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Geographical relativity: a fin de siècle commonplace?
(Oxford Brookes University)
Paper short abstract:
This paper asks whether fin de siècle British geography both fostered and evidenced a wider intellectual climate of relativistic thinking in the physical and human scientific circles and beyond in non-academic communities.
Paper long abstract:
The historians and philosophers of geography Jonathan Raper David Livingstone, Doreen Massey, Charles Withers and Keith Richards, Mike Bithell and Michael Bravo have begun to ponder the significance of geography to histories of relativity. This paper seeks to expand their scholarship by asking whether and how fin de siècle British geography both fostered and evidenced a wider intellectual climate of relativistic thinking in public and academic communities of physical and human scientific practice. This paper maps the locations of late nineteenth-century popular geographical knowledge performances as well as those of an emergent professionalizing academic discipline of geography. It positions the latter in relation to broader patterns of scientific performance in a rapidly shifting landscape of scientific knowledge-making by presenting several case studies about the British Society for the Advancement of Science (BAAS), the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) and geographers at the University of Oxford. The paper assesses how geographical methods developed across these sites which saw the harnessing of visual technologies, images, linguistic idioms and imaginative techniques employed by a number of individuals active in these sites, including Halford Mackinder, J.F. Heyes and Francis Galton. In the 1880s such sites saw the emergence of concepts of special and general geography which explored, defined and disseminated a geographical relativity concerning space and time. The implications of the latter pertain as much to transdisciplinary understandings of relativity in the emergent fields of anthropology and modern physics in the early twentieth century as to contemporary planetary concerns addressed by Bruno Latour.
Commonplace relativities of geography, anthropology and physics in the fin de siècle