In today’s AAG SmartBrief, they link to an article from the NPR web site dealing with the politics of cartography. It cites both political geographer Alex Murphy and ‘geopolitical analyst’ Robert Kaplan. This article relates to the Washington Post story mentioned in my previous post.
Just one example of why political geography matters, from today’s Washington Post.
I returned from the AAG in New York earlier this week. Overall, I would say it went well. The session on German Philosophy and Geography, which I took part in, was also a surprising success. While we had the last slot on the last day of the conference, about 15-20 people showed up. We had some interesting papers and I made some new friends. And, of course, it was wonderful to see old friends like Stuart and Eduardo.
I also enjoyed the translator meets critics panel on Pierre Macherey’s Hegel or Spinoza (Fr., Hegel ou Spinoza, 1979), which my supervisor Sue Ruddick translated (Univ. Minnesota Press, 2011). Warren Montag, a literary scholar at Occidental College, gave a particularly interesting talk on the difficulties of translating Macherey and Spinoza. The session was well attended, which was great. An audio version of the session is available on the Society and Space page.
I’m glad that Sue is being recognized for the hard work she put into this translation. As others have said, translation is a crucially important form of scholarly “service work”, which is too often given short shrift by institutions and individual scholars. Further, as Stuart Elden said in his talk, it is especially significant that a geographer translated this work.
Very few geographers undertake translation projects, let alone large scale translation projects, thus making Sue’s efforts that much more noteworthy and commendable. I can only hope that, in time, translations and critical editions receive adequate institutional and scholarly recognition within geography (and other disciplines). Geography can intellectually profit from engagement with non-Anglophone geographers and their works (both contemporary and historical), even if these gains fail to register on quantitative assessments like the REF.
Finally, I attended an “author meets critics” session on Karen Morin’s recent book, Civic Discipline: Geography in America 1860-1890 (Ashgate, 2011). I hadn’t read the book, but it seemed quite interesting. As it turns out, the session was far from a “love-in”, as one of my colleagues put it. Rather, it offered a small fireworks display, the likes of which I hadn’t seen at the AAG or any other conference. The fireworks came from the current president of the American Geographical Society, the organization that Morin focuses on in the book. Let’s just say he didn’t have anything nice to say about Morin’s work. The interaction between a certain panelist and an audience member in the Q&A also generated some fireworks, though I won’t get into that here.
‘…if you speak in jargon too much the truly clever people will get suspicious….It’s a trap thinking you can copy language you see in books and papers and it will make you appear more intelligent.’
This is precisely my feeling, and I find the pervasiveness of this problem troubling (it only takes a glance at conference paper abstracts to see this). One often hears calls for greater clarity in writing, but we seem to lack a consensus on what clarity means. Many would object and say, ‘we need to use technical concepts to make our point, given the complexity of the material’. I agree, but only up to a point. Too often, this reasoning opens room for, or excuses, the same jargon-laden writing that appears in many corners of the social sciences and humanities. Of course, this problem is far from new (one need only go back to C. Wright Mills’s critique of Talcott Parson’s writing in the Sociological imagination ). Perhaps Mills’s remarks should be required reading in various graduate courses.
I’m organizing a session on geography and religion for the International Conference of Historical Geographers in Prague 2012. I’ve circulated this on Crit-Geog and another list, but I thought I would post it here as well. A few historians I know have shown interest in the session, though I wonder how many geographers it will interest.
15th International Conference of Historical Geographers
Prague, Czech Republic
6-10 August 2012
Dean Bond (University of Toronto)
Luise Fischer (University of Edinburgh)
Call for Papers:
Geography and Religion: Investigating the Historical Geographies of a Connection
Geographical thought and religion have long been intertwined, and scholars from various disciplines, including anthropology, geography, sociology and history have investigated the linkages between them. Like geography, religion has been thoroughly located and practised in different ways in different places, despite various religions’ claims to universality. Historians of geography and historical geographers have, however, often neglected religion and its interconnections with local geographical thought and practice, or have only treated religion in passing. This session aims to revisit religion and geography’s enduring ties from an historical perspective. We especially welcome papers that explore the relationship between religion and geography in early modernity and earlier periods. Papers might address themes such as:
- The geography of Enlightenment and religion
- Geographical representations of confessional divisions
- Religious wars and their geographies
- Religion and geography at court
- Missionaries and geographical thought
- The geography of missions
- Theologians and geographical thought
- The Reformation and its geography
Please submit abstracts of 250 words or less to both organisers by 15 December 2011 (L.Fischer@sms.ed.ac.uk and email@example.com). Abstracts should be in English, as this is the conference language.
