I have now been doing this blog, with an increasingly haphazard publication schedule, for two years. The pace of writing has slowed considerably as I have taken on more administrative duties in my department, where I am now undergraduate program chair and the principal academic advisor, tried to buckle down and refocus some effort on teaching and writing for peer review, and chased after a tiny human who has recently developed considerable speed and agility. I have been happy to write a thing or two in this forum each month. No one tells me what I can and can’t write, there is no word limit and there are no reviewers to tell me which 17 authors I forgot to cite, and I can pursue whatever whim occurs to me. Or I can let the whole thing sit idle for weeks on end, and no one (or probably no one) really cares, as this is a space for side projects and a way of organizing my academic and professional presence online. By the same token, if I don’t write anything here for a while, I get antsy, and there is a kind of ‘feed the beast’ approach that I try to resist in managing the blog. I have not stuck strictly to my focus on ‘places’, but I feel this is all he better for having an expansive and heterodox sensibility about my discipline of geography and its core concepts and approaches. Lately though, I feel I have not had much to say on here, or not many things have spurred me to write here rather than in manuscripts I have had to prepare or revise for conferences and journals, or to take time from other more pressing duties to whip up 2000 words on something that struck a chord but which is, in many ways, something of a personal indulgence.
In that vein, I am going to celebrate my two-year anniversary on the blog with a tiny bit of link salad. Currently, I am staring down a pile of exams from my 3rd year course on political geography, a looming conference paper, several grad students hurtling toward completion, etc., and so on and so forth. I was going to write about the poetics of an early dinner at Texas Roadhouse but once I started forming it in my head, it felt a bit too loose to put to the world. So you’ll just have to imagine it for yourself. Instead, here are three things I’ve come across lately that have piqued my geographic interest.
First, this New Yorker article from January 2019 in which geographers Joel Wainwright and Geoff Mann are interviewed about their work on climate change and governance, and possible climate futures, from ultra-reactionary attempts to stave off climate change’s worst impacts through a bolstered but vicious form of state sovereignty and denialism rooted in realist calculations of resource scarcity and national security, to the hopeful bottom-up scenario of local solutions to climate catastrophe integrating into something that goes beyond the limitations of liberal sovereignty. It’s rare, I think, that geographers are able to find this kind of outlet and can bring nuanced thinking and arguments about the state, sovereignty, and scale to a wider audience in this way. I also quite enjoyed the original 2012 article (see here for a symposium discussion on the article and Mann and Wainwright’s response) on which their more recent book Climate Leviathan was based, and am hoping to get around to the book soon enough.
Second, I have assigned Matt Farish’s detailed and wonderful book The Contours of America’s Cold War to my third-year political geography class for the next couple of weeks and was tooling around looking for lecture material beyond the book and found several interesting pieces on Owen Lattimore. Lattimore, an Asia expert who worked in multiple capacities as a political advisor, analyst, intelligence officer, and professor, was famously (or more accurately, infamously) raked over the coals of Senate committee hearings in the early 1950s after Senator Joseph McCarthy identified him as one of the top Soviet spies in the US, pinning the “loss of China” to the Communist forces of Mao Zedong on communist infiltration in the State Department and to Lattimore in particular. Lattimore’s story, in which he was finally exonerated (the charges against him were obviously nonsense) but not before having his reputation in the US ruined for decades, is an excellent example of the early cold war climate in which strategic area studies rose to prominence on the promise of scientifically systematizing the study of regions and producing a spatial science that would aid in the global war effort while geography and geographers, which at the time made areal differentiation and regional description their bread and butter, found themselves unequal to the strategic and political demands made of it. This is a drastically oversimplified version of the tale, but it does allow me to point readers to a few excellent recountings of the red scare hysteria of the McCarthy era and the impacts on free thought and academic research through the experience of Lattimore, as told in this two part 1995 biography from the Washington Post, and this detailed examination of the McCarthy hearings and Lattimore’s work from John Hopkins University, where Lattimore worked at the time.
Finally, and briefly, I have covered urban issues in both my intro human geography course last fall and my political geography course this semester, and in looking for good images and maps to illustrate urban change in North American cities, I came across this piece on the Eisenhower Expressway in Chicago. Examining the development of this piece of Chicago’s highway infrastructure in terms of both the displacement it caused but also the grad ideological formation that saw the expressway as not just a shortcut through the city but as a path to urban modernization, it provides an excellent and readable intro to the profound changes that occurred in many American cities throughout the middle decades of the 20th century.
Next time, maybe – reflections on two guest speakers coming to the University of Windsor campus in the next few weeks. Matt Farish is on campus to give a talk on March 1, and Jenna Loyd will be there on March 15. Anyone in Windsor, the talks are free and open to the public, but cookies may run out fast.