Dropbox, Dinner, and Debate: Or, How to Produce an Edited Volume

Prof. Despina Stratigakos

Following on from the successful and highly-engaging exploratory workshop held in September 2016, this August saw the second meeting towards the production of a new ‘Routledge Guide to Using Historical Sources’ aiming to offer an accessible introduction to the sources and methodologies of spatial history. This report will explore the different ways in which this proactive workshop helped to bring the volume closer to becoming a reality.

Dinner, the evening before work truly began, partly offered a social welcome to participants, some who had merely walked across town from the School of History in St Katharine’s Lodge, but several of whom had travelled to St Andrews via Edinburgh Airport from locations as far afield as Buffalo, USA. However, conversation turned almost immediately to the volume. Draft chapters had been circulated in advance via Dropbox, and many a greeting could be heard along the lines of “ah, so you’re so-and-so, I very much enjoyed your paper on such-and-such, and it made me think of…” This cross-dinner table discussion typified the collaborative, conversational tone of the following two days.

The initial workshop last September focussed on the sharing of preliminary ideas between a relatively small group of spatial scholars. The workshop this August saw not only the addition of new potential contributors to the volume – of whom more shortly – but also the welcome input of several external commentators. These scholars, all experts in their field, not only provided feedback on individual papers, but also offered their own perspectives on what space is, and what a historical introduction to spatial history as a subject should try to do.

Prof. Susanne Rau

SUSANNE RAU (Universität Erfurt), having quite literally written the book on space (Räume: Konzepte, Wahrehmungen, Nutzungen, 2013), helped to ground the conference in just these challenging questions. Whilst she challenged whether it is possible – or even useful – to attempt to define space, she emphasised that historians have the potential to ‘add value’ to discussions of the past through a consideration of how space is ‘produced’ (a process which can also be destructive), how our social relations are transformed and institutionalised through space, and the ways in which we can analyse the power relations behind the claims made to spaces through documents such as maps.

CHRISTOPH NÜBEL (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin) picked up this latter theme, pointing out that several papers shared the common theme of the appropriation of space, whether through economic activities or even in the construction of historical narratives. DIARMID FINNEGAN (Queen’s University Belfast) provided an interdisciplinary insight, suggesting that the fields of geography and spatial history have more in common than might be assumed at first glance in terms of the problems posed and the answers provided. He acknowledged, however, the value of ‘spatial history’ as a designator which brings together the figures of both space and time as categories for analysis.

As noted above, the number of participants grew significantly between the September and the August workshops. DESPINA STRATIGAKOS (University of Buffalo) provided a fascinating exploration of Hitler’s domestic spaces, utilising the floorplans (both ‘real’ and unrealised) for the Berghof, the dictator’s home in the Bavarian Alps. She brought the eyes of an architectural historian to bear on the question of how Hitler constructed and displayed this home space in the service of developing his image as a refined, educated world-leader.

Prof. Benjamin Schenk

Moving from the small scale of the floorplan to the national or even transnational scale of railway networks, FRITHJOF BENJAMIN SCHENK (Universität Basel) offered a consideration of – and indeed a proposed revision to – the history of infrastructure. He emphasised that traditional narratives suggest that, by enabling people to cross vast distances in relatively little time, developments such as trains served to integrate large territories such as Tsarist Russia. Schenck suggested that, by contrast, trains stratified society further, for example in physically separating socio-economic classes into different carriages, and by enabling greater population movement and correspondingly less national stability.

ANTONIS HADJIKYRIACOU (Boğaziçi University) explored both the promise and the pitfalls in utilising GIS to visualise historic economic data, focusing on the example of the 1572 fiscal survey of Cyprus. In common with TIM COLE (University of Bristol), who had attended the September workshop, and his new co-author ALBERTO GIORDANO (Texas State University), Hadjikyriacou emphasised the need to carefully interpret and curate data before inputting it into GIS, and the nature of visualisations as important analytical tools for the historian to build their work upon, rather than as straightforward ‘illustrations’ of results.

STÉPHANE VAN DAMME (European University Institute) and KATE FERRIS both brought questions of space to distinctive historical sub-disciplines: the urban history of science and the history of everyday spaces, respectively. Van Damme set out a historiographical narrative of the impact of the spatial turn upon the history of science and the metropolis, before considering the roles of ‘space’ and ‘place’ within the Scientific Revolution. Ferris took the discussion from telescopes to pint glasses with a case-study of bars in Fascist Italy, highlighting the ways in which they served as complex political spaces in which individuals might both express divergent views, and also suffer the regulation or observation of the regime.

The final new contribution, from ADAM CATHCART (University of Leeds), discussed the similarly ambivalent space of borderlands, with a focus on the Sino-Korean borderlands from 1931-1954. Cathcart emphasised the disjuncture between the reality of borders as sites which limit movement, and the focus – in both scholarship and popular fantasy – on movement across them.

