The Spatial Turn in History and my own intellectual trajectory

Over at the Spatial Humanities web-site I recently read an essay/post by Dr. Jo Guldi titled The Spatial Turn in History. In it Guldi, explains that because of the influence of Ernst Cassirer , “twentieth-century historians increasingly described the sensuous practices involved in the making of imaginal landscape.

I read the piece initially because of an ongoing interest in my old degree (dual) field in history and an ongoing desire to understand the varied disciplinary impacts of the “spatial turn“.

After reading it I was inspired, to reflect on my own spatial turn, as it were. I suppose one could argue that my own studies in both undergraduate and graduate school, which focused on concepts such as community and identity, were a product of this spatial turn in some way. Especially, given where they were headed, when I ended my studies.

Guldi argues “Telling a history of nation rather than family required the writers to develop tools for privileging landscape over the portrait.” I would contend that “history of a nation” could refer just as well to history of a peoples, community or some other form of social identity. The idea being that the transition from a biographical, great man sort of history to that of a larger imagined community requires a different conceptual framework.

Under the guidance of Professor Florin Curta my own focus on ethnicity and then identity inevitably led to a focus on archaeology and space through the lens of material culture and settlements. This can be seen by a quick review of the titles of just a few of the books I was reading at the time. Archaeology of Communities: A New World Perspective, The Vikings in England: Settlement, Society and Culture or Gender and Archaeology: Contesting the Past, Ethnicity: Anthropological Constructions, all were concerned less with traditional history than the how-to (and importantly why) of constructing socio-spatial-cultures. Which I think also helps to explain my own eventual (in recent years) interest and engagement in the realms of spatial and political construction.

For a taste of my research at the time see my MA thesis titled Village community and peasant society in medieval England. My undergraduate honors thesis had a similar topic;  Identity in the Danelaw but I can’t seem to find it online.


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