporters after meeting with Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, Prime Minister David Cameron stated that ‘the UK would always stand up for the British territory and the interests of its people’. Spain’s Foreign Minister, Jose Manuel-Margallo, responded that Gibraltar ‘is, has been and will be a national priority’. But why?

Gibraltar is an oddity amongst the world’s remaining colonial possessions. A tiny peninsula, only part of which is habitable thanks to a 1,398-ft limestone promontory, Gibraltar and its environs have been contested by various European and North African empires for a millennium, each seeking control of ‘The Rock’s’ ideal position at the entrance of the Mediterranean Sea. Today, it remains an occasionally emotional source of tension between two states otherwise intimately allied via NATO, the European Union, and almost countless cultural and economic relationships. Its remarkable physical and topographical geography has long fascinated explorers and politicians alike. Pero López de Ayala, a fourteenth century chronicler and counselor, described it as possessing near-mythical qualities: ‘With uplifted hands he [Ferdinand IV] gave thanks to Providence for the reduction [from the Moors] under his dominion of a Rock and Castle so important, and almost impregnable’. Alexander Von Humboldt described Gibraltar’s prehistoric formation at the rupture between Eurasia and Africa as ‘ante-historical, or far beyond any human tradition’, a point to which, in 1867, then-Royal Geographical Society president Sir Roderick Impey Murchison agreed. H T Norris intertwined Gibraltar and its central position with the vivid, exotic life and travels of fourteenth century Arab explorer Ibn Battūtah, who described the peninsula in lush prose:

I walked round the mountain and saw the marvellous works executed on it by our master (the late Sultan of Morocco) Abu’l-Hassan, and the armament with which he equipped it, together with the additions made thereto by our master (Abū ‘Inān), may God strengthen him, and I should have like to remain as one of its defenders to the end of my days. 

Spain formally ceded Gibraltar to Great Britain in the Treaty of Utrecht (1713) – a peace which recognised the latter’s global ascendancy over the former’s empire. The Rock rapidly became a byword for British imperial power, the supposed stability of ‘Pax Britannica’, and – just as importantly – a slogan for the Empire’s geographical extremes. Scholars, explorers, and entrepreneurs turned to Gibraltar (or, at the very least, its image) to describe similar oceanic passages, strategic outposts and, albeit more recently, territorial-colonial disputes. ‘The best parallel I can give to tidal observation of Barrow Strait’, Sherard Osborn, for instance, argued in 1873, is that of the strait of Gibraltar…where the flood-tide flows into two enclosed seas from the Atlantic Ocean’. H H Johnston, visiting Stanley’s way stations along the Congo River, borrowed the colony’s importance and meaning to describe Franco-Italian competitor Pietro Paolo De Brazza’s attempts to control the Congo region:

Should De Brazza ever reach the Congo in his present expedition, and succeed in establishing himself at Mfwa, it is rumoured that he would like to take Calina Point and make it the Gibraltar of the [Stanley] Pool, and then with this fortified post and the station of Mfwa opposite he would be able to close, if necessary, the mouth of Stanley Pool where it commences to narrow into the rushing lower portion of the Congo.

In 1915, P M Sykes similarly invoked The Rock to describe Kala Márán, a mountain near the village of Pá Kala in Persia.

Gibraltar’s position extended far beyond the Mediterranean and European Atlantic. It proved to be an ideal replenishing site for expeditions in Africa, the Middle East, the Americas and, after the completion of the Suez Canal in 1869, the Indian Ocean. Writing in The Geographical Journal months before the outbreak of the First World War, Rudyard Kipling reduced the Britain-to-India route to four essential steps: ‘London-Gibraltar; Gibraltar – Port Said; Port Said – Aden; Aden – Bombay’. Its pivotal location also greatly aided British and allied efforts during the First and Second world wars, and in a number of Cold War-era conflicts, including Suez, Aden, Malaya, Dhofar, and the Falklands.