In terms of attendees of the original workshop, BERNHARD STRUCK offered a more detailed analysis of German maps as ‘spatial text’, whilst JAMES KORANYI (Durham University) re-analysed travel guides as constructing mental, national space, and JORDAN GIRARDIN reminded us – in absentia, and via an excellent Youtube video – that travel accounts should be read ‘from a to z’, with attention to the traveller as an ever-moving space. MICHAEL TALBOT (University of Greenwich) returned to the ‘big blue wet’ problem of maritoriality, MARK HARRIS took the workshop back down the Amazon, and DAWN HOLLIS once more forced the spatial theorist Henri Lefebvre up a mountain. Finally, SARAH EASTERBY-SMITH and MATT YLITALO brought Michel Foucault’s concept of ‘heterotopia’ to bear on nineteenth-century whaling vessels as particularly complex and fluid spaces. (For more details on the initial ideas underlying all of these contributions, please see the previous workshop report).

Of course, from the perspective of participants at the two-day workshop, much of the above ‘discussion’ occurred between the pages of pre-circulated papers, with the bulk of the time together given over to in-depth discussion both of individual papers and of the volume as a whole. One participant lauded the ‘extraordinary process’ which this enabled, with the group returning again and again to questions of volume structure and how each chapter might meet the needs of our intended student reader until a general consensus was reached.

A particularly important discussion centred upon the question of inviting further contributions to the volume, with the communal wish-list for further areas of spatial history that could be covered reaching lengths that would exceed the page count of two or three volumes, let alone one. Several participants advocated passionately for a chapter focussing particularly on space and gender, whilst others argued that questions of gender and diversity more generally ought to be represented in as many papers as possible. The editors ultimately decided to follow both courses of action, and went away with a list of suggested authors to add further thematic range to an already broad volume.

The phrase ‘the editors decided’ is not, however, the note to end this report on, for what should really be emphasised about the workshop was its interactive, collaborative nature, with editors and contributors alike working to bring the intended volume another few steps closer to fruition. Pre-circulated papers, open discussion and debate, and above all a good meal all served to make the workshop an invigorating process for all involved and, most importantly, an effective stage in the long journey of producing an edited volume.

Seminar: Legal Flows – Crimes against Humanity

On Monday 25 September 2017, we will be welcoming Dr Kerstin von Lingen (Heidelberg). Kerstin von Lingen will be giving a paper entitled “Legal Flows: Crimes against Humanity in Transnational Legal Thought, 1899-1945”.

War Crimes Commission August 1945

The paper addresses the normative framework of the concept of ‘Crimes against Humanity’ from an intellectual history perspective, by scrutinizing legal debates of marginalized (and exiled) academic-juridical actors within the United Nations War Crimes Commission (UNWCC). Decisive for the successful implementation were two factors: the growing scale of mass violence against civilians during the Second World War, as well as the support by ‘peripheral actors’, jurists forced into exile at London by the war. The latter group united smaller Allied countries from around the world, who used the commission’s work to push for a codification of international law, which finally materialized during the London Conference of August 1945. To study the process of mediation and emergence of legal concepts, I propose to speak of ‘legal flows’, to highlight the different strands and older traditions of humanitarian law involved in coining new law. The global experience of exile thereby has a significant constitutive function.

Dr Kerstin von Lingen is a Research Fellow at the Heidelberg Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context”. She is the Principal Investigator of the Research Group “Transcultural Justice. Legal Flows and the Emergence of International Justice within the East Asian War Crimes Trials, 1946-1954”.

Time & Venue: 5.15pm, Room 1.10 – School of History, St Katharine’s Lodge, St Andrews

 

Space and Place in the work of Yi-Fu Tuan

This posting is the first of three offering a reading of the work of the geographer Yi-Fu Tuan from a historian’s perspective. I hope to follow it with a series of similar postings on other scholars that may offer us productive ways to think about spatial history, or in other cases, avoid some of the pitfalls along the way. Historians who are interested in issues related to space are presented with a bounty of potential inspiration when it comes to theoretical work, much of which will draw them to reading works outside their own discipline. Philosophers and other thinkers who fit uncomfortably into any single disciplinary category are found in great number, while perhaps the most intuitively natural disciplinary home for thinking about space, geography doesn’t have much claim to a monopoly or dominance. If we take one volume that explores some of the most influential thinkers, Thinking Space (2000), for example, we find that both the editors, Mike Crang and Nigel Thrift, and a majority of the work’s authors are themselves geographers or find their institutional home among them, but not a single one of the sixteen thinkers considered by its chapters are. The Sage collection of 66 essays introducing Key Thinkers on Space and Place delivers a slight majority of its pieces on geographers, but also reveals the impressive interdisciplinary range of scholars who have made important contributions to thinking about space.

