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Queen’s academic's book still a seminal text

A book written 25 years ago by a Queen’s University Professor is still making its way around the world, influencing the future of Geography as a discipline.

When Professor David Livingstone from the School of Natural and Built Environment wrote The Geographical Tradition in 1992, he aimed to introduce his readers to a major tradition of inquiry and to provide a framework in which to place their own interests.

The book focuses on the history of geographical thought and practice and explores the relationship of Geography to other fields of knowledge. It has widely been used to re-energise Geography’s curriculum not only in Britain, the USA and Canada, but also in continental Europe and Latin America.

Now, a quarter of a century after it was first published, a major session took place at the Royal Geographical Society’s Annual Conference in London to re-examine the book with evaluations from a variety of scholars from several universities across the globe.

Professor Livingstone commented: "I’m pleased that the book has aged so well. It focuses on the history of geographical ideas and institutions. It provides a general map of about 500 years of history and I think that’s part of the reason why it’s still relevant. But it also shows that at various times the subject has been used to justify racist and colonial attitudes."

Professor Livingstone added: "Disciplines need a sense of stability, but they also need to be critical of themselves and to be made aware of the dark side of their history and of the blind spots that need to be removed. Geography as a discipline, for example, has experienced the promises and perils of being put at the service of the state. On the one hand it has provided valuable information on land use, natural resources, and population; on the other it has been used to support imperial policies, racial supremacism, and military campaigns.

"The book has also had a great life outside the discipline with scholars in sociology, history and anthropology taking a particular interest in what it has to say about the relationships between nature and culture. Interestingly, one Italian commentator at the conference showed how successful it has been in Latin America where it has been used in a critical way to challenge the traditionalism of the geography curriculum and to deal with the imperial legacy of the subject."

With around 100 people in attendance at the session organised by the high-level Royal Geographical Society Annual Conference, Professor Livingstone said it was pleasing to see that scholars were continuing to learn about the history of the subject and to find lessons in the past for engaging with the present. The Conference presentations are due to be published in the leading journal, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers.