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The GA - 125 years of Geography

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Peter Jackson - shared for embedding in the GA Presidents Blog project.
Delivered at the GA Conference 2018 in Sheffield by Peter Jackson, Professor Human Geography at the University of Sheffield.

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The GA - 125 years of Geography

  1. 1. 125 years of Geography Peter Jackson Professor of Human Geography, University of Sheffield
  2. 2. 125 years of Geography • On 20 May 1893, a dozen men gathered in the New Common Room at Christ Church, Oxford to establish what would become the Geographical Association • Led by Halford Mackinder and attended by Douglas Freshfield (who later quit the RGS over its refusal to admit women) and ten others (mostly public school teachers) • 2018 is therefore the 125th anniversary of the founding of the GA: cause for celebration and critical reflection.
  3. 3. Key questions The first General Meeting of the GA in December 1894 was held at the Royal Colonial Institute in London (the GA’s first corporate member) and asked four questions: – Should Geography exam papers be set by experts? – Should physical geography be an essential feature of a Geography course? – Should knowledge of the whole world be required or more detailed regional knowledge? – Should Geography be a compulsory school subject?
  4. 4. What kind of disciplinary history? • Daunting task to review the history of the discipline over a century and a quarter • Human and physical geography • Geography and education • Key events and institutions, leading figures, academic trends, seminal publications – all shaped by the wider social context and shifting intellectual environment.
  5. 5. Key sources • David Livingstone’s The Geographical Tradition (1992), organised around a series of ‘episodes’, describing our subject’s history as ‘a contested enterprise’ • Goes back to the Renaissance but, in our 125-year period, his episodes include the founding of the discipline; the relationship between Geography, race and empire; the rise and fall of regional geography; and the debate over quantification.
  6. 6. • The Dictionary of Human Geography, edited by Derek Gregory and others, now in its 5th edition • The Dictionary of Physical Geography, edited by David Thomas, now in its 4th edition • Not ‘dictionaries’ in the conventional sense – a series of (well referenced) essays, tracing ‘words in motion’, open-ended debate, shaped by wider context.
  7. 7. • Ron Johnston’s Geography and Geographers (1979, now in its 7th edition): Anglo- American human geography since 1945 • W.G.V. Balchin’s The Geographical Association (1993), optimistically sub-titled ‘the first hundred years’ • And the GA’s ‘chronology of key people, achievements, places and events’ (recently updated).
  8. 8. Redefining the task • All this is by way of refusing to attempt a comprehensive or definitive history of the GA, summarising a 125-year history in 40 mins (destined to fail) • Instead, want to ask: – What kind of history do we need (what purpose)? – What principles of inclusion/exclusion should we use? – What would be the scope, in disciplinary terms and in terms of the wider context? • Still an impossible task – but slightly more tractable • A loosely chronological approach, focussing on episodes and moments, (dis)continuities of past and present.
  9. 9. The 1890s… • Was the period of Mackinder’s New Geography (appointed at Oxford in 1887) and of William Morris Davis’s geographical cycle of erosion • Mackinder saw Geography as an aid to statecraft, a political geographer (and MP) who wrote about the ‘geographical pivot’ of history (GJ, 1904) • Also an educationalist, writing on the scope and methods of Geography (RGS Proceedings, 1887) and, later, on Geography as a pivotal subject of education (GJ 1921).
  10. 10. Davis’s cycle of erosion • Discussed at length in Chorley’s History of the Study of Landforms (Vol II: the life and work of William Morris Davis, 1973) • A good example of the wider intellectual context and influence of evolutionary thought: Hartshorne’s The Nature of Geography (1939) all-but ignores Darwin, while David Stoddart argues that: ‘much of the geographical work of the past hundred years has taken its inspiration from biology and in particular from Darwin’ (AAG Annals, 1996).
  11. 11. The 1900s • Mackinder’s protégé, A J Herbertson, wrote about the importance of geographical knowledge, ignorance of which, he warned: ‘produces frequent friction and occasional wars, stupidity in commercial enterprise, hasty and reckless counsel … and loss of life’ (1902). • Herbertson also wrote about ‘the scope and educational applications of Geography’ (GJ 1904) noting that University geography and geographical teaching in schools was increasingly disconnected - - the ‘Great Divide’ about which Andrew Goudie later wrote (1993).
