As part of our mission to undertake research on the Society’s Collections and to make them more accessible, we have awarded 10 Wiley Research Fellowships for 2020-21.
Every month we are speaking to two of our Research Fellows to find out more about their projects.
Catherine Oliver (University of Cambridge) is taking a critical look at animals in the Society’s archives. Meanwhile, Karen Rann (University of Belfast) is exploring the early uses of isobaths and contour lines on maps. We caught up with them to discuss their research, why they applied for the Fellowship and what they’re hoping to find in the digital archives.
Catherine Oliver (CO): I have always had a strong affinity with animals of other species; for as long as I can remember, both domesticated and wild animals have been my friends and confidantes. During my undergraduate degree in human geography, I became a vegan, and this ultimately set me on a path to studying vegan geographies for my PhD. Now, in my postdoc, my research focus has shifted more widely to critical animal studies and beyond-human geographies.
My current research is with chickens who live in urban spaces, specifically in London. In this research, I am exploring the histories of chickens and humans in and beyond the city, as well as working with domestic chicken-keepers and ex-commercial chicken rehomers to explore the surge in urban chicken-keeping. I am thinking about what this means both for chickens and for the city, especially as entangled with crises of housing, the environment, health and food.
Chickens occupy a space very close to my heart – they have unique personalities, social relationships, and place-making behaviours that make them not only excellent companions, but interesting geographical actors. In 2017, my mum rehomed six ex-commercial hens and I became interested in my current research through getting to know Lacey, Bluebell, Winnie, Cleo, Primrose and Olive. They invited me into what novelist and feminist Alice Walker described in her 2012 memoir as “falling headlong into a mystery … pulled into the parallel universe that all other animals exist in, simultaneous with us.”
It is these parallel universes that I more often find myself drawn into in both my professional and personal life: my walk interrupted by a muntjac deer, writing accompanied by the song of robins, or the presence of parakeets in an English city forcing me to think about place differently. This beyond-human ethic and attentiveness to animals is central to my research and is something that I am really enjoying pursuing in different forms, contexts, and places across my research projects.
Karen Rann (KR): On an artist residency in Arran, Scotland in 2014, I was looking at maps of the island when I came up against the question: how and when did contour lines become the convention to depict elevation on maps? Since then, I have been captivated by the convoluted, and contentious, history of the ‘appearance’ of contour lines on maps. You can find out more on my blog.
CO: A few years ago, during a research trip to Hastings, a friend shared with me the story of a statue outside of London Euston station. The statue is of English navigator and cartographer Captain Matthew Flinders and his cat, Trim. Trim the cat is depicted between Flinders legs, accompanying a journey that is usually portrayed as a solely human endeavour. This statue and what it signals about the history of geography as more-than-human, and specifically animal, has captured my imagination ever since. The previous year, I had walked past this statue multiple times a week for months as I commuted to the British Library, yet I had never noticed the memorial of Trim and his human.
When Wiley and the Society announced these fellowships, I immediately thought of Trim’s role in the history of geography. I applied because I was interested in finding out more about the animals who were supporting and resisting human geographical actors. Animal histories is a growing field, engaging with the past from non-human perspectives, which is revealing exciting and novel insights. Animal geographies has, on the other hand, long had a place in the geographical discipline, but has largely conceptualised animals as part of the landscape, rather than as geographical actors and interlocutors. I applied for the WDA Research Fellowship to bring these insights together and approach the Society’s archives from this beyond-human perspective.
KR: I had already visited the Society’s Collections (pre-Covid) to see versions of Dupain-Triel’s early contour maps. I was aware there were potentially other early maps that would prove useful to my research but was short of time on that occasion. When I heard about the Fellowship, I thought it was an ideal opportunity to continue the research from home.
CO: This project builds upon some of my wider research interests in animal histories and geographies, as well as my ongoing interest in the different forms that human—animal relationships take. For most people, as sociologists Nik Taylor and Tania Signal argue, animals fit for the most part into the category of pets (such as dogs or cats), pests (such as foxes or rats) or profit (such as cows and chickens). It is widely acknowledged that these human relationships with animals are culturally, socially, and geographically influenced. Furthermore, a close positive relationship with a particular individual animal does not always translate to the wider species, a phenomenon evidenced in the popularity of ‘celebrity animals’ such as Esther the Wonder Pig or Juniper the Fox having little effect on societal-level attitudes towards those species.
I am interested in the kinds of spaces that humans and animals are co-creating to learn to live well together. For example, my research on veganism explores this through individual and collective ethical-political shifts that imagine less violent futures for both humans and animals. Similarly, my research with chickens in London explores how bringing chickens into the urban space changes the fabric of the city, but it also focuses on how people’s actual and imagined relationships with chickens change once they live together. This leads to physical spatial redesigns of urban gardens for and with chickens.
My research on the animals in the Society’s archives applies this lens to the histories of geography. In sharing the stories of animals as companions to and challengers of geographical knowledge, this project is complementary to the wider ethical, political, and geographical aims of my research portfolio.
KR: As a visual artist all my work is in response to place. For years I have grappled with the puzzle that is the rendering flat of three-dimensional objects onto paper. The residency on Arran led to an abiding interest in the history of a drawing convention (the depiction of elevation on maps). In 2018, I began an AHRC funded PhD project that enables me to draw together visual arts, cartography, historical and cultural geography, plus interdisciplinary approaches to creative making and research.
CO: I am excited to be finding lots of fascinating stories of human-animal relationships in the archives. I have particularly been seeking out animals in the geographical archives across four themes: the use of animal labour in supporting expeditions; historical friendships and collaborations between geographers and their companion animals; interspecies conflict in encounters with animals along the way; and geographers in mapping discovered species, expanding our knowledge of the other-than-human world.
Each of these human-animal histories offers interesting new ways of thinking about multispecies histories, but also in understanding geography and space as always more-than-human. Currently, I am writing about my findings in the archives by species on my blog. I hope that I will be able to construct a multispecies or more-than-human history of geography based upon the stories of individual animals and species in the geographical archive, while at the same time showcasing the Society’s Collections and the WDA platform.
KR: Through initial searches I was aware that the digital archives hold a copy of Jean Nicolas Buache’s 1757 Atlas. In this he used isobaths to graphically explore the connection between underwater mountain chains and mountainous regions on land. The historical ‘journey’ from submarine contour lines to those used to depict land, is complex. I hope further online sleuthing will elicit other early examples of proto-contours, contour precursors and other initial uses of contour lines on maps.
Find out more about our Wiley Digital Archive Research Fellowships.
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