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 Additionally, vast amounts of historical documents, calendars, and archives are becoming increasingly digitized and open-source.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 Versed in both historical documents that shed insight into past weather and climate conditions as well as aspects of physical geography, historical geographer can provide a unique lens with which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


DU Geographical Society’s Trip to Bratislava (feat. Vienna)

Forty students from Dublin University Geographical Society (GeogSoc) travelled to Bratislava (with a quick day trip to Vienna) last semester (figure 1).

Figure 3 (but header picture)
Figure 1: The group at Comenius University with Dr Alena and Dr Marcus 

We stated our geographical observations straight away, noticing the pollution and urban sprawl around the River Rhine as we flew over the Netherlands (figure 2).  The group navigated Slovakian public transport (tricky at times) to reach ‘Hostel Blues’, a short walk from Bratislava old town and historical city center. We sampled delicious local foods in ‘Slovak Pub’, trying goulash, dumplings, and traditional ‘Cosnaková polícvka krémóvá’ (creamy garlic soup in a bowl made of home-made bread and cheese) (figure 3).

On Friday morning the group had free time during which most people visited the Christmas markets for mulled wine, Slovakian breakfast pastries and desserts to warm up for the day ahead before travelling to Columbius University to meet Dr. Aleana Rochovska and her colleague Marcus (figure 1) who kindly agreed to give us a lecture on the post-socialist development of Slovakia. After the lecture they brought us on a tour of the city, walking along the River Danube, through wealthy housing developments and gentrified areas of the city, and then through homeless encampments to illustrate the contrast in urban development and social policy since the fall of communism. The tour finished in Bratislava castle, a city landmark. Alana and Marcus informed us of the castle’s history and the damage it experienced during World War 2, and they pointed out the ‘UFO bridge’, another iconic city landmark (figure 4) and Austrian boarder visible in the distance.

Figure 4
Figure 4: View of the UFO Bridge from Bratislava Castle 

We parted with Alena and Marcus in the evening to explore the old town and visit landmarks such as the Slavín Monument, St. Michael’s Gate, the Town Hall, City Museum, and finally St. Michael’s Cathedral. That night we visited the UFO bridge viewing station to see the city at night from a height (a must-do while in Bratislava- figure 5 a&b).


On the second day the group travelled to Vienna to investigate the differing geographical development of both cities as influenced by communism (Bratislava), or ancient imperial power (Vienna). We visited the St. Stephen’s Cathedral (figure 6), the Hofburg Palace (figure 7), and the Christmas markets (figure 8), then sampled some famous Viennese hot chocolate (figure 9) before heading back to Bratislava for our last night.

Figure 6
Figure 6: St. Stephen’s Cathedral
Figure 7
Figure 7: Outside Hofburg Palace
Figure 8
Figure 8: Tree Decorations at Christmas Markets
Figure 9
Figure 9:Hot Chocolate


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Blog Authored by: Sadhbh Nic Giolla Chomhaill, 4th year TSM Geography/Sociology student and the Geogsoc Fieldtrip Co-ordinator.