"The Stratified Record upon Which We Set Our Feet" : The Spatial Turn and the Multilayering of History, Geography, and Geology
Mitchell, Peta (2011) "The Stratified Record upon Which We Set Our Feet" : The Spatial Turn and the Multilayering of History, Geography, and Geology. In Dear, Michael, Ketchum, Jim, Luria, Sarah, & Richardson, Doug (Eds.) GeoHumanities : Art, History, Text at the Edge of Place. Routledge, New York, pp. 71-83.
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In Thomas Mann’s tetralogy of the 1930s and 1940s, Joseph and His Brothers, the narrator declares history is not only “that which has happened and that which goes on happening in time,” but it is also “the stratified record upon which we set our feet, the ground beneath us.” By opening up history to its spatial, geographical, and geological dimensions Mann both predicts and encapsulates the twentieth-century’s “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.
In this paper, I draw out the relationships between history, narrative, geography, and geology revealed by this spatial turn and the questions these pose for thinking about the disciplinary relationship between geography and the humanities. As Mann’s statement exemplifies, the spatial turn itself has often been captured most strikingly in fiction, and I would argue nowhere more so than in Graham Swift’s Waterland (1983) and Anne Michaels’s Fugitive Pieces (1996), both of which present space, place, and landscape as having a palpable influence on history and memory. The geographical/geological line that runs through both Waterland and Fugitive Pieces continues through Tim Robinson’s non-fictional, two-volume “topographical” history Stones of Aran. Robinson’s Stones of Aran—which is not history, not geography, and not literature, and yet is all three—constructs an imaginative geography that renders inseparable geography, geology, history, memory, and the act of writing.
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