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Department of Geography


Geography Library blog

Geography Library blog

'We are the future'

May 5th, 2018

This time of year Cambridge libraries assume greater significance in the daily lives of undergraduates. The 100+ libraries scattered across the city fill up as students prepare for their finals. Then in one moment in late May or early June time is called on the last exam and the adventure that is the rest of their lives begins.

In June 1936 one such undergraduate, John Cornford, graduated with a starred first in History from Trinity College. A few weeks later, General Franco and his 'Army of Africa' invaded Spain from Morocco. These two apparently disparate events would have tragic consequences. Cornford left immediately, joining the POUM militia on Huesca Plain in Aragon. He then joined the nascent International Brigades and was wounded in the defence of Madrid. With the war raging on several fronts, his battalion was sent south to Andalucia. Lopera, a small hilltop town near Cordoba, had been taken by the Nationalists. A disastrous attempt to retake the town was ordered in late December and Cornford was one of over 300 brigaders who were mown down by the machine guns of Franco's well-equipped and highly-trained mercenaries.

However, Cornford and his brief foray into world history are not forgotten. Whilst there is no memorial in Cambridge, Lopera does have a plaque dedicated to those who died trying to liberate the town. Cornford is also one of 5 British and Irish writers commemorated on the wall of the 'Casa de estudiantes' in Madrid. Closer to home, Jeremy Corbyn concluded his speech at the Durham Miners' Gala in 2017 by quoting from one of Cornford's most famous poems:

More than 80 years after his death, Cornford's words may be meaningful to some of those students still crouched over their notes:

'We are the future. The last fight let us face'

On the road (and in the field)

January 7th, 2016

People travel for a myriad of reasons and geographers travel more than most. The Part 1B Tripos students of last summer, however, all travelled for the same reason: they have a dissertation to write and they need data from the field. The Dictionary of Human Geography (5th edition states that): 'The methodology of fieldwork is capacious and eclectic ...' and with that in mind they packed their rucksacks and set off to ...

See this year's Dissertation Diaspora.

A few images from this year's cohort:

Brighton Tenerife

Dissertation Diaspora

October 1st, 2014

The 5th edition of 'The Dictionary of Human Geography' defines fieldwork as:

'A means of gathering data that involves the researcher in direct engagement with the material world.'

'Methane potential in Arctic soils': field site, Sjurfjellet, Norway.

Norway 1

Injecting Rhodamine dye into a supraglacial stream on 'Glacier Blanc',
Pelvoux, Ecrins National Park, Pelvoux, France.

Pelvoux 2

'Abandonment and dereliction in Berlin: the re-appropriation of excess space'.


Land use survey - Queensland, Australia


Oskar Blues bar, Lyons, Colorado. The bar hosted an open mic night for victims
of the September 2013 floods.

Oskar Blues

'Cultural identity in the Shetland Islands'


Helping with the harvest, Zanskar Valley.

Zanskar 1

'A study of Mexican immigration into USA'. Pilsen, Southside Chicago.

Pilsen Chicago

Mapping the outline of a glacial lake, Pelechuco Valley, NW Bolivia.

Pelechuco Valley

Measuring river cross-sections, Pelechuco Valley, NW Bolivia.

Valle de Pelechuco

The first field experience for Tripos students is usually a visit to the exposed, windswept coast of north Norfolk in January of the first year. This is a sort of geographical 'coming of age'. Survive a field day on a North Sea beach in winter and you can be a geographer. Among other places Tripos students are likely to visit are the Cambridge City Cemetery in Mill Road, the Botanic Gardens and Canvey Island. After the short excursions, come the residential field trips abroad. These provide an opportunity to carry out some more substantial, supervised fieldwork and perhaps reflect on the fact that the Tripos doesn't last forever and that the final year is fast approaching. Before that, however, there is one major obstacle to negotiate: the dissertation.

By the summer vacation of the second year, the literature search should have been done and the risk assessment completed. Those students who shivered in Brancaster now have quantitative data analysis skills. They can conduct interviews and are sensitive to ethical issues. Along with a bit of funding and some equipment, they are ready to go out and collect their own data that, by the following April, will have become a dissertation.

The dictionary definition goes on:

'Field research has a long history in geography .... much of it involves exploration.'

Following a brief winter visit to Little Gidding (north Cambridgehire), T.S.Eliot perhaps spoke for all of us when he wrote in the fourth of his Four Quartets:

'We shall not cease from exploration...

'Examining reasons for the memorialisation of the 1973 volcanic eruption of
Eldfell, Heimaey, Iceland.


Balsfjorden, northern Norway.


Central plaza, Santa Cruz, Bolivia. The statue is Ignacio Warnes, an Argentine
soldier who played a fundamental role in the Bolivian independence war.

Santa Cruz

Cape Town - a hike up Lion's Head, with Table Mountain in the background.

