'Layers of London' - a Rich Geographical Palimpsest

By Hammond, Lauren; El Rashidi, Seif | Geography, Spring 2018 | Go to article overview

'Layers of London' - a Rich Geographical Palimpsest


Hammond, Lauren, El Rashidi, Seif, Geography


Introduction

'I wander thro' each charter'd street,

Near where the charter'd Thames does flow,

And mark in every face I meet,

Marks of weakness, marks of woe'

('London', William Blake, 1794).

Written more than two centuries ago, William Blake's (1757-1827) poem encourages us to visualise London as a place that has been built, imagined, 'charter'd' (mapped), navigated and represented by different people(s) throughout its history. In the poem, Blake wanders streets that many have walked before and since. He connects the physical landscape of the city to the people who experience and imagine it, through the 'marks of weakness [and] of woe' in the faces of those he meets.

William Blake presents a somewhat dystopian view of London, where poverty is everywhere and yet those who he sees as having power (the church and monarchy) allow this to happen. Blake's poem can be explored with secondary students in English Literature, but also has profound geographical significance as 'London' is a representation of a place in 1794, and representing place is how we share our geographical imaginations with others (Balderstone, 2006). Exploring geographical imaginations with students (both their own as well as other peoples') is key to developing their understanding of the concept of place, which is central to our discipline (Maude, 2016; Cresswell, 2008).

This article considers how an online project, entitled 'Layers of London', can provide numerous learning opportunities - varying from developing students' understanding of place to using geographical skills (such as geo-referencing of materials) - for geography educators and students of geography. In the following section we will introduce the 'Layers of London' project, after which we consider its relevance and potential value for geography and geography education.

Introducing 'Layers of London'

'Layers of London' is Heritage Lottery-funded project.1 It aims to create an online map-based resource to enable users of all ages and backgrounds to explore and engage with London's development, history and heritage from the Roman period to the present day. Layers of London encourages volunteers, community groups and other organisations to engage with the project as both contributors and consumers of knowledge. The homepage (shown in Figure 1) describes how the project acts a store for and of data (in the form of maps and annotations), which can be explored and added to by people who already know about or are interested in London. The project is keen to encourage schools and students to contribute and engage with the layers already on the map (see project website).

The project's significance for geography education

This section provides practical examples of how Layers of London can be used to develop students' geographical knowledge and skills. It does this in relation to two aspects of geography education: students' knowledge and understanding of the concept of place and in developing their geographical skills.

Developing understanding of place

Developing students' conceptual understanding is a fundamental part of 'thinking geographically' (Jackson, 2006; Taylor, 2013; Brooks, 2017; Geocapabilities Project, n.d.) and is part of what Maude (2016) calls geography's 'powerful knowledge'. Place has a significant role not only in developing students' geographical thinking (as one of geography's 'meta-concepts'), but also in regards to engaging and connecting with students' 'everyday knowledge' (Roberts, 2017) because everything exists and happens within a place.

The concept of place fascinates geographers in academic departments, who have long realised that it is part of human consciousness and intrigue (Tuan, 1976). On one level, people need an understanding of place to survive (for example, we might create mental maps of water sources or shelters); on another level, people often enjoy sharing their experiences through stories of place (for example, through sending postcards or sharing photographs and memories of their holidays). …

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