In the case of Thinking Space, which brings Walter Benjamin, Deleuze, Frantz Fanon, Bruno Latour and others under one roof, we see a good example of the important role of active communities of later scholars reading, reinterpreting and drawing out the spatial implications of this or that thinker and exploring the potential of applying these ideas in their work in circumstances where the original set of thinkers were not necessarily in conversation with each other about these ideas either directly or in their own work. By contrast, when it comes to reflecting on space, place, and the many problems that go along with it, histories of geography as a discipline by Richard Peet and David Livingstone or in more recently published companions aimed at students suggest that the more confined disciplinary space among geographers has yielded particularly dense set of patterns, trends, widely recognised interventions and, most of all, mutual encounters among thinkers. This shows how disciplinary space can as much enable intense and fruitful interaction even as the boundaries between them inhibit them.1

Below I want to introduce Tuan and what draws me to his work. I will devote a second posting on Tuan to consider him more critically, focusing on two features that I suspect many historians would find troubling: the relative little attention to change on the one hand, and to either human agency or social structures in bringing about the spatial practices that he describes. Finally, in a third posting, I want to say a bit more about the style of argument that Tuan uses, his consistently concrete, empirical, and engaging writing style, and then revisit some of the features of his approach that I think continue to make him interesting to read today.

Yi-Fu Tuan is an emeritus professor at the University of Wisconsin and often described as a key proponent of what he called a “humanistic geography.” When Tuan sets out the answer exactly what that means in the widely cited article he wrote under that title, he calls for them to turn their gaze away from what he sees as the “dogmatic” scientific approaches in which a “former liberator becomes censor.” It is not a rejection of such approaches, but more a lament that these approaches “circumscribe the appropriate language of discourse concerning man.”2 Instead, a humanistic geographer is to pay closer attention to geographic phenomena and human awareness, to take the risk and “perceive intention” where others see only objective forces, to take more seriously emotions of attachment to place, and to celebrate the power of human initiative to “break out of habitual modes” and clarify concepts and symbols related to space.3

In this manifesto for a field of geography Tuan speaks confidently of it in terms that suggest it already exists, and in a sense it was beginning to. Edward Relph’s similarly inspired Place and Placelessness comes out the same year with a complex framework and analysis of the “modes of spacial experience” while Anne Buttimer’s work would count among the humanistic geographers of the decade. Like Relph, Tuan describes the practice of humanistic geography in phenomenological terms but conflates this as the fruitful gamble of the humanist approach in general, “The humanist runs the risk of paying excessive attention to beginnings,” a phrase which could have been easily found in the opening pages of Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, where he describes his phenomenological approach to space as, “a consideration of the onset of the image in an individual consciousness” or later phenomenology of space an approach which “liquidates the past and confronts what is new.”4 This was not the first time Tuan had written like this: in an also widely cited 1971 article on geography, phenomenology, and human nature, Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, and indeed Bachelard’s Poetics of Space itself all make their appearance but without any engagement with any of their ideas in detail.5 In this earlier article we find his goal stated in its boldest and perhaps most problematic early version: Tuan believes that a phenomenological approach will allow the identification of human essences, and allow for a “geography as the mirror for man” or which “reveals man” (by now you will have spotted the gendered nature of these identifications). Whereas Bachelard offers corners, miniature, and shells, for example, Tuan in this article suggests exploring the spatial secrets of “back” and “front,” of “home” and “journey” (in Space and Place one can find way stations between these two as critical) among others, and suggests that only by looking at humanity’s basic responses to the world through spatial concepts such as this will a geographer capture things which statistic approaches fail to deliver, as when, for example, one attempts to use statistics on visits to nature parks as a measure for human interest in nature.

These two articles are perhaps the most cited of his works, but were closer to proclamations than demonstrations. For the latter you could turn to his now long list of books including Topophilia: a Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes, and Values (1974) and the work that I will focus most on in these postings, Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience (1977). In this work he gives a clear set of definitions for his two main concepts and then, in a thematic approach explores the awareness and response to them in major realms of human experience. In the introduction to a 2001 edited volume dedicated to Tuan on humanistic geography Textures of Place the excitement and “groundswell” that was produced by Yi-Fu Tuan’s scholarship inspired what would come to be recognized as “Tuanian” work. This movement is described in glowing terms even as the book goes on to describe the many limitations of its framing in its early days. On the other hand, the roughly identifiable cluster of humanistic geographies appear to have largely ceased to go by that term by the 1980s, it argues, and the rise of cultural geography, contextualist approaches, and “critical humanist geographies” took its place.6