For more information on the ICHG 2012, visit http://www.ichg2012.cz/
I heard an interesting talk tonight on English perceptions of the Thirty Years War (or, as the English called it, the ‘German War’). The talk was given by Prof. Dr. Hans Medick, one of the founders of the ‘microhistorical’ approach and the sub-field of ‘historical anthropology’. While I was familiar with the journal he helped found (Historische Anthropologie) prior to the talk, I wasn’t familiar with his work. Now, I’m quite interested to read some of it. The paper he gave is part of his current book project on perceptions of the Thirty Years War in the media in England and elsewhere.
He makes a strong case for the need to understand global historical events through a local perspective, while not losing sight of the links between the global and local scales. I find this approach very sensible. In fact, I’m trying to concretely link local events and their geographies with broader ones in my current work on the geography of geographical knowledge in the German Aufklärung (Enlightenment). I’m currently working on the Seven Years War and its significance in the story I’m trying to tell, and thus I found listening to Prof. Medick talk about the application of his methodological perspective in the case of the Thirty Years War quite inspirational.
While I wasn’t planning to attend the AAG this year, my plans changed when I was asked to be on a panel on German philosophy and geography. I’ll be giving a paper on Hegel, geography and history (see below for abstract). This will be a pivot away from my current project, but since I’ve done some work on Hegel in the past, it should be manageable. A few years ago, perhaps while I was taking a wonderful course on Hegel’s Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts (or Elements of the Philosophy of Right, according to H.B. Nisbet’s translation) with an outstanding Hegel scholar, Dr. Allegra de Laurentiis at Stony Brook, I decided it might be worth thinking through geography’s role in Hegel’s philosophy. This gives me a chance to bring this ‘mind grape’ to fruition.
The other papers in the session are on Leibniz (Stuart Elden), Kant (Eduardo Mendieta), Heidegger (Mikko Joronen) and Carl Schmitt (Rory Rowan). I haven’t seen Stuart or Eduardo in quite awhile, so I look forward to seeing them again. In sum, it should be an interesting session.
This is the abstract for the session:
German Philosophy and Geography
The impact of philosophers on geography, in recent years, has largely been from the French tradition—Foucault, Deleuze, Derrida, Badiou and others. There are exceptions, of course, such as Agamben, Butler and Žižek. Yet, with the obvious and crucial exception of Marx, German philosophy has made less impact. There has been some recent interest in Sloterdijk; some discussions of Heidegger; a theme issue of Acme on Nietzsche; and the recent Reading Kant’s Geography collection. But how might these be developed further, and what about other German writers who contributed to the history of geographical thought or have much to offer to its future? This session looks to include discussions of figures such as Leibniz, Kant, Hegel, and Heidegger. (Originally posted at Progressive Geographies)
How much interest geographers will have in this session is unclear, though I hope it is better attended than the Spinoza session I helped organize for the 2008 AAG in Las Vegas, where the turnout was quite disappointing. The problem with the AAG is that you never know what kind of turn out a session will have, given the enormity of the conference and the number of concurrent sessions.
I haven’t been to New York since mid 2008, so it should be nice being back in the city. Wow. It’s been over three years since I’ve been back to New York.
Here is the abstract for my paper:
Hegel, Geography and History
Geographers and philosophers alike have said little about geography’s role in G.W.F. Hegel’s (1770-1831) philosophical system. Scholars have remarked in passing on Hegel’s comments on geography in his Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Geschichte (Lectures on the Philosophy of History), though their engagement goes no further. Beginning from these marginal comments, this paper tries to deepen our understanding of geography’s relevance for Hegel’s system. In particular, it focusses on Hegel’s conception of history’s relation to geography, and situates this understanding in the broader context of historical, geographical and philosophical thought in the first third of the nineteenth century in the German states. It considers, for example, how Hegel’s grasp of geography’s link to history compares with his contemporaries’ views, such as those of the geographer Carl Ritter (1779-1859). Further, the paper explores how the German states’ particular historical geography mattered for Hegel’s comprehension of geography.
I didn’t think today would be that different. Yet, as I read news articles and listened to radio commentary, I realized that today has added significance.
Since 9/11, we have been consistently told by various media and scholarly outlets that America has become a radically different nation. This change has been reflected in the nature of (1) America’s domestic politics; (2) foreign policy; and (3) understandings of what America is and stands for.
