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.

Talking Transnational History – 4 Questions for…Jordan Girardin

Coming from Sciences Po, Jordan Girardin joined St Andrews in 2012 for an MLitt in

Jordan Girardin - presenting on The Alps and Alpine travel, Sep 2016

Jordan Girardin – presenting on The Alps and Alpine travel, Sep 2016

Modern History (including a good dash of transnational history exposure – since 2015 the ITHS  offers a free-standing postgraduate Master in Transnational History) and went on to stay for a PhD. He has recently, in just under three years, submitted his thesis entitled Travel in the Alps: the construction of a transnational space through digital and mental mapping (1750 – 1830). So, let us ask a few questions – and of course, warm congratulations on this great leap forward.

  • How did your project on the Alps around 1800 evolve and develop?

I started my PhD in 2013 and my main objective back then was to show how the Alps became a transnational space between the 1750s and 1830s. I was convinced that I would find enough sources to state that the Alps went from being a huge obstacle to a very interconnected space. The reality was of course not so clear, and more importantly I realised that the terms I used applied to the twenty-first century but were not always so adequate for the period I studied. It was very hard to argue that local Alpine populations saw themselves as ‘transnational actors’ interacting with different valleys across political borders, even though their action could be described as such. However, I was still fascinated by the creation of a consistent Alpine space across national territories and therefore decided to focus on travellers’ perception of that region. As they were not familiar with the Alps, their interpretation of space certainly was going to be more subjective – even ‘wrong’ or exaggerated at times – and therefore allowed me to focus on mental mapping and representations of space. Travel became the main aspect of my topic in the end and this is something I wish to continue doing in my future research!

  • What are the major trends and arguments of your work?

My thesis is an investigation of how the Alps rose as a clear concept in the minds of European elites from the 1750s to the 1830s. Up until the 1750s, the term ‘alps’

Eighteenth-century view of the Alps

Eighteenth-century view of the Alps

was hardly capitalised and mostly referred to the peaks themselves. The works of the Enlightenment and the growing number of travellers made the Alps more popular and more clearly defined in travel literature. My thesis attempts to break down that process between the facts – travel itineraries changing, scientific and socio-economic networks evolving – and their impact on mental representations of that space, using travel accounts, political discourse, and maps. My final chapter explained how the Alps even became a myth, a mountainous space par excellence. It addresses that not all the Alps were seen as quintessentially Alpine in the eyes of travellers: instead, the north-western region of the Alps (around Lake Geneva) featured all elements that eventually made up the Alpine myth and their reputation then applied on behalf of the entire Alpine space. The end of the period I studied (around the 1830s) sees the end of that transition: at that point, all conditions made it possible for the Alps to become a cultural object clearly defined in public representations, and for tourism to genuinely flourish in the shape of a proper economic market.

  • What did you learn about the practice of transnational and / or spatial history? 

I very much looked forward to apply transnational/spatial theories and practices in my PhD, after having chosen transnational history as my main specialisation at MLitt level. Over these three years I learned how to moderately use these theories and their terminology. Indeed, there is always a risk to over-conceptualise a rather empirical example; my first drafts did so, and at times I ended up losing track of my own narrative. Transnational history is a subtler mix of key concepts and terms (space, networks, hubs, interactions) in order to better serve a concrete example (through everyday life history, small scale analysis, or prosopographical approaches for instance). I believe my topic allowed me to find the right balance; through it I realised that spatial approaches can enhance anyone’s research and open doors to new research perspectives. Over the course of this PhD I spent some time building a database of travellers and trying to render their itineraries through digital mapping: this practice – which I believe is part of spatial and transnational history – also allowed me to find out results that words and concepts simply could not materialise. I am convinced transnational/spatial history still has a lot of potential and I look forward to exploring it even more in my future research.

  • Having finished a PhD thesis in three years, what secret would you share with other PhDs?

It may sound quite paradoxical, but I would say ‘keep busy!’. Having more projects to look forward to will force you to be organised, to structure your day, and to get your PhD work done once you have properly allocated some time for it. My least productive moments happened when my PhD was my only daily task. Once I started teaching, presenting conference papers, taking up small internships or taking part in the life of the School and Institute, I became better at planning my work and getting it done. Leave some free time for yourself, keep healthy, keep moving, and your thesis will become a pleasant part of your daily life. Although life can sometimes get in the way, I would also recommend that you establish early on an approximate date of submission, and try to stick to it. The run-up to submission may be exciting, but do not forget that it is not over until you have actually submitted it: I spent a few weeks believing I was done, but my Word document was sitting comfortably on my hard drive. If you and your supervisor have established that your thesis can be submitted, then do everything to actually submit it: the moment you bring your copies to Registry is the real finish line, and it will feel amazing!

Afterwords of “Thanks”: And lastly, on behalf of the ITSH, we would like to thank the University of St Andrews for generously funding Jordan’s work with a 600th Anniversary PhD Scholarship. We would also like to thank the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and the Forschungszentrum Gotha as well as our GRAINES friends and colleagues in Basel for hosting Jordan for a semester (a bit closer to the Alpine space than St Andrews). Thank you everyone.