Lion's Head, Cape Town

Zanskar Valley

Zanskar 1

On 'Glaciet Blanc', with Barre des Ecrins (4102m) in the background.

Pelvoux 3

Harvesting in the Zanskar Valley.

Zanskar 3

Pelechuco Valley, NW Bolivia.


Studying the hypothesis that sinuous ridges near to the South Pole of Mars
are eskers


... And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.'

Geography Department Cambridge


Goodbye to all that

June 12th, 2014

Exams are over and many of those finishing their courses will find themselves inhabiting a sort of no-man's land between university and the rest of their lives. It's a time to put aside globalization and geopolitics for a while and enjoy the (hopefully) warm days and sultry nights. As England's most famous librarian, Philip Larkin, said:

"You can't put off being young until you retire .."

classof2013 (Class of 2013)

Looking out from the 'High Windows' of his rented flat at the University of Hull, the prematurely old poet/librarian reflected on ..

"....the strength and pain

Of being young; that it can't come again,

But is for others undiminished somewhere."

fortuna secunda

How green is my ebook?

June 5th, 2014 (World Environment Day)

To mark World Environment Day, an article by Michael Wilson, Assistant Librarian at Selwyn College, is featured by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP). Michael's article looks at the comparative environmental impacts of books and their electronic counterparts. See link below:

Geography Books on Tour Easter 2014

April 23rd, 2014

Many days pass almost unnoticed, like a monotonous landscape through a train window. Then suddenly everything happens on a single day. April 23rd, of course, is St George's Day. It is also Shakespeare's birthday (he died on this day, too). In Catalonia, it is celebrated as the day of Sant Jordi and by tradition Catalans mark the day by giving books as presents to family and friends.

Here in the Geography Department Library, April 23rd 2014 is altogether more humdrum. Today is the day books are due back following the Easter Vacation. Over 400 books were loaned out, with at least one lucky title enjoying the Caribbean sun (and coastal geomorphology) of Saint Lucia.

Santa Lucia

... and now for the Easter Term....

Popular titles from Lent Term

April 4th, 2014

See below the most popular titles from the Lent Term:

  1. Meteorology today/Ahrens, C.D. (F-80)
  2. Green development; 3rd ed./Adams, W.M. (HL-373)
  3. Sustainable development: an introductory guide/Reid, D. (HG-315)
  4. Other mothers: beyond the maternal ideal/Rosemann, E.B. et al. (eds). (P.1h-219)
  5. Politics of alcohol/Nicholls, J. (P.1h-219)
  6. Coastal problems/Viles, H. et al. (DH-111)
  7. Meteorology for scientists and engineers/Stull, R.B. (F-81)
  8. Enigma of capital/Harvey, D. (M-270)
  9. Global environments through the Quaternary/Anderson, D.E. (DD-185)
  10. Key methods in geography/Clifford, N. et al. (eds). (T-161)
  11. Courageous state/Murphy, R. (NC-87)
  12. Eskimo essays/Fienup-Riordan, A. (R.78-1)
  13. Coastal geomorphology/Bird, E.C.F. (DH-126)
  14. Disrupted cities/Graham, S. (ed). (LP-142)
  15. Glacial geology/Bennett, M.R. (DD-177)
  16. Companion to the anthropology of India/Clark-Deces, I. (ed).
  17. Introduction to coastal geomorphology/Pethick, J. (DH-84)
  18. Contemporary climatology/Robinson, P.J. (FA-101)
  19. Nature/Castree, N. (K/b-69)
  20. Climates and weather explained/Linacre, E. (FA-96)
  21. Tourism and sustainability/Mowforth, M. (LF/h-17)
  22. Patriarchy and pub culture/Hey, V. (P.1h-222)
  23. Protecting the Arctic/Nuttal, M. (HL-342)

Please note that this does not include ebook consultations.

Geography III

25th January, 2014

Towards the end of her life the American poet, Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979), published a book of poetry curiously called 'Geography III'. (I can find no evidence that either 'Geography I' or 'Geography II' ever existed.) The first poem, 'In the Waiting Room', is narrated by the young Elizabeth as she waits while her Aunt Consuelo has some dental treatment. Bored yet inquisitive, Elizabeth picks up a copy of National Geographic from February, 1918 and looks through the pictures ....

...while I waited I read
the National Geographic
(I could read) and carefully
studied the photographs:
the inside of a volcano,
black, and full of ashes;
then it was spilling over
in rivulets of fire.
Osa and Martin Johnson
dressed in riding breeches,
laced boots and pith helmets.
A dead man slung on a pole
-'Long Pig,' the caption said.
Babies with pointed heads
wound round and round with string;
black, naked women with necks
wound round and round with wire
like the necks of light bulbs.
Their breasts were horrifying.
I read it straight through.

Welcome to the new blog!

21st January 2014

Welcome to our new blog - we'll be adding news and views here as time rolls on!