Statistical nodes and circulations around 1800

Research Seminar Paper 

Adam Dunn (University of St Andrews)

From words to numbers and maps. Transfers, networks and the transformations of statistical thinking in Britain and the German lands, c. 1750s-1840s

This talk will explore the changes, evolution and developments of statistical thinking from the eighteenth to the nineteenth century. It will argue that the form, function and theory of statistical thought changed from a descriptive, narrative, mode to a more mathematical, visual, mode. Taking Sir John Sinclair as its lead the talk will argue that the work of amateur statisticians, working beyond or on the margins of state mechanisms, played a crucial part in this development. It will argue that Sinclair not only made significant methodological and theoretical leaps forward, but also that he was aided in these developments and spreading his ideas by the vast transnational network he established through travel and correspondence.

Time & Venue: Monday, 5 February 2018, 5.15pm, Room 1.10 St Katharine’s Lodge, University of St Andrews 

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 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


[1] Ian Tyrrell, What is transnational history?, January 2007, <> [2 March 2017].

[2] Klaus Kiran Patel, Transnational History, 3 March 2010, <> [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, <> [2 March 2017].

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

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).

5th GRAINES summer school: Sharpen your digital edge & tools

GRAINES Summer School: History and its sources – after the Digital Turn

Call for Applications

The Graduate Interdisciplinary Network for European Studies (GRAINES) is now inviting applications for its upcoming 5th GRAINES Summer School “History and its sources – after the digital turn”. The event will be of particular interest to PhD students who are looking to explore the implications of digital history – qualitative and quantitative – for their own projects.

GRAINES summer school, St Andrews 2015

GRAINES summer school, St Andrews 2015

The programme will provide opportunities to present and discuss research projects which involve source criticism after the digital turn, i.e. digital approaches to collecting sources and the application of digital technology to analyse these. Further topics of discussion will include qualitative or critical approaches examining the relationship between quantification and the digital turn, such as the history of statistics.

There will be four main thematic sessions addressing various fields of digital history, including databases as a tool for collecting and analysing sources; computational text analysis; geographical information systems (GIS); and approaches to quantitative and statistical history. Participants will have the opportunity to discuss the relevance of digital approaches for their own research, and propose topics for discussion groups.

The GRAINES Summer School particularly invites projects in the fields of European History and Global History from the Middle Ages to the present.

When & Where

Tuesday 5 September (6pm) – Friday 8 September (2pm)

Department of History, University of Basel


The participation fee of € 200 also covers board and accommodation. Please note applications should be submitted by 31 March 2017 via In justified cases, applicants can apply to be exempted from the participation fee. The number of participants is limited.


Organised by the Basel Graduate School of History and the GRAINES network. For questions, please contact Dr Roberto Sala, co-ordinator of the Basel Graduate School of History:


Qing China – between walls and the maritime world

Professor Yang-wen Zheng (University of Manchester) 
Wind of the West Ocean [西洋风]: How the Maritime World Shaped Modern China 
ITSH and Modern History Seminar Series
Time and Venue:
Monday, 30 January 2017, room 1.10, School of History, St Andrews (St Katherine’s Lodge, The Scores)
Generations of Chinese scholars have made China’s frontiers synonymous with the Great Wall and presented its civilization as fundamentally land-bound. I have challenged this perspective, demonstrating that China was not a “Walled Kingdom”, certainly not since the Yongjia Disturbance in 311.  China reached out to the maritime world far more actively than historians have acknowledged, while the seas and what came from the seas-from Islam, fragrances and Jesuits to maize, opium and clocks—significantly changed the course of history, and have been of inestimable importance to China since the Ming. 
It is time we integrate the maritime history of China, a subject which has hitherto languished on the periphery of Chinese studies, into the mainstream of current historical narrative. This talk focuses on the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) when China’s maritime trade pattern changed as its imports shifted from luxuries catering to the court and elite, as they had done since the Han-Tang era, to mundane consumer items.  This change began in the latter half of the Ming and became obvious during the Qing.  What led to this change and what can we learn from it?  From what the Chinese wear to what they eat, chew, drink and smoke, from how they live to the ways in which they move themselves, and even to the manner in which they think and re-invent the country, foreign goods, inventions and ideas that came from the maritime world have fundamentally changed Chinese economy, culture, society and even politics. 

Working with Space

Over the past few years the ITSH and the EUI in Florence have been cooperating at different levels. In 2010, St Andrews hosted the workshop “The Individual and the Local in Transnational and Comparative History“, published as a special issue of the International

Working with Space - EUI Dec 2016

Working with Space – EUI Dec 2016

History Review as “Size Matters” in 2011. In December 2016, it was time again to meet – this time at the EUI discussing “Working with Space“. In between a number of PhD researchers have used the ERASMUS postgraduate link between both institutions for individual visits of up to a semester.

The “Working with Space” workshop was led by Pablo Hernández Sau, Martin Vailly and Nazli Songülen (all EUI) and co-convened by Regina Grafe, Stéphane van Damme, Pieter Judson (all EUI) and Bernhard Struck (ITSH). The meeting in the stunning Villa Salviati brought together 12 PhD researches from both institutions and a number of visitors. Set up deliberately as a workshop and discussion forum we explored the many and varied dimension of Spatial History.

The workshop discussed both analytical questions around space and spatial history as an object of enquiry, as a (heuristic) tool, and as the historian’s framework. Individual panels and presenters zoomed into specific fields including travel, economy, and knowledge / science. Around these fields a number of different approaches to space were discussed including mental mapping, networks of actors, epistemic communities, or spaces of opportunities.

Working with Space - EUI, Dec 2016

Working with Space – EUI, Dec 2016

The discussion around the workshop can be followed on Twitter via #workingwithspace.

The St Andrews pre-workshop writing can be found here.

Thank you very much for your kind and very generous hospitality – see you @ITSH.