RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2019


Historical and cartographical imaginaries
Timetable Wednesday 28 August 2019, Session 1 (09:00 - 10:40)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: ac2019@rgs.org
From fortress flagpole to the Greenwich longitudinal line: the establishment of a common prime meridian in Norway in the period 1770-1970
Anne Lien (University of Bergen / Norwegian Mapping Authority, Norway)
The paper analyses the use of prime meridians on selected Norwegian maps in the period 1770-1970. The aim is to show the progression from a time of multiple local prime meridians, through a period in which Sweden tried to impose cartographic unity on the two countries, to the decades after Norwegian political independence in 1905 and the establishment of the Greenwich prime meridian on Norwegian maps. Comparative methods were used to study both analogue and digitized versions of maps, as well as literature from the study period. For some of the maps, the reasons for the choice of prime meridian were explored too, and the maps were considered in a political context. The results revealed that relevant international circumstances included the cartographic battle between France and Britain and the prime meridian of Philadelphia as a symbol of American independence. Furthermore, they suggest that Norwegian prime meridians were used as a political tool. The author concludes that Sweden did not succeed in its geopolitical ambition to unify Scandinavian cartography, and that the use of varying prime meridians on Norwegian maps was only slowly ended by national unity.
The Da Vinci Globe
Stefaan Missinne (Austrian Society for the History of Science, Austria)
A chance discovery at a distinguished London map fair at the venue of the Royal Geographical Society in 2012 produced the most unique of finds: a distinct globe with mysterious images, such as old ships, sailors, a volcano, a hybrid monster, pentimenti, waving patterns, conic individualised mountains, curving rivers, vigorous costal lines and chiaroscuro.

The globe is hand-engraved in great detail on ostrich egg shells from Pavia by a left-handed Renaissance genius of unquestionable quality. It shows secret historical knowledge of the map world from the time of Columbus, Cabral, Amerigo Vespucci and Leonardo da Vinci. Central and North America are covered by a vast ocean. The da Vinci globe originates from Florence and dates from 1504. It marks the first time ever that the engraved names of countries such as Brazil, Germania, Anglia, Scotia, Arabia and Judea have appeared on a globe.

A Leonardo drawing for this globe, showing the coast of the New World and Africa has been discovered in the British Library.

This presentation in the commemorative year of Leonardo da Vinci brings the conference participant through a fabulous journey of maps, riddles, rebuses, iconographic symbols and enigmatic phrases such as HIC SVNT DRACONES to illuminate the da Vinci globe. The presentation details 500 years of mystery, fine scholarship and expert forensic testing at numerous material science laboratories the world over.

