By Tom Carter (PhD Student, History)
Dr Iain Robertson and I have just returned from delivering papers at the week-long International conference of Historical Geographers, held at Charles University in the beautiful Czech capital Prague. Here is a brief report of my experiences:
I was glad to have most of Monday morning to enjoy a walk round Prague and enjoy its many beautiful and historic buildings before attending the opening plenary of the conference in the afternoon, which included several interesting papers upon the history of Prague and the Czech republic, which served as an excellent taster of the week ahead. The day closed with an icebreaker on a riverboat on the Vltava, an excellent chance to get to know people and sample some of the famous Czech Pilsner before the serious business of papers on Tuesday.
The conference was truly international, with representatives from every continent. With over 300 papers there was a packed and varied programme of sessions to choose from. I sat in everything from a paper on the problems of World Heritage Site designation in Suriname, to the history of a Czechoslovakian Tatra T87 car as an exemplar of geographical networks.
Wednesday involved field trips, led by students from the university. Whilst Iain was enjoying the Bohemian Spa Triangle; I was visiting the powerful site of Terezín, an 18th century fort which was converted into a concentration camp during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. This included a trip to the museum of the ghetto, and sparked much debate ranging from the ethics of dark tourism to the implications of museum design. This was followed by a visit to the medieval town of Litomerice and a climb up the Bohemian foothills for a sense of the local geography. This was rounded off with a trip to a local vineyard, and of course a sample of the Czech wine.
I delivered my paper, entitled ‘Museums and Englishness: The Museum of British History 1996-2009’ on Friday, which was based upon a portion of my PhD research. The focus of my paper was on the problematic relationship between representations of English and British identity and culture represented through the attempt to form a national museum during the end of the 20th century. It was an invaluable experience for me to chair the session and deliver my research to a large and varied audience. The reaction was very positive and encouraging with many interesting questions and suggestions from my fellow researchers. For me, one of the most positive experiences of the conference was the potential to discuss ideas with colleagues from varied backgrounds and at varied stages of their academic careers. Two of the three papers in my own session were from U.K postgraduate researchers, and the chance to share our work and experiences in this supportive and stimulating atmosphere was very satisfying.
Iain also gave his paper on Friday, in collaboration with Dr Carl Griffin of Queen University Belfast, entitled ‘Moral Ecologies and Social Protest.’ This paper focused on the application of theories of local and vernacular social protest to what were previously perceived as acts of criminal disorder. Once again, feedback was positive and encouraging. The conference ended with the awarding of the next conference to London. Hopefully the University of Gloucestershire will once again be strongly represented in 2015.