  12. 12. Masculinist knowledge? • Already becoming a history of ‘great white men’ (Mackinder and Herbertson, Darwin and Davis) • Should note the role of ‘formidable’ women such as Alice Garnett (b.1903) who served as President of the GA and Vice-President of the RGS, occupying her desk in the Department of Geography at University of Sheffield for >40 years… • … and pay more attention to the masculinist nature of geographical knowledge as Gillian Rose argues in her book on Feminism and Geography (1993).
  13. 13. 1910s and 20s • The Geographical Teacher was founded in 1905, confidently renamed Geography in 1927 • GA standing committees established in 1918 (this year marks 100 years of committees…) • GA cooperated with the BBC on ‘Climbing Everest’ (1924) and other programmes – beginnings of wider public engagement/ impact?
  14. 14. Travelling theory? • The 1920s also provides a good example of how some ideas don’t travel well • Carl Sauer’s ‘The morphology of landscape’ (1925) had a huge influence on American geography (cultural geography as a synonym for human geography in the US) • Included the memorable lines: ‘The cultural landscape is fashioned from a natural landscape by a culture group. Culture is the agent, the natural area is the medium, the cultural landscape the result’. • Became a target of criticism during the development of the ‘new’ cultural geography in the 1980s.
  15. 15. 1930s and 40s • Land Utilisation Survey of Britain initiated in 1930 – collaboration between the GA (Dudley Stamp), the Ordnance Survey and the Ministry of Agriculture • Context: significance of increased food production during Second World War (geography and public policy) • 1933 foundation of IBG - heralded the ‘professionalization’ of academic geography (and potential threat to GA membership) • 1947 GA moved to Sheffield after 16 years in Manchester (unlike RGS, never London- centric).
  16. 16. 1950s and 60s • Second Land Utilisation Survey began in 1961 (led by Alice Coleman) • Madingley Lectures led to the publication of Frontiers in Geographical Teaching (1965) and Models in Geography (1967), both edited by Richard Chorley and Peter Haggett.
  17. 17. 1970s and 80s • 1975 Teaching Geography launched, followed by Primary Geographer in 1989 • 1980s dominated by the debate over Geography’s potential exclusion as a core subject in the school curriculum • 1985 Sir Keith Joseph addressed an invited GA audience on place of Geography in curriculum • 1987 meeting with Kenneth Baker led to inclusion of Geography as a foundation subject • 1989 National Curriculum Working Group with key input from Eleanor Rawling, Rex Walford and others.
  18. 18. 1990s and 2000s • National Curriculum introduced in 1991 (see Eleanor Rawling’s ‘Changing the Subject’ on the impact of national policy on school geography) • Landmark texts such as Margaret Roberts’ Learning through Enquiry (2003) • Valuing Places project, funded by DfID and led by Diane Swift (2003-6) • Action Plan for Geography, in collaboration with RGS-IBG (2006-11) • Manifesto for Geography: A Different View (2009) led by David Lambert.
  19. 19. 2010s… • 2010 partnership with the Field Studies Council, the Ordnance Survey and ESRI (2015-16 Year of Fieldwork) • 2012-17 Global Learning Programme funded by DfID, challenging conventional thinking about ‘development’ geography • 2015-16 new GCSE and A-level syllabus, following advice from ALCAB (A-level Content Advisory Board).
  20. 20. Reflections • How have we got from ‘Geography in the service of Empire’ to concerns about international development to debates about post-colonialism and ‘decolonizing geographical knowledges’ (the theme of the RGS-IBG conference in 2017)? • And why, in the words of recent AAG President, Mona Domosh, is our Geography curriculum still so White (AAG Newsletter, June 2015)?
  21. 21. Future directions • Returning to our foundation in 1893, what are the key questions for the discipline today and what objectives would we set ourselves for the next few decades? • What is the relation between the universal and the particular? or between the discipline’s vocabulary and its grammar? • What is (or should be) the balance between human and physical geography? and the role of fieldwork? • What is our ‘mission’ as geography teachers (beyond exam success, teaching to the test and meeting our targets)? How should we respond to the marketization of education (in schools and universities)?
  22. 22. Other stories… • Not said much about wider changes in educational policy or political history (dangers of writing an internal history) • What about changing technologies (from lantern slides and school atlases to GIS and remote sensing)? • What similarities and differences between Geography and other subject associations?
  23. 23. Conclusion • A partial (selective and no-doubt biased) reading of our geographical history; with lots of rhetorical questions about the past and present state of the discipline; and the need for a historical perspective to help define the role of what Alan Kinder calls our ‘community of practice’ • Struck by continuities with the past, including Mackinder’s (1900) question about ‘Geography as a training for the mind’ • End with Frances Soar’s observation on the GA’s anniversary year: ‘We’re not good because we’re 125 years old, we’re 125 years old because we’re good’. Discuss.

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