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The Chair's theme for the 2024 Annual International Conference is mapping. It will explore mapping in all its forms, in a world that is saturated with maps, from historical cartography to the newest technologies and practices of map-making.

It has been selected by the Chair of Conference, Professor Stephen Legg (University of Nottingham, UK), in conversation with the Society's Research Groups and with the Research and Higher Education Committee.


"We live in a world that is saturated with maps. They trace invasions, financial crises, pandemics and environmental disasters, and our responses to them. Maps plot and coordinate surveillance, and counter-plot evasion and resistance. They can be ephemeral sketches or visualisations for the ages. They chart jet streams, oceanic oscillations and ozone holes, heatwaves, droughts, and drizzles. Maps map territory and sovereignty, but also evidence indigenous land claims and historical landscapes of meaning. Corporations scan and map the entire earth, while individuals and communities map their own places. Maps, synonymous in the public eye with geography, are ubiquitous but despite (or perhaps because of) this are less central now to geographical archives, teaching, and research methods. Mapping practices are indebted to the discipline of cartography but move progressively away from its traditional core interests, described by Matthew Edney (2019) as the idealisation of the process of mapping. Newer forms of mapping include interactive digital maps, real-time mapping, 3D printed maps and maps that can be viewed in virtual and augmented reality. An interdisciplinary cast of scholars and enthusiasts now study and create the exhilarating practice of mapping, within and beyond university campuses.

The academic spaces of the geography conference invite us to consider whether there is anything that its attendees have in common? I would like us to consider whether mapping might be that thing. The case could be made around four propositions: 1) that we are drawn to maps and those who made them 2) that we have an interest in the power of maps and how they are re-made every time they are used 3) that we engage in map-making to analyse and engage others in our research 4) that mapping is a spatial disposition that unifies us, going beyond the making of maps to a deeper urge to locate and emplace human and physical geographical processes.

I hope that those who have never considered themselves map-makers will use this conference to consider how they have engaged, and might yet engage, in mapping. This could be in the most abstract sense of a commitment to mentally map the processes we research; in the more analytical sense of maps made to explain and understand geography; or in the sense of reflecting on our map obsessions. But it might also take the form of thinking critically about both the inherently imperial and acquisitive nature of traditional maps (the RGS-IBG is home to one of the world’s largest private map collections), and the need to defend newer forms of spatial literacy and cartographic truth-telling against populist post-truths. There may well be forms of spatial understanding to which mapping has little to offer, and the spatial frames of contemporary geography may exceed the technique or metaphor of mapping. Regardless of our conclusions, this conference theme encourages us to reflect on the role of mapping in the discipline, academia, and the wider world." 

Stephen Legg, University of Nottingham (UK)