So what drew me to Tuan’s work if, in some sense, the peak of its particular approach came in the unique moment of disciplinary transformation within geography of the 1970s and was then absorbed and developed in new decorations in the decade that followed? A few of the things I found most impressive were: 1) the inspiring breadth – pick up a work by Yi-Fu Tuan and flip through it, not even skimming full sentences, and you will be immediately struck by the sheer cosmic scale of his approach. He shifts smoothly from quoting Kant on the heavens to the spatial practices of Eskimo on the hunt or describing the ventilated homes of termites – all in a way that never looses the plot. We’ll come back to the dangers of this kind of approach, but the experience for the reader is breathtaking and sets the mind on fire with ideas. 2) the range of sources – a related point are the sources he draws this from. A good majority comes from anthropology, but psychology, architecture, literature, philosophy, and the hard sciences are all taken up and woven together in an impressive way and brings me to 3) the readability – many of the ideas that Tuan is interested in are abstract, such as the experience of time, the ability to perceive and analyse space and the relation of this to culture, but Tuan’s works are extremely readable, not only accessible to a general reader, but it is, I would argue, possible to pick up Tuan at any point in his Space and Place and almost immediately be pulled in. While I very often found myself protesting at the conclusions Tuan is drawn to, I think there is considerable value in the way that the highly concrete examples Tuan uses continually provokes the reader to engage in reflection. Even if that reflection results in protest, it often inspires new ideas for a researcher. Enough for now, but in the next posting I’ll consider Space and Place in more detail and turn to some of its problematic aspects.


  1. Richard Peet’s Modern Geographical Thought (1998), David Livingstone The Geographical Tradition (1992), and examples of companions include Blackwell’s A Companion to Cultural Geography ed. by James S Duncan, Nuala C. Johnson and Richard H. Schein (2008) and Approaches to Human Geography edited by Stuart C. Aitken and Gill Valentine (2015)
  2. Tuan, Yi-Fu. “Humanistic Geography.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 66, no. 2 (1976): 266.
  3. Ibid., 267, 273
  4. Gaston Bachelard The Poetics of Space Beacon (1994), xix, xxxii.
  5. Tuan, Yi-Fu. “Geography, Phenomenology, And The Study Of Human Nature.” The Canadian Geographer / Le Géographe Canadien 15, no. 3 (September 1, 1971): 181–92.
  6. Adams, Paul. Textures Of Place: Exploring Humanist Geographies. Minneapolis: Univ Of Minnesota Press, 2001, xiv, xvi.

A Museum, World War II, and Entangled Politics. A view from Gdańsk

Should state-funded museums focus on the past of one nation, or should they open up their exhibitions to incorporate history of an entire region or even the whole world? Should borders of nation states converge with the borders of a museum’s exhibition? Who is the target audience of a state-funded museum: that state’s citizens or foreign tourists? Or maybe both groups?

These questions probably give headaches to all museum curators – especially in the century of Skype, Ryanair, the EU and electronic visas, when both historical research and museum audiences are increasingly less constrained by borders. These issues became of particular importance to the scholars and staff at the recently opened Museum of the Second World War in Gdańsk, Poland (incidentally, as a middle school student I interned in the very same museum). The staff not only had to tackle issues related to the exhibition, which opened to the public in March 2017, but also found themselves in the middle of a political struggle.

Museum of the Second World War, Gdańsk

On the surface, the conflict was between the liberals, who set up the museum in 2008, and the conservatives, who after an electoral victory in 2015 attempted to change the museum’s leadership and vision. However, the key questions, even if no-one framed them in such terms, were: Can a transnational and global approach to history deepen one’s understanding of the past and the present? And how do historians communicate such a new approach to a non-academic audience?

Up until the 1990s, history was studied almost exclusively from a “national” perspective. Borders of states defined the parameters of scholarship. Even those areas of history that by their nature called for a transnational approach – such as migration, colonialism or national minorities – were approached primarily through the prism of nation-states. Similarly, comparative history focused on phenomena happening in various nation-states, and boundaries were still treated as given.[1] This started to change in the 1990s,[2] when some historians (mainly) in America and Western Europe turned to investigating cross-border relations involving both state actors and non-state individuals (e.g. scientists), groups (e.g. migrants), and organisations (e.g. NGOs). Such an approach has been termed “transnational history” (although the concept still awaits a precise definition).[3]

Unsurprisingly, this new approach is primarily used to study phenomena which in an obvious way cross borders; these include trade, migration, or transfers of ideas and scholarship.[4] It is worthy of note that transnational history, a novel approach in itself, can be more easily applied to (relatively) new areas of historical research – such as those listed above – than to well-established fields – such as political history – which still tend to be analysed from a national perspective.[5]

In Poland, a transnational approach to history is an even greater novelty than in the West. As part of the undergraduate research assistantship programme I looked into the current status of transnational history in Polish academia and discovered that this approach appeared in Polish journals and research projects only recently: it was “imported” from the West. My survey of articles published in the past five years in major Polish historical journals [6] shows that works which mention transnational history or utilising a transnational approach are, with a few notable exceptions, authored by either foreign scholars publishing in Poland or Polish scholars educated and / or working abroad.

