My research and academic work finds its rationale in a desire to better understand the way that people experience and reproduce space. My primary focus is on the cartographic production of space as a medium for conceptualizing and categorizing the surrounding world. By studying the ways that people have mapped their spaces, we can gain better insight into the nuances of their histories.
I am a historian of maps and spatial use. My approach to the study of the past is grounded in a methodological, rather than a temporal framework. While my formal training marks me as a medievalist, I firmly believe that my approach broadens the possible scope of my scholarship. The study of maps, as re-creations of understood space, offers the possibility to do work that cuts across both interdisciplinary borders and intra-disciplinary categorical boundaries.
Most often, my research process starts through close analysis of map elements, and then proceeds to consider those elements within broader historical contexts. Frequently it is the small details in maps give glimpses of important issues, and reading maps through these details opens doorways of investigation. Often this kind of analysis sheds light on questions of politics and power; this has certainly been the approach of scholars such as J.B. Harley and Denis Wood, whose work in the 1990s set the theoretical table for a critical cartographic approach. But paying attention to the details also offers insight into extra-political elements of captured experiential space. Maps are, as Harley frequently noted, wholly social instruments. As such, they act as catchment basins for a surprisingly wide range of culturally relevant information. When carefully considered in their context, the specifics of mapped varia can provide a lens for sharpening our understanding of the processes and component pieces of historical moments.
Importantly, my approach as a scholar is predicated on the principal that not all mapping is cartographic, or even visible. Mapping takes place across a range of media; we map out our surroundings and our pathways in our art and writing, in the way we create our physical landscapes, and in the detrital evidence of our travels. There is tremendous slippage between what we often take to be discrete definitional frontiers of our disciplinary approaches to these cultural artifacts. Such distinctions can be useful — different fields bring different theoretical models to bear — but I maintain that the work of crossing those bounds provides fertile space for research and thought.
Understanding the creation and apprehension of space in any time period requires a rounded consideration of mapping practice that folds in multiple types of recreated space, and examines them against each other. My toolkit for this kind of research is inherently, and necessarily, interdisciplinary. The work of geographers such as Yi-fu Tuan and Edward Soja, and Doreen Massey, as well as that of spatial philosophers like Michel de Certeau, Gaston Bachelard are useful. Literary critical approaches to space employed by Edward Said, Raymond Williams, Robert MacFarlane and others provide important grounding, and I find guidance from historians such as Raymond Craib, Matthew Edney, and D. Graham Burnett. The methodologies that such practitioners have employed lay out possible avenues of investigation, and provide springboards for my own research.