Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Egham Hythe Loop

This loop follows Devil's Lane through Egham Hythe to the Thorpe Hay Meadow Nature Reserve and onward to Thorpe.  It then crosses over the M5 Orbital to Highmoor Farm behind Great Foster's, where you have a great view of the Holloway Sanatorium.  It is called St. Ann's Heath Sanatorium on the old map from 1946 (see below).  From there you follow Stroude Road back, with its fantastic view of the Founder's Building, easy viewing this time of year before the leaves are back on the branch.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Royal Holloway Loop

This loop walk takes you from the Egham Train Station, through Egham's High Street, to Cooper's Hill, Royal Holloway's Founder's Building, then along to the Huntersdale Campus to Hollow Road.  From Hollow Road you have some stunning viewing looking down across Callow Hill to the main Royal Holloway campus.  After that you follow an old Roman road (an actual 'hollow way') down the hill.

The photos document my walking journey, with a lunch stop at the foot of the hill beneath the Holloway sanatorium building in Virginia Water and a wander through some mud near the end of the loop, not far from the P&G buildings below RHUL itself.  Wellies are recommended!

I followed this loop counter-clockwise

Wellies recommended!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

'Top Five' fiction writers

I was caught out in a contradiction when I told my wife I'd put the Valentine's Day card she'd given me in 'my favourite book.'  She had asked me where I had put the card, and I told her, picking up a copy of Orhan Pamuk's Museum of Innocence.  "But I thought that Japanese writer was your favourite," she said.  Well, that's true, I probably did say that at one point (depending on which Japanese writer she's talking about).  So I said, evasively, "top five."  Here they are, really in no particular order (and there are six):

Orhan Pamuk is one of my top five writers of fiction (in translation).  My favourites are Museum of Innocence and Snow.  Both changed my life (this is my criteria for 'top writer').

Haruki Murakami is another.  The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is absolutely amazing and wonderful. (Kenzaburo Oe is the other Japanese writer I admire immensely, especially Rise Up O Young Men of the New Age!)

Roberto Bolano.  The Savage Detectives is a really incredible novel, with an almost infinite cast of characters.

Peter Matthiessen.  Here we finally arrive at a writer who constructs his novels using the English language.  Shadow Country is a trilogy, and it is my favourite work of fiction in English.

Joseph Boyden and
Guy Vanderhaeghe:  these two Canadian writers are my favourites.  Boyden wrote Three Day Road and Through Black Spruce, both featuring Cree characters and northern Ontario landscapes.  Vanderhaeghe writes 'westerns' set in the 1800s in western Canada (see A Good Man)

Not that I've been reading fiction!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Top Ten Books of 2015

Here are the outstanding books of the year (featuring 2 Royal Holloway authors):

1 Dunlop, Catherine Tatiana.  2015.  Cartophilia: Maps and the Search for Identity in the French-German Borderland.  University of Chicago Press.

2 Brummett, Palmira.  2015.  Mapping the Ottomans: Sovereignty, Territory, and Identity in the Early Modern Mediterranean.  Cambridge University Press.

3 Yeazell, Ruth Bernard.  2015.  Picture Titles: How and Why Western Paintings Acquired Their Names.  Princeton University Press.

4 Wulf, Andrea.  2015. The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander Von Humboldt. John Murray.

5 MacFarlane, Robert.  2015.  Landmarks.  Henry Holt.

6 Tomaszewski, Brian.  2015.  GIS for Disaster Management.  CRC Press.

7 Hu, Tung-Hui.  2015.  A Prehistory of the Cloud.  The MIT Press.

8 Hawkins, Harriet and Straughan Elizabeth. (eds.).  2015.  Geographical Aesthetics: Imagining Space, Staging Encounters.  Ashgate.

9 Keighren, Innes M.; Withers, Charles W.J.; and Bell, Bill.  2015.  Travels Into Print: Exploration, Writing, and Publishing With John Murray 1773-1859.  University of Chicago Press.