The latter are mostly younger scholars, such as Kornelia Kończal and Lidia Jurek (both educated as PhD candidates at EUI in Florence, an institute which has strong ties to the ITSH at St Andrews). Just like in “Western” academia, a transnational approach (even though not always labelled as such) tends to be more acceptable when applied to newer areas of historical research, such as environmental history,[7] than when used by political or military historians. Interestingly, the first written mention of transnational history that I managed to find is not in an academic journal, but on the popular Polish news and blogging website onet.pl. In the 2009 article ‘National history in a supranational perspective’ Marcin Kula, a historian based in Warsaw, shows how one’s understanding of Polish history can be expanded through studying it in a comparative and transnational perspective. Interestingly, Kula mentions that this is precisely what the general public will be able to learn in the (then-under-construction) Museum of the Second World War.[8]

This brings me back to the much debated Museum. When Kula published his article, a liberal government was sponsoring a museum that strove to present a comparative and transnational interpretation of the war to the broader public, from both Poland and abroad. After a change of government in 2015, a shift in the museum’s strategy was supposed to follow. This is because history, patriotism and identity in Poland are very strongly tied to one another. As a result, history is of considerable importance to people, both in their political choices and private lives. National history’s natural allies are the conservatives, who subscribe to a “national” (Polish) identity.

Transnational history, in contrast, tends to find supporters among liberals who generally identify not only with the Polish nation, but also with the broader European or world community, forging a “transnational” identity which crosses borders of nation states. This is not to simplify the Polish political stage to “conservatives” and “liberals” – every politician and every voter has his or her own perspective on politics, history and identity. I also do not believe the struggle between Poland’s two main political parties can be brought down to their support of or opposition towards “transnational” history (even though historians are, admittedly, overrepresented in Polish parliament). However, it is one of the factors worth remembering when analysing the “politics of history” in Central and Eastern Europe.

Should the Museum of Second World War in Gdańsk be “national” or “transnational”? Opinions on this matter vastly differ. It is worthy of note, however, that for legal reasons the new conservative government did not manage to introduce changes to the exhibition. Since the Museum – perhaps the first “transnational” museum in Poland – opened its doors in March 2017, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Surprisingly this includes the enthusiasm of some conservatives, such as senator Anna Maria Anders, which may be interpreted as a hint that the exhibition will not change much in the foreseeable future.[9] Does the museum’s “transnational” approach work? Well, see for yourselves: Gdańsk is easily accessible by plane, and the entrance fee is approx. 5 pounds. I’m going there this Saturday.

by Tadek Wojtych, University of St Andrews

tadek.wojtych@gmail.com

 

[1] Ian Tyrrell, What is transnational history?, January 2007, <https://iantyrrell.wordpress.com/what-is-transnational-history/> [2 March 2017].

[2] Klaus Kiran Patel, Transnational History, 3 March 2010, <http://ieg-ego.eu/en/threads/theories-and-methods/transnational-history> [13 May 2017], par. 2.

[3] Ibid., par. 4.

[4] Davide Rodogno, Struck, Bernhard and Vogel, Jakob, ‘Introduction’ in Davide Rodogno, Bernhard Struck and Jakob Vogel (eds), Shaping the Transnational Sphere: Experts, Networks and Issues from the 1840s to the 1930s (New York and Oxford, 2015), p. 5.

[5] Patel, Transnational History, par. 2.

[6] I surveyed Acta Poloniae Historica (2012-2016), Kwartalnik Historyczny (2010-2014), Klio Polska (2012-2016) and Przegląd Nauk Historycznych (2011-2016). I also looked at Biuletyn Historii Pogranicza (2008-2013) because of its focus on borderlands.

[7] Edmund Kizik, ‘Review of Kommunikation der Pest. Seestädte des Ostseeraums und die Bedrohung durch die Seuche 1708–1713 by Carl Christian Wahrmann‘, Acta Poloniae Historica 107 (2013), pp. 225-31.

[8] Marcin Kula, Historia narodowa w ponadnarodowej perspektywie, 5 October 2009, <http://wiadomosci.onet.pl/kiosk/historia-narodowa-w-ponadnarodowej-perspektywie/9l5hl> [2 March 2017].

[9] ‘Córka gen. Andersa o Muzeum II Wojny Światowej: „Fascynujące, świetnie zrobione”’, wyborcza.pl, 23 April 2017 <https://goo.gl/QdyUGz> [17 May 2017].

Reflections: Beyond Thriller in Spatial History

The ‘spatial turn’ has come to history in waves, and since the term carries multiple meanings, it has sent historians off in a number of directions with a new, or renewed appreciation for space. With some exceptions, the theoretical engagement has still been relatively limited – or at least relatively recent, when compared to fields such as anthropology, art history, sociology, literary studies, urban studies, and most of all geography. A student in the UK or the United States may well complete their undergraduate degree in history with only the opportunity to explicitly think about space in the abstract through the reading of Edward Said’s Orientalism, and since the work doesn’t not frame itself in such blunt or limited terms, this reading may not come to mind as one way to approach spatial history. Beyond this, for theoretical inspiration, we turn to Henri Lefebvre with ready enthusiasm (or else direct that enthusiasm to the few secondary works that can help explain him to us), dive into our notes on Foucault, and revisit our favourite forty pages of Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life.

