My review of the British Library’s summer exhibition, Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands, has just been published in the Journal of Historical Geography, and is available online here for those with institutional access (with images!). Largely it discusses concepts of place, chorography, history, and literature, as addressed in this exhibition as well as the Tate’s The Robinson Institute.
Both exhibitions have now closed, but the catalogue for Writing Britain is here, and Patrick Keiller’s The Possibility of Life’s Survival on the Planet (published alongside the Tate exhibition) is available here.
The abstract for the article follows:
The history, natural resources, and constitution of the land of Britain have preoccupied writers from the ancient Greeks onwards. The Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands exhibition currently at the British Library presents these histories in a tour around a series of place-writing genres (Rural Dreams, Dark Satanic Mills, Wild Places, Beyond the City, Cockney Visions, and Waterlands), using the work of individual authors to build an eclectic composition of the magical and factual realm of Britain. In both the exhibition and the accompanying catalogue, a neo-romantic version of the idea of genius loci works to celebrate literary Britain as a ‘cornucopia’ of local and localised texts, invoking chorographical traditions. This article examines the problematic geographical vision of Writing Britain, particularly its supra-historical approach, its reductive truth binaries, and its conservative reliance on belonging. Its ‘exhibition as landscape’ approach is also compared to that of the 1951 Festival of Britain and to another 2012 exhibition at Tate Britain, The Robinson Institute.