The Royal Geographical Society was quick to discuss the Gibraltar issue following Spanish dictator Francisco Franco’s decision in 1969 to close the border with the British colony. That year, John Naylon described how Spain intended to recover Gibraltar via the creation of an economic and social development around the peninsula: the so-called Campo de Gibraltar. Madrid indeed invested in the region’s growth, but Gibraltar steadfastly refused to revert to Spain.

books_icon Gilbard, G J, 1881, A Popular History of Gibraltar, Its Institutions, and Its Neighbourhood on Both Sides of the Straits, and a Guide Book to Their Principal Places and Objects of Interests, London, 52.

books_icon Kipling, R, 1914, ‘Some Aspects of Travel‘, The Geographical Journal43.4: 365-75.

books_icon Johnston, H H, 1883, ‘A Visit to Mr. Stanley’s Stations on the River Congo‘, Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography, New Monthly Series, 5.10: 569-81.

books_icon Murchison, R I, 1867, ‘Address to the Royal Geographical Society‘, Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London37: cxv-clix.

books_icon Naylon, J, ‘The Campo de Gibraltar Development Plan’, Area

books_icon Norris, H T, 1959, ‘Ibn Battūtah’s Andalusian Journey‘, The Geographical Journal125.2: 185-96.

books_icon Osborn, S, 1873, ‘On the Probable Existence of Unknown Lands within the Arctic Circle‘, Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of London17.3: 172-83.

books_icon Sykes, P M, 1915, ‘A Seventh Journey in Persia‘, The Geographical Journal45.5: 357-67.

60-world2 ‘On This Day: 1982: Spain’s Rock Blockade Ends‘, BBC News. 

60-world2 ‘Gibraltar: Talks on sovereignty discounted by UK and Spain’BBC News, 3 September 2013.

Libya: Bound in Europe’s Sphere

441px-Visita_del_RE_a_BengasiBy Benjamin Sacks

Libya’s struggles continue to haunt the international community. Well over a year after Muammar Muhammad al-Qaddafi’s death at the hands of rebels forces in Sirte, midway between Tripoli and Benghazi, militant and sectarian groups compete with each other for control of key provinces and national resources. Last Thursday, an estimated one hundred militiamen disrupted proceedings of the Libyan National Congress, protesting the government’s proposal to “purge Qaddafi-era officials from public office”. Militia leaders noted that they agreed with the proposal, but feared that the National Congress would seek to dilute the bill’s efficacy in order to protect their own interests. The British Embassy waded into the protests, reminding Libyan political groups that the National Congress must be allowed to conduct its business safely, democratically  and without harassment: “These people were chosen to represent Libya and it is important to give them space and security so that they may make their decisions”. The Embassy’s commentary was unsurprising, given both the United Kingdom’s recent involvement in the outcome of the Libyan Civil War, as well as Europe’s longstanding interest in Libya, its land, and peoples.

In the December 2012 issue of The Geographical Journal, James D Sidaway (University of Singapore) recounted Europe’s twentieth century predilection with Libya. His account artfully and succinctly contextualized Britain and France’s most recent intervention within the backdrop of often-complicated European-Libyan interests. Sidaway described Libya’s twentieth and twenty-first century geopolitics as “Subaltern”, deliberately borrowing from Joanne Sharp’s 2011 Geoforum article, where state regimes implement policies largely designed to sustain the regime’s survival, not dramatically enhance the populace’s welfare. Some of the blame for this, certainly, rested with Qaddafi’s egoistic desires to control Libya for the rest of his life (and beyond, through his sons). But the initial enthusiasm for his regime, and indeed the impetus behind his removal forty-odd years on, was to alter the nation’s relationship with Europe.

In the 1960s, Qaddafi took advantage of decades of nationalist anger against Europe and the United States to gain power. From the 1920s to the end of the Second World War, Libya was a proxy state under the control of Fascist Italy. Benito Mussolini envisioned Libya as the cornerstone in a “new Roman empire, by means of Italian settlement and planning and resting on the repression of all revolts and organised resistance” (297). Italian colonisation sought to impose European, not indigenous conceptions of order and society, a policy many Libyans continued to resent long after Mussolini’s capture and execution in 1945. But the end of international war did not mark the end of Libya’s entanglement with the West. After the Italian withdrawal, the British and American installed Idris, the Allied-backed leader of wartime Cyrenaica (eastern Libya), as the first monarch of the new Kingdom of Libya. “For the best part of [the next] two decades”, Sidaway argued, “Libya’s post-colonial trajectory was exemplary in the eyes of Western powers” (298). Idris’s foreign and domestic policies alike sought to maintain the elite’s status quo. Although Qaddafi radically shifted Libya’s path towards nationalism and secular Islamic authority after the 1969 coup, he too demonstrated a tendency to prioritise measures intended, first and foremost, to protect his regime’s stability vis-à-vis the West and its allies within Libya. Qaddafi’s Libya thus continued to be governed (and defined) as a response to European and American behaviour. Even as the Qaddafi regime slid towards collapse, its leader looked not to internal negotiations, but rather to Europe for a solution amenable, of course, to his interests (299). Support was not forthcoming, in part because the Libyan opposition revolted against Qaddafi, in part, because of his anti-Europe, anti-democratic stances. For better or worse, then, Libya has long been, and remains, in Europe’s strong gravitational pull.

