Inspired by this post by an old secondary school friend (which is co-incidentally sort of about Mills) – I have been thinking a little bit about conceptions of space and how it influences us.
The author of the piece comments in the footnotes that (as a consequence of growing up in Cornwall) “for a long time [I] believed that everywhere could be divided into: Cornwall, Up-Country, North, Scotland. I think Wales somehow came under Cornwall, or perhaps Elsewhere. Anyway, it resulted in a belief that Newcastle and Birmingham were right next to each other, as indeed were Dorset and London, and that everywhere in Scotland was between Glasgow and Edinburgh. The realisation that this was not the case has resulted in an enduring fascination with pyschogeography and perceptions of place, and occasionally, some very dubious travelling decisions.”
Having also grown-up for the most part in Cornwall and, although I had previously given little thought to it being a shared conception, I also grew up with a slightly vague sense of place which consisted of: Cornwall; up-country (everything between Plymouth and London, and Wales); London; The North (everything from London to Glasgow except Edinburgh but probably including most of Ireland); and Scotland (Edinburgh, Glasgow & everything north of Glasgow). I also sort of absent-mindedly believe there is nothing to the west of Cornwall but The Sea (anything but the Atlantic ceases to feel like ‘real sea’) and that going east covers the entire rest of the world.
I have always considered that my sense of geography is simply very poor through lack of knowledge – I would struggle to locate most European cities on a map, am similarly bad at naming any of the old Soviet bloc countries and get considerably worse the further outside the realms of the Roman Empire you ask me to go; indeed my geography of Cornwall itself is somewhat hazy and is based entirely on up, down, and over from my home village (plus anything north of about St. Austell was suspiciously close to up-country). However, seeing a strikingly similar sense of place articulated by someone with a similar (and yet notably different) background has drawn me back to half-formed ideas in my thesis.
As part of of my research I read Katherine Clarke’s “Between Geography and History” and began to think about how time and place are entwined and separated in our writing and in that of the ancient Greeks, at the time I wanted to analyse approaches to ancient writing about Britain without really going into its meaning for more recent historiography but..
- How is the concept of place, when it is subjective, centred on one’s own location and judges other places based on their proximity and relevance to that location, echoed in the process of writing local history? The local historical text is able to outline the development of the place as situated within the flow of people, knowledge and goods to and from it as well as literally describing events from that place’s point of view (in some senses this has more in common with historical writing that privileges individual actors than say process-driven historiography like Marxist writing – how does this affect how we view it?). Although Cornish writers are often painfully aware of the peripheral status of Cornwall in relation to the political hub of London (or Rome) they are able to re-centralise it within the narrative and are often keen to do so. The idea of this historical imagination ‘mapping’ onto/paralleling the geographies constructed by Cornish peoples suggests a psychological connection as well as the overt political one though perhaps that should be considered a ‘chicken and egg’ scenario.
- How does this fit into the process of geographical writing and especially travelogues… Most travel narratives (and antiquarian texts especially) that I have read featuring Cornwall describe both the physical features and the historical points of interest (to be fair that was of course why I was reading them) and come from either an outsider on a journey or as a guide for tourists to the county – presumably this is because one does not describe the countryside you see everyday to someone else who sees it everyday – but I have not compared whether the spatial journeys to-and-from have an impact on the way the historical component comes across
Food for thought at any rate..