10 Harris, Alexandra.  2015.  Weatherland: Writers and Artists Under English Skies.  Thames and Hudson.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Brompton to Brixton (via John Sandoe Books/Chelsea)

I barely manage to post in November because of all the marking, but I'm fitting one in last minute today after a nice walk from Brompton to Brixton via Chelsea.

Lovely John Sandoe Books where I 'discovered' a novel by Iain Sinclair, the one where he 'tracks' John Clare out of Epping Forest (title: Edge of the Orison).  Moral of the story: I'll have to go back!

A sidewalk itinerary map inscribed near Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea

Chelsea Bridge

They're re-doing the stacks

Interesting 'sculpture' at Electric Avenue above Brixton Market

Home with a detour through Richmond and a movie at the Odeon (Carol, based on Patricia Highsmith's novel The Price of Salt (another I should've looked up at John Sandoe Books!))

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Undergraduate classrooms as sites of impact at Royal Holloway

The toolsets described below are meant to give undergraduates (and graduates students as well, in the Practising Sustainable Development and ICT4D streams) at Royal Holloway confidence as they step forward to make claims about the social implications and effects of geospatial technologies.  The combination of the two is a means of counter-mapping hegemonies, powerful mapmaking interests, and negative stereotypes in a series of efforts often aimed at ‘changing the world.’ 

Beyond ‘bums in seats’ and the known quantity of tuition that brings in, what is the impact of a manual used in teaching an undergraduate class?  I was approached one year by an administrative staff member asking me to quantify the amount of ‘stuff’ undergrads were taking away from my class, measured in terms of pages.  I could quite happily point to all of the following (at 140 students per year in the first two years; and half that in the third year, you can do the 'impact' math):

My “Manual of Counter-Mapping” (https://www.academia.edu/8361097/MANUAL_OF_COUNTERMAPPING) is mandatory reading for all third year undergraduates enrolled in my course Critical GIS and the Geoweb.  I’ve been approached by some of my students in recent years telling me that they’re often now administered tests of their GIS skills before being granted admission to postgraduate programmes (e.g. MSc in spatial science).  Several others have obtained gainful employment in industry in part through demonstrated knowledge obtained through three years of GIS practical sessions at Royal Holloway.

Written in response to demand for more maps in undergraduate dissertations is “GIS for dissertations”
(https://www.academia.edu/15030342/GIS_for_Dissertations).  This manual is required reading for students considering dissertation topics in their first or second years, but some use it in the third year as well.  The manual goes through increasing levels of sophistication for the use of geospatial technologies in support, and as drivers of, answering undergraduate level research questions.  GIS can thus be seen as a tool ‘after the fact’ for adding maps, or it can be seen as a methodologically sophisticated mode of critical thinking for weaving the very fabric of the dissertation (its data, observations, and findings) itself.

The GPS handbook
(https://www.academia.edu/17308958/GPS_handbook) is another I wrote after conducting a walking ethnography of Egham, the village in which Royal Holloway is situated.  The purpose of the manual is practical, with tips such as the use of GPS, camera, and notebook in conjunction for producing rigour and rich qualitative data towards generating research questions.  It covers several aspects of mapping, including the use of Google Earth for visualising traversed routes in the landscape; alongside suggestions for loading qualitative data into industry standard GIS software.

How to make a map
(https://www.academia.edu/17309008/How_to_make_a_map) is a general purpose guide intended for those who might knock on my door in a rush, stating that they need a map for their paper, book, conference presentation, or what have you.  The guide explains what it takes to make a map, pointing out that ‘quick fix’ solutions such as Google maps often contain no cartography at all.  The cartographer has been announced as dead in recent years (e.g. by Denis Wood), but we demonstrate conclusively in our undergraduate classrooms that not only is this false, it is part of what is becoming a damaging stereotype of the cartographer as someone suspicious, marginal, and at best a ‘hopeful monster.’  Think Ben Whishaw in Skyfall, or the cartographer in the movie Spy Game (Kent, 2015).