I have not found it particularly unusual to encounter spatially interested historical scholarship exclusively embracing the terms, assumptions, and frameworks of theoretical scholarship published before the début of Michael Jackson’s album “Thriller” nearly thirty five years ago. I am reminded of a historian who excitedly introduced, at great length, the apparently innovative idea of a “public sphere” explored by one Jürgen Habermas, and applied it mechanically to the development of late Meiji period discursive space in Japan. One complaint I heard afterwards showed exasperation for any such use of “theory” in a “history” talk, but a horrified sociologist sitting next to me looked like she had dropped in on a telecommunications conference to find a key speaker demonstrating the use of the telegraphic Baudot code in the encoding of email messages. For the speaker, the term “public sphere” and one proposed way to theorize it some fifty years ago was embraced as a hammer of solid unrusted metal, with the source material a nail. Wack! And the work is done.

The tragedy here is not the embarrassment at discovering that we are wearing clothes that are out of fashion. In one way, it is closer to the opposite, it is the desperate grasp for an approach ready-at-hand itself that is a little sad to witness – the reach for something shiny protruding from the toolbox and immediately, uncritically, putting it to work. It is completely understandable, of course. As historians, many of us are often deep in our own source material or a gripping project of the moment, and can barely follow developments in our increasingly specialized fields, let alone find the time to take a crack at a rich and varied literature on the theoretical issues that hang like shadows over the fundamental assumptions, categories, and arguments in our work. The temptation then is to find a big name, a well-cited text, a tuple of concepts, a juicy frame – and then never look back. What is lost are the gains from making even some limited effort to explore classic theoretical questions in the context of a broader conversation, in a comparison with several voices from a time, or the development or rejection of particular approaches by other thinkers in the years thereafter – not only in the field they originated in, whether geography, philosophy, anthropology etc., but as they crossed disciplinary boundaries. In other words, to take theory seriously.

Unless you embrace a positivist history that peers transparently at the past, undisturbed by any distracting epistemological doubt, failure to take theory seriously comes at the cost of unexamined assumptions and lost opportunities to put our own scholarship into conversation across disciplinary boundaries. Limiting ourselves to spatial history, for example, if asked questions with such interdisciplinary interest as, “What is space?” “In what ways is it abstract or concrete?” “To what extent is it something experienced and/or the product of representation?” “What forms does it take?” “How does it come to be?” “What is its relationship to time?” “What is its relationship to culture? To gender? To economic structures? To the domestic and intimate? To politics and power?” “Why does it matter?” “What is place? What is its relationship to space?” we may have thought at some greater length about one or several of these questions as they pertain to our own problems of interest. We may know what a single favourite classic text had to say about this. We are likely to have come across historical work that engages with it in a deeply empirical way. But I believe that we often undervalue the time spent on the hard work of wrestling with not one or two towering classics in order to deploy them, but tracing the echoes of these often theoretically heavy works forward to consider the critiques and development of these ideas in the years beyond – especially the long afterlives of pre-Thriller classics. In other words, rather than just reaching for a knife and returning to our work, step into the kitchen and spend a little more time with the cooks of multiple shifts. Appreciate and refuse to be overwhelmed at the multiplicity of approaches, and feel no need to return to your work married to any one final answer.

In a few upcoming posts here in the coming months, I want to occasionally practice what I preach and share one historian’s reading of some of the broader literature on space. With a few initial exceptions, I want include works beyond the 1970s, “beyond Thriller” and the 1980s, and reflect on some the critiques of earlier work that we can find there. I’ll begin this summer, with a few postings on the pre-Thriller works of the “humanistic geographer” Yi-Fu Tuan, and the Japanese ethnographer Kon Wajirō.

Student Reflections: Skills in Transnational History Module

This guest posting is by Katherine Bellamy, who completed the MLitt in Transnational, Global and Spatial History in 2016 with the dissertation “Ninnimissinouk Networks: The Endurance of Identity in a Transnational Context.” Katherine showed particular aptitude and a well-rewarded curiosity in the skills component of the programme, and made use of geographic analysis, network visualisations, and also impressively mastered some particularly challenging ‘regular expression’ high wizardry to extract and clean data from historical databases. We have invited her to share her experiences.

