Posts Tagged ‘place’

Metropolitan History Seminar
10 October 2012
Stuart Minson (Oxford)
A history of urban space: changing concepts of space in the study of the early modern metropolis


Space and place has become a popular study in recent years.  It can be found in many titles of seminar papers, monographs, articles, and museum/library exhibitions.  However, as an analytical category ‘space’ is a recent innovation for the History discipline, falling behind many other social sciences who took the category up much earlier.

In this paper Stuart Minson surveys the changing concepts and variety of thoughts about ‘space’ with particular mention of the early modern urban space.  Even the meaning of the word varies considerably.  China and the West have very different views of what space constitutes.

Minson looks at the meanings given to space, whether these are practical, spiritual or invisible.  He asks what relationships humans have to spaces and how these influence and control actions.  Certain spaces, for example encourage certain actions over others (you would act differently in a work place than a home or a café for example).  These spaces are always open to reinterpretation, although there are always some – either official or unofficial – who attempt to retain the status quo when this happens.  Space therefore can be a place where a variety of social interests are played out.

In the second half of the paper, Minson turns to the question of where this concept of space came from.  This is a look at Max Weber, Carl Friedrich Gauss and others as well as an examination of the term in regards specifically to urban landscape studies which itself is routed in cultural geography.  Most historical work, Minson argues, still continues to follow traditional and in some cases outdated models from geography and anthropology, when it should be increasingly focusing on synthesising the two way relationship between people and space.  Thus, for Minson, the study of space and place in the History discipline still needs much work.

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Sport and Leisure History
Following the Urban Alchemist: The Tour Guide and the History of London
Geoffrey Levett (Birkbeck, University of London)
28 May 2012

 Geoffrey Levett is not just an historian, but also a tour guide in London.  This topic is therefore one where Levett is very much at home.  Tour guides create a narrative about a place and have to try and convey meaning to streets as they take their tourists around a place.  In this talk Levett looks at the historical development of guides in London and its move into an industry.  He also looks at how and why guides seek out stories and understanding of a place.

Levett basis his evidence upon a series of interviews he has carried out with tour guides, his own experiences, and the wealth of literature produced by guides over the years.  He looks at regulation but also individual representations of a place.  The syllabus often represents London in terms of progress and of national greatness, but not all are inclined to follow this to the letter.   Similarly the development of Westfield Strafford represents both a new challenge for guides as well as uncertainty over the focus: should they talk about the regeneration of the region at the expense of past histories?  Levett also discusses the difficulties in representing monarchy clearly, especially during events such as the changing of the guard.  In the end, however, guides must tailor their talks to the expectation of tourists.  Much content therefore is about things that people already know (or think they know), however this must be mediated with unexpected information about an area to maintain interest.

It seems that the role of the tour guide is complex and is an interesting way into the history of London.  They are part storytellers, part tourist industry, and part history of the area themselves.

 To listen to this podcast click here.

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