The difficulty, as Sidaway reminded us, is that Libya’s complicated history, both with Europe and its African neighbours, has done much to erase memories of the region’s violent past (and present). In the 2008 festivities marking a formal rapprochement between Libya and Italy, for instance, few officials wished to discuss Qaddafi’s extensive human rights violations, or then-Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s leaked comments on the accord’s economic benefits.

60-world2 Chris Stephen, Libyan national congress attacked by rogue militiasThe Guardian, 7 March 2013.

books_icon James D Sidaway, 2012, Subaltern Geopolitics: Libya in the Mirror of EuropeThe Geographical Journal 178.4, 296-301.

books_icon N Barbour, 1950, The Arabs of Cyrenaica: Review, The Sanusi of Cyrenaica by E E Evans-PritchardThe Geographical Journal 115.1/3, 96-98.

Antarctica: Frozen Diplomacy

600px-Antarctica_6400px_from_Blue_MarbleBy Benjamin Sacks

On 18 December 2012, William Hague, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, announced that the southern portion of the British Antarctic Territory, spanning from the southern edges of the Ronne Ice Shelf to the South Pole, had been renamed in honour of Queen Elizabeth II. In celebration of the Diamond Jubilee, the 169,000 square mile, unpopulated region is twice the United Kingdom’s land area. There is considerable precedent for ceremoniously naming parts of Antarctica. Britain had previously named the the region near the Dumont d’Urville Sea George V Land, and Princess Elizabeth Land near Prydz Bay and the Amery Ice Shelf. Norway, which along with Britain was the chief explorer of Antarctica in the early twentieth century, named a large swath of the continent after its monarchs.

The legal framework behind Britain’s decision to rename a portion of its Antarctic territory is, to pardon the pun, ‘frozen’. Britain’s claim to much of West Antarctica is, like the claims of six other states, held in permanent limbo under the terms of Antarctic Treaty, safeguarding the continent against future development, which became active on 23 June 1961. As such, although Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, France, and Norway all made territorial claims, their respective holdings are not necessarily recognized by any other state, and all countries are free to conduct scientific research in any part of the continent.

It is important to keep in mind how little the world knew about Antarctica at the beginning of the twentieth century. In June 1963, Griffith Taylor, a surviving member of Robert Scott’s 1910 expedition, wrote in The Geographical Journal of some of the changes international teams had noted since his perilous journey over fifty years previously. Taylor recalled explorers’ differing geographical accounts, particularly over the length and breadth of continental mountain ranges and ice shelves. Other areas, including the Filchner Shelf, were all but unknown in 1910-14. Finally, and somewhat ominously, he predicted, but did not elaborate upon, the continent’s ‘probable disintegration’ (pp. 190-91).

Although uninhabited, Antarctica was long (and, indeed, continues to be) described within a colonial vocabulary. In part, this was because still so little was actually understood about the continent’s interior. In 1951, famed explored Vivian Fuchs described post-war British efforts in the region. The British were not simply exploring Antarctica, but rather a somewhat indeterminate British Antarctica, stretching vaguely down from the Falkland Islands. The maps, including that of Marguerite Bay, took on a creative, even farcical quality normally associated with the faded charts of early exploration (see. p. 402, for example).  But Fuchs’ report was also a clear piece of authoritative legitimation, a systematic chronology of British expeditions since 1945 acknowledging the United Kingdom’s Antarctic interests. Successive generations, including the (1984-85) Joint Services expedition, have continued this role to the present.

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Griffith Taylor, 1963, Probable Disintegration of Antarctica, The Geographical Journal 129 190-91.

books_icon Vivian E Fuchs, 1951, Exploration in British Antarctica, The Geographical Journal 117, 399-419.

books_icon Chris Furse, 1987, Joint Services Expedition to Brabant Island, Antarctica, 1984/85The Geographical Journal 153 1-10.

60-world2 UK to name part of Antarctica Queen Elizabeth Land, BBC News, 18 December 2012.

60-world2 The Antarctic TreatyNational Science Foundation: Office of Polar Programs, accessed 20 December 2012.