International Conference of Historical Geographers 2015

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41 Geographical knowledge and ignorance
Chair(s) Innes Keighren (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Timetable Tuesday 07 July 2015, Timeslot 1 (09:15 - 11:00)
Room RGS-IBG Lowther Room
Session abstract This session explores current research on the production and diffusion of geographical knowledge, considering the geography of literacy and education, the role of expeditionary scence and local associational cultures, and the wider contexts structuring geographies of knowledge and ignorance.
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details:
The geography of reading and the reading of geography in France, 1860-1900
Alan R H Baker (University of Cambridge, UK)
During the nineteenth century, the population of France progressed from being largely illiterate to being almost entirely literate. Reading became popular both for instruction and for relaxation, creating a massive demand for reading material that was met by newspapers, magazines, journals and books. Access to books was provided from the 1860s in part by the growing number of « peoples’ libraries » (bibliothèques populaires). These were voluntary associations, run as subscription lending libraries. By 1900 there were almost 3000 of them registered with the public authorities in France. My study considers two aspects of this major cultural phenomenon. First, it examines the historical development and geographical distribution of bibliothèques populaires throughout France in the second half of the nineteenth century. At the level of the départements, it analyses not only geographical variations in the absolute numbers of libraries but also variations in library numbers and the sizes of their holdings in relation to the sizes of their potential reading publics. Secondly, it considers the role of bibliothèques populaires in expanding the geographical knowledge of readers. It examines the number and nature of the libraries’ books on geography and travel.
Science, Commerce, and Geographical Knowledge: The Ouachita River Expedition, 1804-1805
Andrew Milson (University of Texas at Arlington, USA)
This paper examines one of the ‘forgotten’ expeditions into the American west in the wake of the Louisiana Purchase. The Ouachita River Expedition (1804- 1805) was the first American government-sponsored exploration of the southern portion of the territory acquired by the United States in 1803. A larger expedition to explore the Red River and Arkansas River was planned – one that would have rivaled Lewis and Clark – but was scaled back due to Spanish and Indian opposition and inadequate funding. The journals of the expedition leaders, William Dunbar and George Hunter, reveal varied motives for exploration of the trans-Mississippi southwest. In addition to the scientific mission of the expedition, the journals provide clues to other geographical knowledge that the U.S. Congress and President Jefferson desired; namely, the disposition of the current population, the commercial resources available for exploitation, and the potential for agricultural settlement. Both conceit and optimism are evident. Dunbar and Hunter assumed the inevitability of American settlement and produced an imaginary geography in which industrious Americans would exploit and improve upon the resources of the region. The journals also highlight the difficulty of acquiring accurate geographical knowledge in the cultural and physical landscape of Louisiana and Arkansas in 1804.
The Leeds and Yorkshire Geographical Society, c. 1908-1917: "A passing public mood" and short-lived purveyor of geographical knowledge
Robin Butlin (University of Leeds, UK)
A small number of urban geographical societies were founded in Britain in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Leeds and Yorkshire Geographical Society was one of them, but virtually nothing is known hitherto of its chronology, functions and contexts. This paper examines the limited evidence for its existence, its locations, its programmes of activity, and the broader local/civic, national and global contexts within which it operated. Other relevant questions examined are its relationship to the development of geographical thought in Britain; the need for commercial information to promote trade; and the general curiosity about new geographical information promoted by geographical exploration.
Comparison is made with the activities of other ‘provincial’ geographical and civic societies, notably Manchester, Edinburgh, Hull, Liverpool and Southampton, and an assessment made of its links with the Royal Geographical Society in London. The evidence base is from papers in the West Yorkshire Record Office, the archives of the Royal Geographical Society, and the programmes of meetings promoted via the Society itself and the Leeds Institute, together with limited reports and advertisements in newspapers. There is also a brief account of the officers and what little is known of the other members of the Society.
A geography of historical geographic ignorance in Ontario, Canada
Anne Godlewska (Queen’s University, Canada)
Laura Schaefli (Queen’s University, Canada)
Historical geographic ignorance is an important realm for investigation in settler societies. Not just a simple matter of not knowing, ignorance reinforces power and exclusion in insidious ways. Historical geographic ignorance is particularly important as it implicates a sense of belonging, place meaning, and issues of personal and cultural continuity. In settler societies such as Canada and Australia (to name only two of many) citizens are mobilized through widespread public ignorance to maintain a status quo injurious to the interests of Indigenous people and supportive of the settler majority. Often substantially unconscious at an individual level, the patterns of exclusion are cultivated and reinforced in social institutions, particularly in education. Our research explores the patterns of ignorance about Indigenous peoples, and their governance, culture, current events, history and geography in eight universities in Ontario and analyses them in terms of the school curriculum, the social attitudes prevailing in the home, students’ social attitudes, the context within which students were educated and a series of demographic and performance factors. Intended as a Canada-wide study, we have preliminary comparative data between Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador that will allow us to speculate on what we may find as we go across Canada.