The da Vinci globe now takes its rightful place, surpassing the Lenox globe at the New York Public Library, its copper-cast identical twin, as the most mysterious globe of our time.
Historical Geography as Hopeful Critique? Historicizing the Troubles of Neoliberal Peacekeeping
Martin Ottovay Jørgensen (University of Aalborg, Denmark)
A growing body of research argues that the rising number of United Nations peacekeeping operations with ever-expanding mandates in the Global South has created a global neoliberal paradigm of externalising states with little legitimacy and accountability. Some have called this ‘new imperialism’, ‘imperial multilateralism’ and ‘empire in denial’. However, the local turn in scholarship, which emphasises local perspectives, experiences and agency in the ‘mission areas’ has marginalised the ‘imperial’ all the while the problems seem to be expanding as resource depletion and climate change reinforce the conflicts. While laudable, the local turn cannot stand alone, however. Neoliberalism has deeper imperial and colonial histories that need empirical unpacking within the critique of peacekeeping. Accordingly, this paper heeds the historians Jo Guldi and David Armitage’s argument that historians have a responsibility to engage with big issues. Critically examining records from the UN as well as published diaries and letters and memoirs from former UN soldiers, the paper maps and situates a range of military geographies in the UN ‘mission area’ in Congo, the former Belgian colony, from 1960 to 1964 in the context of both Belgian colonial history and European and American imperialism. The paper thus represents a hopeful distress call for a historical turn in peacekeeping research led by historical geographers.
Analysing Geographical Trends in the Application of the Symbology of Soviet Military City Plans
Martin Davis (Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), UK)
Alexander J. Kent (Canterbury Christ Church University, UK)
Throughout the Cold War, the Soviet military secretly conducted a vast large-scale mapping programme. The collapse of the Soviet Union has seen the emergence of this unprecedentedly comprehensive global mapping project and the commercial availability of a vast number of detailed topographic maps and city plans at several scales. As well as providing a vivid insight into the cartography of the Cold War, Soviet military city plans, which cover over 2,000 towns and cities outside the USSR, have potential to find new life as a source of topographic data in contemporary applications, such as humanitarian response. This paper presents an analysis of the symbology devised by the Soviet Union for its series of secret military plans, using it as a springboard for an investigation of the geographical diversity of the plans’ symbology and the extent to which it is adopted across a variety of socio-cultural and physical environments at 1:10,000 and 1:25,000 scales. While the symbology incorporates a total of 630 standardised topographic symbols, the application of these varies across the globe, with 126 used on the plan of Frankfurt am Main, West Germany (1983, 1:10,000) and only 56 on the plan of La Paz, Bolivia (1977, 1:10,000). In doing so, the analysis reveals new details of the most comprehensive, globally-standardised topographic symbology ever produced. This leads to a conclusion that the relevance and value of Soviet military maps endures in modern applications, both as a source of data and as a means of overcoming contemporary cartographic challenges relating to symbology, design and the handling of large datasets.
Histories of Heterogenous Infrastructures: Negotiating Colonial, Postcolonial and Oral Archives in Kampala, Uganda
Henrik Ernstson (The University of Manchester, UK)
David Nilsson (KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden)
Critical infrastructure studies are growing in importance to understand how sociocultural, ecological, and ecological relations are inscribed, negotiated, and contested in urban spaces. A major effort has been to ground such work in experiences of the global South, moving beyond the “modern infrastructure ideal” a fully networked city, towards conceptualizations of incremental, peopled, and heterogenous infrastructure. However, there are still few historical studies that depart from these new conceptualizations. In this paper we draw upon our empirical work in Kampala, Uganda, in an attempt to historicize “heterogenous infrastructure configurations” (Lawhon et al. 2017) through combining (and constructing) three distinct historical archives: (i) the colonial archives (based on traditional archival work in Kew National Archives in London); (ii) the official postcolonial archives (which meant to criss-cross through Kampala to assemble documents, reports, photos and legal notes); and (iii) oral histories (where we interviewed elderly women and men with a long family history in the city). This work has led to several pertinent questions about “what to make of the colonial archives when they systematically exclude or distort the wider heterogenous infrastructure reality that surely existed in parallel to the ‘European’ city?” “why are postcolonial archives so difficult to find and assemble?” and “how to draw upon the richness and texture of oral histories from particular places, families and persons.” This paper then, reflects on how we have grappled with working across these archives with the aim to contribute more general ideas of how to situate and historicize the study of contemporary infrastructures in a postcolonial world (in communication with postcolonial historians as in Mamdani, Chakrabarty, Lalu, and Benson). By pushing different narratives to confront and clash, and by critically looking at our own practice, new histories arise. But also new questions; some which should have been asked long ago. We argue here for an approach of “heterodoxa”; one that opens for different meanings, archives and locations from where to construct histories and futures about infrastructure and urban spaces.
The Art of Earth Building: The Place and Prominence of Relief Models in L. Dudley Stamp’s The Earth’s Crust (1951)
George Tobin (University of Glasgow/RGS-IBG, UK)
The 1951 book The Earth’s Crust by Sir Laurence Dudley Stamp remains one of the physical relief models most prominent outings into geographic literature. The book represents Stamp’s continued commitment to geography’s popularisation, with careful attention paid to visual illustration, where 36 colour plates of 29 different models signify the development of a new representational approach in his work. Stamp’s aim was to encourage the readers’ interest in the relations between the earth’s surface and its underlying geology, a relationship he felt was poorly understood and routinely overlooked in geographical education. The Earth’s Crust solved this problem with a ‘new approach’, its claim to originality based on the deployment of photographed and reproduced scale models. Ranging from mountain valleys to shingle spits, from volcanoes to karst landscapes, the models serve as striking visual aids to an accompanying narrative. The models, however, constitute much more than static diagrammatic and didactic supplements to text. Their construction necessarily entailed a creative process involving the coordination of established and adhoc practices of crafting and sculpting, with geographical knowledge and cartographic interpretation. This process was achieved through Stamp’s working relationship with Thomas Bayley, the sculptor behind The Earth’s Crust’s 29 models and a prominent figure himself within the culture of British model making (see Bayley, 1938). This paper will compile the origin story of The Earth’s Crust, threading biographical vignettes of Stamp’s work and relationship with Bayley, to involve a wider consideration of the place and prominence of the physical relief model within the culture of 20th century Geography. Utilising 24 of the plaster models held at the Royal Geographical Society, and archival work with an extensive collection of Stamp’s papers, this work seeks to connect and blend the relationships between Stamp and Bayley, between geographer and artist, and between cartographic instrument and creative composition.