We have physical geographers joining the efforts, taking political stances on terrain mapping, tracking, and securitising geospatial technologies. 


Kent, Alexander.  2015.  A Profession Less Ordinary? The Life, Death and Resurrection of Cartography.”  Bulletin of the Society of Cartographers.  48(1&2).  7-16.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Determinism, Environment, and Geopolitics (Hardy v Windfarms)

Anticipating the upcoming Determinism, Environment, and Geopolitics session at the Royal Geographical Society meeting in Exeter, I post some notes and slides stating my position.  The session is structured such that conclusions must emerge through consideration of possibilities discussed in situ, which motivates a certain pre-loading of content.

See Philip Conway's blog post introducing our session for some background on the debate.

My part of the contribution I have entitled "Hardy versus the Windfarms: Tess, Necessity, and the Geopolitics of the Anthropocene"

I begin with consideration of names as expressed in two publications. The first is Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles.

Consider Hardy's map of the fictional 'Wessex' below, a map that is included in all of his major novels.  

It has been noted of Hardy's novels that they map the 'real' territory very closely: 

"Hardy’s Wessex is so familiar that it is hard to realize how odd it is that a novelist should have tied himself by so many strings to a particular tract of territory.  Many novelists have set their scenes in real places, or have written with some features of a familiar landscape always before them.  But Hardy has done something different.  Almost every step taken by his characters is taken along real roads or over real heaths; the towns and villages, the hills, even many of the houses, are identifiable. It is as if Hardy’s imagination could not work unless with solid ground under its feet, with solid objects to be seen around it.  Many of the characters, there is little doubt, contain more or less of one real person, more or less of another, with elements drawn purely from imagination or from the accumulated layers of experience, which comes to much the same thing.  But with the topography, Hardy was rarely satisfied with anything less than a one-to-one correspondence between the fictional and the real"

The slide below reproduces the list of places found in Hardy's novels, mapping them onto their 'real' names.  It also reproduces an inscription found at the beginning of Tess: "A PURE WOMAN: '...Poor wounded name! My bosom as a bed Shall lodge thee.' -- W. Shakespeare"

Tess, the idealised woman, is also the landscape of Wessex, stretching from Reading to Oxford to Bristol to Exeter to Southampton.  The larger area contains a smaller theatre of action that includes Stonehenge and Casterbridge (Dorchester):  

"This fertile and sheltered tract of country, in which the fields are never brown and the springs never dry, is bounded on the south by the bold chalk ridge that embraces the prominences of Hambledon Hill, Bulbarrow, Nettlecombe-Tout, Dogbury, High Stoy, and Bubb Down.  The traveller from the coast, who, after plodding northward for a score of miles over calcareous downs and corn-lands, suddenly reaches the verge of one of these escarpments, is surprised and delighted to behold, extended like a map beneath him, a country differing absolutely from that which he has passed through” (Hardy, 1978, page 48)


"The forests have departed, but some old customs of their shades remain.  Many, however, linger only in a metamorphosed or disguised form.  The May-Day dance, for instance, was to be discerned on the afternoon under notice, in the guise of the club revel, or ‘club-walking’, as it was there called” (Hardy, 1978, page 49)

Proposals for windfarms for this part of Dorset have incensed locals. The one-to-one mapping of places like Dorchester have caused concern for its inhabitants that the places Hardy talked about will be ruined because the integrity of the landscape is threatened by the presence of machinery intended to address human induced climate change (global warming) brought on by fossil fuel consumption.  

They are, in other words, motivated by Hardy's map, the ultimate representation of their home as a place of tradition extending back to a more innocent time (albeit one that Hardy demonstrates repeatedly is about to be ruined by human avarice and greed).  

