Historical geographer and urban morphologist

I joined GAP in 1999 as lecturer in human geography. I began my academic career at the University of Birmingham, gaining a PhD in 1995. In 1996 I was awarded a British Academy Post-Doctoral Fellowship and took this up at Royal Holloway (University of London) in the Department of Geography. At Queen’s I primarily teach modules on urban and historical geography, with a particular focus on urban landscapes in both contemporary and historical cultural contexts. This continues a long tradition of teaching historical geography at Queen’s.

Research interests and expertise

My research interests are in historical geography and urban morphology. Broadly I use mapping and cartography as interpretative frames to explore the materiality and imagining of space, place and landscape during the later Middle Ages (CE 1000-1500). This brings me into close contact with other medievalists in disciplines such as history and archaeology. While I am one of the very few geographers working in the UK on the middle ages, medieval historical geography has been and continues to be a very distinctive aspect of research in the Geography at Queen’s, making contributions that reach across a range of disciplines concerned with the medieval past.

I am currently engaged with developing two innovative research agendas:

  • First, in the context of digital humanities research, I use spatial technologies to explore and understand the medieval world. This work began in 2003 with a project called ‘Mapping the Medieval Urban Landscape’ – funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (running from June 2003 to May 2005) – which used GIS and GPS to map and analyse medieval urban forms in 3D. The project focused on a group of ‘new towns’ established in the reign of Edward I in England and Wales between 1277 and 1307. The project web-site has more detailed information (http://www.qub.ac.uk/urban_mapping). The project resulted in an interactive online atlas of medieval towns hosted by ADS at York (available athttp://ads.ahds.ac.uk/catalogue/specColl/atlas_ahrb_2005), a digital resource for a wide public audience. A further, related project, ‘Mapping the Realm’ (funded by the British Academy) also used GIS, this time to create a digital version of the medieval ‘Gough map’ of Britain, work completed in collaboration with the Bodleian Library in Oxford (for more details seehttp://www.qub.ac.uk/urban_mapping/gough_map). The web-served GIS resource that resulted from this research, the Digital Gough, is also accessible via http://www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/users/nnj/goughmap.htm, while the analytical results of the project published in the Annals of the AAG and Imago Mundi. A further, third, GIS-based mapping project is ‘Mapping medieval Chester’, funded by the AHRC (2008-09); a collaborative project with literary historians at Swansea University (Catherine Clarke and Helen Fulton) exploring literary and visual mappings of the medieval city. The web-resource resulting from this project was developed with the Centre for Computing in the Humanities (CCH) at King’s College London and is accessible at:http://www.medievalchester.ac.uk. Lastly, further funding from the AHRC (via its Beyond Text programme) is enabling me to continue research on the Gough Map. This new project, called “Linguistic Geographies”, is set to run from April 2010 to June 2011, in collaboration with CCH at King’s College London and with the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Together, these four GIS-based projects demonstrate the role that historical geographers have in the fast-moving world of digital humanities research, as well as the potential spatial technologies have in medieval studies.
  • Secondly, I am also pursuing an intellectual research agenda based upon the premise that geographers have much to contribute to medieval studies through our particular geographical ‘way of seeing’ the world. To this end I have spent much of the past decade arguing that geographers need to engage more with the medieval period. This I have done through working on the medieval city, looking at urban ideals and practices in the context of medieval Europe. This work is published in several journal articles, for example in the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers and Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, as well as in a book-length study (published in 2009 by Reaktion Books) called City and Cosmos: the medieval world in urban form (further details and testimonials at http://www.reaktionbooks.co.uk/book.html?id=367). This builds upon the work I have done (and continue to do) on medieval urban forms – mapping medieval urban landscapes – but considers more the symbolism that urban forms had in the medieval imagination. My approach has been to study medieval theories of the city, though using contemporary depictions and descriptions, as well as medieval political and natural philosophy, scientific treatises and theological texts. This has revealed the importance of the metaphorical associations between the city and the cosmos in the middle ages, connections I believe that were important not only in how the city was imagined in the Latin west by the Christian faithful, but also in how it was formed as a material built space, through urban planning and design, and how it was experienced as a lived space by those who were there, particularly at certain times of the year in various local civic rituals and performances. A continuation of this theorized work on medieval urbanism, and building upon the findings of my AHRC ‘Mapping the Medieval Urban Landscape’ project, was made possible thanks to a Leverhulme Research Fellowship for 2006-7. This enabled me to write a new book, provisionally called Cities and Sovereigns, which explores the urban exploits and imaginations of medieval kings, particularly King Edward I. Latterly, and largely as a consequence of analyzing the Gough Map using GIS, I have begun to look in more depth at geographical knowledge and ideas in the Middle Ages, exploring more broadly medieval cosmography, cartography and geography, and this has received a helpful boost through my convening (with the late Denis Cosgrove) an Ahmanson Foundation funded conference at the Center for Medieval Studies at UCLA (May 2009) on the subject of ‘Mapping medieval geographies’ – a subject largely neglected by geography’s historians today – further details of which are available at http://www.cmrs.ucla.edu/programs/conferences.html).I have since edited the papers arising from this conference, and the resulting volume, Mapping Medieval Geographies, is currently under review by Cambridge University Press.

With pursuing both of these research agendas my principal aim is to ensure that the medieval period remains a visible and viable presence upon geography’s disciplinary ‘map’, while at the same time demonstrating to medievalists in cognate subjects, such as history, archaeology and architecture, how geographers have so much still to contribute to ongoing debates. Please do contact me if you wish to explore doctoral study at Queen’s in any of those areas of geographical research outlined above.