This week’s guest post comes from Dr David Nally, who explains why he is excited by the publication of the book he has co-authored on Key Concepts in Historical Geography:

On 21 February, Fitzwilliam College will mark the publication of Key Concepts in Historical Geography (Sage 2014) with a formal book launch in The Grove. The book is co-authored by Dr John Morrissey (NUI Galway and presently a Visiting Fellow at Fitzwilliam), Dr David Nally (Fellow, Fitzwilliam College), Professor Ulf Strohmayer (NUI Galway) and Dr Yvonne Whelan (University of Bristol). Professor Felix Driver (Royal Holloway, University of London) will make some introductory remarks at the launch.

Our book began as a series of questions posed between the authors about what a historical-geographical perspective brings to research in the humanities and social sciences. Do anchor concepts within those fields of enquiry look different when studied from a geographical perspective, we wondered?

We felt that many did. The phenomenon of globalisation, for example, not only has significant historical antecedents, but it develops in spatially uneven ways. Similarly the process of identity building can be understood geographically – ‘to be’, as colleagues Bondi and Davidson (2003: 338) memorably put it, is necessarily ‘to be somewhere.’  Recent studies of colonialism and imperialism show how both processes turn on a set of ‘geographical dispositions’ (to borrow a phrase from author and critic Edward Said), including the cultivation of geographical imaginaries about the life-worlds of distant strangers, imaginaries that help to provide a moral sanction for the forceful ‘taking of space’. It is clear too that social differentiations such as ‘race’ and ‘class’ are very often spatially anchored. The process of boundary making, for instance, can amplify feelings of inclusion /exclusion within and between communities of belonging (the system of apartheid being one of the most notorious examples).

We felt, in other words, that as well as learning from research conducted in the wider humanities and social sciences historical geographers have a unique perspective to offer back to those fields of enquiry. We hope that what began as a conversation among the authors has finished as an invitation to converse with researchers and students in other fields and disciplines.

A second important aim of our book is to provide accessible chapter-length introductions to undergraduate and postgraduate students reading Geography. Despite having a strong disciplinary presence (particularly in departments across the English-speaking world) historical geographers had not produced a book on their sub-field for over a decade. We felt it was high time for some sustained (and critical) reflection on the research achievements within our field.

The book itself is organised around 24 essays and provides comprehensive explanations and definitions of key concepts and terms. Like other books in the Key Concepts series we have used extensive pedagogic features – maps, figures, diagrams, images, lists of further readings etc. – to aid understanding. Our hope is that an accessible book, exploring some of the most important debates between geographers and scholars in cognate fields, will inspire a new wave of interest in the study of historical geography. Given the strong support for Geography at Fitzwilliam College we are particularly thrilled that our book will be formally launched in The Grove.

David Nally

Nicola Padfield

About Nicola Padfield

Nicola Padfield MA, Dip Crim, DES became Master of Fitzwilliam College in October 2013. She is a Reader in Criminal and Penal Justice at the Law Faculty, University of Cambridge, and has been a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College since 1991.

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