I posit that senses of Anthropocene, that named thing for representing all of human-induced change in one fell swoop, directly challenge Wessex and especially 'things' like the fictional Tess.  For all her lack of existence, Tess (and the Mayor of Casterbridge for that matter) directly challenges, albeit through conservative reaction, the idea that urgency around climate determines actuality.  

In what possible world would humans not have influenced the climate to such disastrous degree?  Equally in what possible world would Tess (or for that matter Jude) not have fallen so tragically?  

I argue that names, their referents, and accumulated encyclopedic meanings and associated knowledges, are very important in discussions of possibilism such as the one represented by this session.  The last slide condenses my questions for the chairs:

The second publication is, as noted above, Lewis and Maslin's 2015 article "Defining the Anthropocene" which is at one (very important) level, a question of naming, with a history and origin story of its own (quoting from my forthcoming book The Geography of Names):

"The ‘baptism’ of an epoch of earth-time defined by human influence can be traced to a theologist, Jenkyn, and a Reverend, Haughton, who called the present time the Anthropozoic, in which the very geology of the earth can in its essentials be defined by the presence of a human signature in its strata (Lewis and Maslin, 2015, page 172).  At present, there is no agreed-upon start date for the Anthropocene, but it is certain that it is a human-created term for referring to an epoch that both exceeds humanity itself, and that is defined by that humanity, for better or for worse.  The very idea of named divisions in earth-time indicates a very human need to name temporal phenomena expressed across geographic space and in the depths of the earth’s strata.  The idea of the Anthropocene is therefore both reflexive and subjective, when the subject is defined as the human species itself.  Other species do not have this notion of the Anthropocene nor, presumably, did proto-human species.  Would a future race of post-humans define things the same?  What about a Martian species?  These are matters of pure speculation, but they are serious questions, to be considered by philosophers and geologists/geographers alike.

For the present, should the Anthropocene, as a name, come to pass, it will be a particularly acute tool for political change.  The start date itself will cast judgment upon countries associated with, for example, the start of the industrial revolution, or on the other hand, it could end up playing into the hands of climate change deniers should the date be set early enough before modern-day humanity (Lewis and Maslin, 2015, page 171)


I finish with a poem and some suggestions for extending geography's concern across disciplinary lines.

The Call (Geography)

we need a new poetics
of the name
to better represent
Anthropocene realities
in all their complexity

we need new rituals
and performances for
actualising geological time

new symbols and counter-maps
for demonstrating 
another world is possible
its properties, belief

a remapping of possibility
engagement with the arts
and sciences of medicine, engineering, and law

(possibility determined
through insularity
necessitates a possbilism

ensuring the normative 'should'
has won

the demi-monde of the physical
cut off, the human becomes
a self-contained 
possible world of one

a self-identical set, porous
talking to itself across a divide
half-human, post-natural

the name of the new geography
the thousandth plateau
self-similarity, looking to itself
as a re-presentation of the possible)

let's have a go instead
at seeing, feeling,
speaking outside the realm, the ultimate
climate-controlled discursive 
comfort zone 


In the spirit of the above I offer suggestions for engaging with medicine, engineering, and law, in the spirit of the Anthropocene/Hardy:

medicine -- contagion -- epidemiology of ideas
-climate determinisms
-'fixing' the earth as mental health -- e.g. Tess

engineering -- geo-engineering security
-roping the earth into conforming with human desires (the 'rodeo' 'can do' attitude)
-'fixing' the earth as technical -- e.g. windfarms

law -- of the air, of space, verticality
-atmospheres of environmental justice/justice for the atmosphere
-loopholes -- legal, territorial, cultural --

e.g. how do we 'get around' the Wessex-fixated/Hardy crowd: aren't their claims as legitimate as ours?


With these comments 'pre-loaded' I look forward to engaging in a very interesting discussion this Friday (4 Sept 2015) in the Peter Chalk rooms at 2.20 pm