Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Place: Moving around the place

It is absolutely gorgeous outside today. Spring is here, even if there will be snow tomorrow. I stopped to chat with our neighbours who own the farm, and they were saying that last year the cows had been out for 2 weeks by this time! No sign of them yet this year- it's all sheep sheep sheep.

One of the best things about the spring is being able to enjoy wandering around the landscape looking at things. I did this a bit in autumn (and blogged about it) but it's right now, now that I've been here a few months, that I'm really starting to know where places are and how they connect up. Running has helped- experimental runs that end up following lanes and being a good 2km out of your comfort zone are great for landscape knowledge!

This got me thinking about building knowledge about the places where we live? How do we do this? How did people do it in the past?

Well, there's maps. Old ones and new ones. There's something really magical about the way maps work- putting down on a piece of paper not only where things are, but also what they look like and what they'll feel like for your body. You know when you see the contour lines scrunch up into an evil cluster that you will be gasping for air if you run up that hill (thanks Kate Bush). OS Maps are a pleasure, a treasure trove- hunting out the gothic writing that suggests there's something old and exciting right on that spot. But maps aren't just simple sheets of paper that you can whack in your pocket and use to find out where the nearest pub is. Maps are made by people- and people have ulterior motivations, passions and beliefs that structure how they draw out the land. OS Maps themselves are the product of the Ordnance Survey, a government sponsored project begun in the 18th century. The Ordnance Survey began as an act of colonial dominion in the aftermath of the Jacobite rebellion- a survey was made in 1747 to ensure that government forces would never be at a disadvantage in terms of knowledge of terrain. The entire country was eventually covered, and the official Ordnance Survey was founded in 1791: just in time for the Napoleonic wars. In the event of an invasion, these intricate maps would provide Britain's defenders with all the knowledge required to fight Boney's evil forces. And that's nothing compared to the politics behind medieval and early modern period maps, especially of the New World- literally carving out nations and ontologies on a piece of paper. Far more important to place Jerusalem at the centre of the world and claim all the unknown lands for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth than to get a river in the right position.

Maps are perhaps the most formal way of noting what's where.  Literally moving around maps the ground into your brain perhaps more effectively. You end up remembering where things are based on experience, rather than an abstract knowledge, although sometimes the two match up. For example, I know if I go to Shore Bottom, I will meet these two and their noisy friends:

So it's really "the place where the loud collies live" in my head. Then there's the top of the hill- where you can see all the way across the valley.

When I get back from my run or walk, I think through the places I've been. The markers I assign them are based on what I feel, what I experience, what I see. So, this is the place where the ford flooded really badly. That is the place where I went to sledge in the snow. All these things are linked to activities or happenings- that's the place where I tripped over into the ditch. The anthropologist Tim Ingold, quite some time ago now, developed the concept of taskscape- the landscape composed not of passive features, but of happenings, of doings (Ingold 1993). Incorporated into this is the idea of time- the taskscape transforming, the world around us changing, as we change the things we do in it. To that, I'd like to incorporate thinking as doing. Thinking though the world and our experiences of it create a series of task like impressions on our inner maps of where we go and what we do. Taskscape yes, but memoryscape more so. If you do the same thing in the same place, create the same memories and pass them on, the land around you becomes imbued with stories, happenings, doings and thoughts. Places become sites of storytelling, accumulating memories. While places in the past may have been caught and bound up and squodged into shape in maps, inside people's heads they were still composed of all the flotsam and jetsam of their lives. That's what makes place from space.

This is where I got stuck in brambles and had to be rescued. It looks so innocent now, but at the time it was NOT funny...

Reference- this is very easy to read and a real eye opener. I love it as much as I did the first time I read it in the first year of undergraduate study.

Ingold, T. 1993. The temporality of the landscape. World Archaeology 25: 152-174.

If you'd like to read more about the social context of maps, this volume is pretty good.

Klein, B. 2001. Maps and the writing of space in Early Modern England. London, Palgrave Macmillan. 

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What do you think? I'd love to hear what's in your head.