Public geographies and the internet

I first came across work on public geography when I had reached the geographical limits of public history (a movement indebted to Raphael Samuel and the History Workshop Journal). Public history, or the field that I have been most involved in (see Ruskin College public history), is about making the subject more accessible to the public through a focus on ordinary lives, everyday sources and accessible communication. Moreover, history has a very visible public face with champions such as Simon Schama, Amanda Vickery and Adam Hart-Davis, as well as the numerous successful television programmes that can so clearly be identified as ‘historical’. Yet, when I began to think about public geography and our champions, the only name that really came to mind was Michael Palin who is now President of the Royal Geographical Society with IBG. His mission is as follows:

Geography is an almost limitless subject for me. It covers so much of what shapes our lives today – where we live, how we live, and most importantly how we shall live in the future. It is a dynamic subject, constantly changing and evolving as fresh evidence is assembled and assessed. As I travel the world I find myself asking questions that only geographers can answer, and I feel I owe a great debt to all those who’ve taught me to appreciate what geography has become for me, a sense of wonder fused with the hard truths of science. (http://www.rgs.org/AboutUs/People/President.htm)

But public geography is so much more than just traveling the world (see also travel programmes and series about natural hazards) – it is about opening up what it means to be in place – from Victorian explorers and their publishers to scientists, mice and labs to the impacts of climate change for farmers in Cornwall. Geography and our interests as geographers are everywhere and it is in this vein that I hope public geography will move forward – whilst figures such as David Harvey and Anthony Giddens are often recognised as ‘public geographers’ contributing to politics as well as writing books that are read by academics, policymakers, practitioners and interested publics, public geography also needs to encompass smaller interventions – this blog is perhaps an example.

I recently came across a paper started by Duncan Fuller and finished by Kye Askins, as part of  a series of progress reports on Public Geography today. See

Public geographies II: Being organic

  • Duncan Fuller and
  • Kye Askins

Progress in Human Geography, October 2010; vol. 34, 5: pp. 654-667

doi: 10.1177/0309132509356612

This paper does many things, but what it does really well is showcase the rich and wide-ranging ways in which geographers are going public and engaging audiences in a dialogue. As I read on, I was both surprised and pleased to find a reference to my initial post about this blog and the discussion that ensued:

“Pertinently, there has been discussion on these lists regarding the  utility/rigour/relevance of the ‘blogosphere’,some of which I draw on here (eg, go to http://www.jiscmail.ac.uk, enter ‘crit geog’ in the ‘FIND LISTS’ keyword search, click on Crit-Geog-Forum then search for ‘enthusiasm blog’)” (Fuller and Askins 2010:656).

The initial reaction to my blog was mixed – with support form many and others questioning the value of this kind of intervention. I have found it to be a rewarding experience as a researcher – keen to disseminate my findings beyond academic geography – but also to feel part of a community who are enthusiastic and keen to make sense of what it means to passionately be in the world.

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