Some of these changes are hard to measure. Yes, we can study shifts in foreign policy. Yes, we can investigate how government coalitions and debates compare with those in earlier eras. But when it comes to understanding broad shifts in America’s cultural fabric, and when it comes to understanding foreign perceptions of such shifts, the task becomes rather more difficult.
Broad brush generalizations about the nature of such shifts will not do. Sadly, it seems such generalizations are all we are offered, both in American and foreign news outlets. What is more, these generalizations are sometimes taken up by scholars, whose job is precisely to question the validity of such claims. Where does this leave us? What chance do we have of acquiring an adequate understanding of the cultural and geographical transformations of the past decade? Perhaps the answer is that we cannot acquire such an understanding now, in the present.
My sense is that the events of the last ten years have done much to shore up already existing world views, both on the left and the right. How, then, can one cite a radical change in America’s cultural fabric when the basic world views that make up that fabric have been reinforced? Where is the change in this regard? To what extent have the events of the last decade actually forced us, both in and outside America, to think differently about the international state system and globalization?
While the US government has done many things I don’t agree with over the last decade, I am still proud to be an American citizen (albeit one who has lived outside the US for the last three years). It still feel a bit insulted when I encounter people who are reflexively anti-American. Most people I’ve encountered here in Germany do not fall into the reflexively anti-American category. Sadly, though, I’ve encountered some otherwise intelligent individuals who harbour a rather distorted view of America. The scary part is that many of these individuals have never set foot in America, and their distorted understanding prevents them from doing so (or wanting to do so). As an American, I find this disheartening. I can only hope that the next decade brings better things for America and the rest of the world.
I realize these are incoherent ramblings, but I felt the need to write something on this unique today.
As I was browsing Google News this morning, I came across a piece with readers’ responses to an article on the use of Americanisms in Britain. Given my interest—or perhaps obsession—with language, I thought I would make a few remarks on the BBC readers’ comments.
I agree that some of the phrases that have ‘seeped’ into British usage are annoying or even ridiculous. For example:
15. What kind of word is “gotten”? It makes me shudder. Julie Marrs, Warrington
Yes, ‘gotten’ is terrible.
32. Going forward? If I do I shall collide with my keyboard. Ric Allen, Matlock
I’m sorry this phrase has entered your lexicon. It should be purged from all variants of English. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard this phrase used by talking heads on CNN, MSNBC, NBC, PBS, etc.
16. “I’m good” for “I’m well”. That’ll do for a start. Mike, Bridgend, Wales
Yes, ‘I’m good’ is not grammatically correct and we should always say ‘I’m well’. Still, this person’s remark seems to presume that Brits always use perfect grammar (or at least use correct grammar more often that Americans).
Some of the phrases BBC readers mention are, however, rarely used by Americans, so it’s strange that they have entered British usage. For example:
2. The next time someone tells you something is the “least worst option”, tell them that their most best option is learning grammar. Mike Ayres, Bodmin, Cornwall.
I rarely hear this phrase used.
3. The phrase I’ve watched seep into the language (especially with broadcasters) is “two-time” and “three-time”. Have the words double, triple etc, been totally lost? Grammatically it makes no sense, and is even worse when spoken. My pulse rises every time I hear or see it. Which is not healthy as it’s almost every day now. Argh! D Rochelle, Bath
I’m curious as to how Brits are using these phrases, since Americans do not use them as equivalents for ‘double’ and ‘triple’. We say ‘two-time world champion’ or ‘three-time gold glove winner’. It wouldn’t make sense to say ‘double champion’ or ‘triple gold glove winner’.
22. Train station. My teeth are on edge every time I hear it. Who started it? Have they been punished? Chris Capewell, Queens Park, London
I’m not sure what the problem is here. Why is ‘rail station’ superior to ‘train station’?
29. I’m a Brit living in New York. The one that always gets me is the American need to use the word bi-weekly when fortnightly would suffice just fine. Ami Grewal, New York
I don’t think ‘fortnight’ has ever been common in American usage. I must admit that it’s a nice word, but Americans simply don’t use it.
Finally, as the author of the original piece on Americanisms notes:
The French have always hated this process [‘vocabulary migration'] with a very Gallic passion, and their most august body L’Academie Francaise issues regular rulings on the avoidance of imported words. English isn’t like that. It is a far more flexible language. Anarchic even.