Professor Zapp discovers Cultural Geography!!!

In a recent entry on his New York Times blog, Stanley Fish (allegedly the model for Professor Zapp in David Lodge’s comic novels of academe) announces the discovery of cultural geography with the snazzy new label – Geohumanities (http://osiriseducational.co.uk/osirisblog/the-triumph-of-the-humanities). Fish has recently stumbled across an exciting new collection with the title Geohumanities – an exciting collection twinned with a simultaneous release called Envisioning Landscapes, Making Worlds (both 2011, Routledge). Both are the result of a deliberate strategy by the Association of American Geographers to think about the humanities in geography and vice versa. They are wonderful books.  Fish’s entry is titled “The Triumph of the Humanities” and the gist of its argument is that if such an arcane descriptive discipline like geography can embrace the humanities then the humanities must have triumphed. Disciplines like geography were apparently resistant to the humanities for much of their history but are now fully convinced. Geohumanities is, according to Fish

the elaboration, by methods derived from the humanities, of “the stratified record upon which we set our feet” (the title of another essay and a quote from Thomas Mann). It is the realization, in a style of analysis, of the “spatial turn,” a “critical shift that divested geography of its largely passive role as history’s ‘stage’ and brought to the fore intersections between the humanities and the earth sciences” (Peta Mitchell in “GeoHumanities”).

It is hard to know how to read such an entry. Geography has always been part of the humanities (Eratosphenes, Strabo etc.). Cultural Geography in the form it appears in Geohumanities is relatively new but not that new – we have been doing this kind of thing for at least forty years. I doubt the book is “officially” announcing a field of study that has several journals, research groups, global reach and a central role in the wider discipline of geography as Fish’s article suggests. So I am tempted to say “about time” and treat this with mild grumpiness. On the other hand it is good to get recognition and for things like this to appear with NYT approval. Maybe I should invite him to write an article for cultural geographies (soon to be 20 years old).

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