Katherine

The Skills in Transnational History module proved to be a valuable opportunity for me to explore my interests in the digital humanities, in a way which complemented the broader themes of transnational history. We explored numerous avenues open to historians wishing to pursue digital methods, including the use of GIS (Geographic Information Systems) software as a tool for analysing historic and geographic data. Having previously used GIS myself, though in a purely geographical context, the opportunity to use this tool in a historical context was of particular interest to me. My first project for this module aimed to present John Murra’s theory of the ‘vertical archipelago’ in the Andes with a GIS map. I had initially planned to utilise both climatic and agricultural data from Alexander Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland’s 1805 map, Géographie des Plantes Equinoxales, but ultimately chose to omit the agricultural data as there was no clear way to show the significant variations across different altitudinal ranges. This meant I was unable to clearly demonstrate Murra’s link between the varying agricultural production zones, ecological zones, and settlements as I had first hoped. The first of my final maps depicted the average temperature and population figures within key intendancies, aiming to demonstrate any correlation between population size and environmental circumstance (though the result suggested large population sizes could be sustained at both ends of the spectrum); the second map depicted the altitude of the cities associated with the intendancies of the previous map, alongside the varied vegetation zones within the Andes.

 

These maps drew on various sources, including the aforementioned 1805 Géographie (providing temperature data); an 1875 map of South America authored by Louis Stanislas D’Arcy Delarochette (from which I identified the intendancies/cities depicted on the maps); and an 1822 map of Peru which I georeferenced in order to establish accurate contemporary boundaries.

Whilst the georeference was not entirely precise, it allowed me to create an additional polygon within the GIS software to represent the area of the Arequipa region which previously extended beyond current boundaries. Neither map is by any means perfect, both as a result of inherent issues with map creation (all maps lie!), as well as the broader problems associated with utilising largely qualitative historic data in a quantitative setting. The lack of detailed, accurate quantitative data created difficulties throughout the process of creating these maps.

Good data is of the utmost importance when pursuing these research methods. For the second assignment, which focused on the application of other key skills learnt in the module – namely the creation of relational databases and/or social network analysis – I was able to utilise data which was more appropriate. The source of my basic dataset was a list of 2,855 employees of the Hudson Bay Company (roughly ranging from the mid-eighteenth to mid-twentieth centuries), which included employee names, dates of birth, dates of death, and dates active with the HBC. This relatively rich dataset offered the potential for a substantial database, and even some network analysis. However, the amount of information available for each employee varied significantly, nor was the ordering consistent. As such, I utilised regular expressions in order to limit my selection to only those employees who had complete date ranges, and then further narrowed my selection to include only those active between 1821 (when the North West Company and HBC merged) and 1860. I was left with a list of 211 employees, and pdfs corresponding to each employee with further biographical details and their various postings with the HBC. Inputting all this data into a LibreOffice database, I created a form linking the basic biographical information (obtained from using regular expressions) to the more detailed position information (from the pdfs). On a larger scale, a digital humanities approach could yield valuable results, through the creation of a searchable database, displaying biographical information alongside each individual’s career history with the HBC. I had personally hoped to create some form of social network graph utilising this data, but was unable to do so due to time constraints and the nature of the data. Instead, I used the data to create a series of QGIS maps which depicted key HBC post locations, and how frequently these posts were mentioned over the course of the nineteenth century.

Whilst I was faced with obstacles which often prevented me from achieving what I had initially planned to show, the process of dealing with these challenges in this course proved immensely useful for me. Not only did it demonstrate the challenges faced more broadly by historians wishing to adopt digital humanities methods, it also improved my knowledge and understanding of these tools, and, critically, the best way to utilise them. The digital humanities have been viewed with a certain degree of scepticism, yet it is important to recognise that, when applied correctly, the results of adopting these tools can be extremely rewarding. Ongoing projects such as Stanford University’s Spatial History Project, and the University of St Andrews’ own Digital Humanities Network, continue to demonstrate the value of adopting this interdisciplinary approach, utilising innovative methods to yield results which enrich historical enquiry.

Map Sources

– Alexander Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland, ‘Géographie des Plantes Equinoxiales(1805, Langlois)
– Louis Stanislas D’Arcy Delarochette, ‘Map of South America’, (1875, James Wyld)
– C. Carey and I. Lea, ‘Map of Peru’ (1822, H. C. Carey and I. Lea)

Student Reflections: Antonino Scalia

Antonino Scalia, who joined us from Sicily, completed the MLitt in Transnational, Global and Spatial History in 2016. His coursework included a study of the impact and reception of the Greek Colonels coup in Italian culture and research on the manifestation of Palestinian causes in Italian theatre. In the skills module, he developed maps that visualised the distribution of political violence in Italy, 1969-1982, and developed a historical database of 588 Italian left-wing prisoners in order explore connections between across a range of attributes. He completed the degree with a masters dissertation entitled, “Encounters across borders. Left-wing Italian and Greek activists (1967-1974)”

My experience as a former student in the MLitt in Transnational, Global and Spatial History has been highly positive because of the welcoming environment, the stimulating style of teaching (and learning) and the fitting training it provided to meet the challenges of 21st History writing.

