Historical Geography: A Call to Arms

Recently, I was privileged to attend the Sowing the Seeds Workshop at the University of Cambridge. The Workshop was focused on the Economic History of Medieval Europe. While attending, I was struck by the strong level of scholarship of the presenters and panelists. It was a truly informative and inspiring experience. However, I also noticed that there was a dearth of historical geographers; something which was noted by a number of the panelists as well.

It is a  sad irony that historical geographers should have a diminished presence at such interdisciplinary events. The irony lies in that the time is very opportune for our research. Advances in GIS now allow for a plethora of statistical analyses and visualizations of historical data-sets. Additionally, vast amounts of historical documents, calendars, and archives are becoming increasingly digitized and open-source. It cannot be understated how much this increases the efficacy of historical research, but also decreases the time and costs involved with archival research. There are still large swaths of history that require not only initial investigation but also revaluation with GIS and related technologies.

Outside of research tools and data, increasing concern about climate change has also created an interest in the historical climate change. Historical geographer are well situated to analyze these past climatic phenomena. Versed in both historical documents that shed insight into past weather and climate conditions as well as aspects of physical geography, historical geographer can provide a unique lens with which to view and synthesize diverse data. By combining this data, researchers can understand how climatic change has impacted human behavior and well-being. For example, climate reconstructions have been paired with the Irish Annals to understand the interplay between climate fluctuations and conflict. Such understandings can be crucial for adapting to anthropogenic climate change.

The purpose of this post is to encourage young academics to take an interest in historical geography. If you want to pursue this discipline, you will find yourself needed. Historical geography in Ireland, in particular, offers an array of opportunities. A great deal of work still needs to be done on our understanding of how Ireland was populated, how Celtic influence came to Ireland, and the impact of English colonization on medieval Ireland (just to name a few areas). Ireland’s trees and bogs also offer up climate proxies. The tools, the data, and the heuristic opportunities are all there for you to seize.

Thank you for your time,

Christopher Casey Chevallier


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