The Art of Earth Building: placing relief models in the culture of modern geography

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Geographical & Earth Sciences


The physical relief model is the central object of this project, which seeks to offer an understanding of its place within
histories of geographical knowledge production, scientific education and public communication. Through engagement
with archival sources, principally those held by the Royal Geographical Society, a historical geography of relief models
will be developed which speaks up for their uniqueness as alluring and charismatic proponents of geographical learning
and research, often now forgotten or unnoticed relics of Geography departments. In this way, this research will contribute
to existing literature on histories of learning and knowledge production in disciplinary geography, its material culture
and embodied practices. My background in Geography, especially with interests in historical geography and landscape
studies emerging from my final years as an undergraduate and time as a Masters student, has brought me well-positioned
to this studentship, with a familiarity and enthusiasm for the subject matter at hand and a sense of potential themes and
debates this research may contribute to. This research will also be greatly enabled by the host academic community
spanning geographic, earth and environmental sciences at the University of Glasgow.
Through creative and critical engagements with archival material, this research seeks to develop an understanding of the
relief model within historical geographies of disciplinary research and pedagogy over the last century. This research will
make use of a collection of 24 plaster relief models held by the Royal Geographical Society and originally made by
Thomas Bayley as photo-illustrative material for Professor L. Dudley Stamp's The Earths Crust (1951). Central to
understanding these materials will be the use of a collection of correspondence and papers from Dudley Stamp, held by
the University of Sussex archives. In the first year of study, a survey of British university geography departments and
societies will be conducted to ascertain the extent and purpose of relief models present throughout the country. This
promises extensive avenues for further potential archival work. There are considerable further holdings from the RGS,
and the Science Museum Group.
Existing literature on the History of Science and the History of Geography outlined in the synopsis of this studentship
presents scope for developing and widening an understanding of the relief model within these two broad themes. A study
of the relief model provides a rare engagement and appreciation of 3D representations in scientific practice, where 2D
representations tend to take precedence (Baker, 2004). In this vein, the relief model has been an overlooked object of
study within histories of science, where it can shed light on similarly neglected aspects of scientific study and learning
such as the relationship between disciplinary and popular knowledges, the role and importance of creativity within
science, and the practice of physical engagement within knowledge production (Secord, 2004; Shapin, 1989; Chadarevian
and Hopwood, 2004). This research also seeks to extend our understanding of the relief model within histories of
Geography beyond its prior promulgations as cartographic representations, or military applications (Pearson, 2002,
2015). The relief model can contribute to literature on the material and visual cultures of geographical research and
pedagogy, where it can be considered as part of the greater visual economy of cartographic production. The craft of
model-making can be understood as an extension of cartographic practices, which traditionally the geographer must have
had in their skillset (Wooldridge & East, 1951).


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