Thursday 14 July 2016

PhD diary #9: 14/07/2016

I've struggled to find something to write about this month. So, I suppose that I will just say a little bit about what I'm working on at the moment and how I'm going about organising my work (possibly a bit boring but may be of some use to someone!).

My current thesis plan consists of six chapters and my schedule, deriving therefrom, is divided into three-month blocks. In each block I am dividing my time roughly equally between reading and thinking about the thesis as a whole and working, in a more concentrated fashion, on one chapter in particular. At the end of each quarter, I should have a first draft of that chapter and, over subsequent three-month periods, I will return to already written chapters as I develop a better grasp on how the thesis holds together as a whole.

I'm just coming to the end of the first of these periods (May to July). Consequently, I'm about to start writing my first chapter (besides the introduction). This chapter, as I've written about here recently, uses the life and works of Alexander Humboldt (1769-1859) as a focal point for understanding the development of geological and, to speak anachronistically, ecological sciences in the early 19th century while, at the same time, serving as a point of contrast with the much longer history of climatic and geographical knowledges (e.g. the importance of air, water and location in Hippocratic medicine) as these were being reproduced or replaced around this time.

I will end up talking about Humboldt's "cosmic geopolitics" – the cosmopolitan vision of development, progress and both natural and anthropological unity that his synthesis of enlightenment and romantic values achieved, particularly in his great work Cosmos. This will then give me a way into the second chapter, which will pick up on the consequences of Darwin's Origin of Species (published a few months after Humboldt's death), Herbert Spencer's sociological and psychological appropriation and popularisation of "environment" as a term of art and, finally, the development of what is understood in the context of the history of geography as "geopolitical" thinking towards the end of the century.

I have a pretty good idea of how these things fit together in broad strokes. However, arranging the details and then getting the words flowing is much trickier! I probably won't meet my self-imposed deadline of the end of the month for this first draft. Nevertheless, it should materialise in some form over the next few weeks.