To start with human relations, in my view the friendly course’s staff attitude towards students was both able to mitigate stress from academic work and boost the quality of scientific output. In fact, being treated on an informal and equal basis worked for me as a strong incentive and help to overcome initial anxieties, insecurities and obstacles that derived from being accustomed to a totally different educational system. Moreover, the Master’s experience proven to me just how much the quality of research also depends on the quality of dialogue with other scholars. Therefore, a welcoming environment such as the one that is found at the School of History in St Katharine’s Lodge was also conducive to raising the level of one’s scholarly performance.

A second major strength of the Mlitt, which is solidly grounded on its friendly atmosphere, is its style of teaching, which is based on discussion and collaboration as an approach for progressing in historical research. Classes, seminars, writing workshops and “surgery hours” have been fruitful moments of debate with lecturers and other students. It resulted very often in the development of new ideas or the refinement of old ones. The countless chances for dialogue offered by the programme – even in form of one-to-one conversations – profoundly contributed to my intellectual progress.

Antonino (Antonio)

Finally, the formula could not have been completed if the relaxed, fertile atmosphere and the attention to dialogue had not been combined with a serious training. This included, amongst others, an emphasis on theoretical approaches to history, the teaching of cutting-edge methodologies and the study of a very large set of subjects. Particularly, the considerable importance given to theoretical issues made me fully aware that historical writing must first and foremost include a strong reflexive component. Also, research about the past is a practical undertaking and the introduction to innovative methods such as the ones connected with digital humanities (maps and databases) kept me and my colleagues in pace with the on-going, rapid transformations that the discipline is experiencing.  Finally the multiple geographical and thematic areas covered by the Mlitt’s lecturers are important tools for becoming global and/or transnational historians in the full sense of these words. Indeed, I think that  these approaches require intellectual curiosity and the will to find inspirations in realms which are (even if only apparently) far away from one’s own interests.

After this year in the MLitt, I am persuaded that the combination of each of the abovementioned elements has positively influenced my evolution as a scholar. As a result, I would highly recommend the master program to anyone who, like me, intends to pursue a career in historical research.

Botany and Empires across the Oceans

As part of our Research Seminar series Dr Sarah Easterby-Smith (St Andrews) will be speaking on: “Gathering green gold. Botany and the French Empire in the eighteenth-century Indian Ocean”

Time and Venue: Monday 3 April 2017, 4.30pm, room 1.10, St Katharine’s Lodge, School of History

Abstract: Botany is a brilliant subject for global history. Enlightenment botanists were

Hand coloured plate from Johann S Kerner’s eighteenth-century book ‘Beschreibung und Abbildung der Bäume und Gestrauche’.

fixated on transferring information and objects across large distances and they forged connections with a wide array of practitioners in order to do so. Plants, too, were considered central to economic development, and botanical collectors were often commissioned to work on schemes intended to further imperial aspirations. This paper discusses two aspects of eighteenth-century botanical collecting. Firstly, it assesses the activities of French botanical collectors in the Indian Ocean, examining their work in relation to that of other imperial powers. Secondly, the paper considers the examples discussed above from a historiographical perspective, to question what (if anything) microhistorical studies can offer more broadly to global history.

 

Symphonic war entanglements

The ITSH warmly welcomes a new PhD researcher: Percy Leung. Percy started his PhD project on “Symphonic Beneficence. The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra during the First World War” in January 2017, under the supervision of Professor Frank Müller. Percy is originally from Hong Kong, he has received a BA in Combined Honours in Arts (History, Music, Politics & International Relations) from Durham University and a M.Phil. in Music Studies from the University of Cambridge.

Percy Leung

Here is what Percy says about his project:

“I am deeply passionate about the relationship between music and politics. My undergraduate dissertation explores the contradictions and paradoxes of the Nazis’ cultural policies, whereas my masters’ dissertation is essentially a comparative analysis on the Soviet Union’s and the United States’ cultural policies on music in post-war occupied Germany between 1945 and 1947. It focuses on these two Cold War superpowers’ efforts in reconstructing the German musical life after the collapse of the Third Reich, as well as on their Denazification policies on German musicians.” Read more on his project here.

Japan and World History

The School of History and the ITSH are proud to host Professor Carol Gluck (Columbia University) as part of our Modern History Research Seminar Series. Professor Gluck will be speaking on “Modernity in Common. Japan and World History”. 

This lecture is based on the dual assumption that just as one cannot tell the modern history of any society in isolation from the world, the history of the modern world can in fact be grasped from the vantage point of any place on the globe. In this instance, the place is Japan. One of a “globeful of modernities” Japan shares commonalities and connections with other modern societies. At the same time it offers the opportunity to develop ideas about the “modern” based on empirical evidence different from the European experiences that underlay earlier theories of modernity. Here I examine four questions frequently asked about modern Japanese history, from the nineteenth century until the present, in order to see how they appear when viewed in a global context — in the context of “modernity in common.”

Monday, 20 February 2017, 5pm, Venue: School II (St Salvator Quad)

The event is co-organised with the Japan Society, St Andrews. Following Professor Gluck’s talk, there will be a reception in room 54 (St Salvator, Quad).