Skip to main content

Cultural and Historical Geographies

Cultural and Historical Geographies

The Cultural and Historical Geographies Research Group has an established international reputation for critical, creative and embodies research approaches to landscape, environmental histories, toxicities and futurities, trade and craft cultures, voluntarism and citizenship, geographical histories and geophilosophy.

Our research‌

Research specialisms

Our members draw upon a variety of qualitative research practices to address a range of topics, including:

  • environmental change
  • landscape phenomenologies
  • craft ecologies
  • citizenship
  • wellbeing
  • affective labour
  • embodiment and risk
  • creative geographies
  • trade justice activism
  • livelihoods of repair, reuse and waste
  • postnuclear, postindustrial, and postcapitalist landscapes
  • toxic legacies
  • curated decay
  • and death, absence and finitiude.

Collaborative practice

Collaborative practice is a major focus with active, ongoing experimentation being the focus of the group’s twice yearly residential retreat programme. The group is particularly well known for our work with creative practitioners. Our Attentive Geographies retreat programme encouraged members to develop their own critical, creative faculties through working together with artist Alice Angus, writer Philip Marsden, and acoustic ecologist John Levack Drever.

Our commitment to supporting PhD research-by-practice has enabled established artists, sculptors and dramaturgs to contribute ground-breaking insights to the emerging ‘creative geographies’ literature.

Group members

Professor Ian Cook (Group Lead)

Ian is a cultural geographer with longstanding interests in trade, material geographies, multi-sited research, connective aesthetics and critical pedagogy. He runs the spoof shopping website which curates and researches the making, discussion and impacts of everyday commodities.

Dr Leila Dawney

Leila is a social theorist and cultural geographer whose research focuses on the politics of affect and experience, on classical and emergent thinking on authority and on forms of experience in late capitalist life.

Professor Caitlin DeSilvey

Caitlin is a geographer whose research explores the cultural significance of material change and transformation, with a particular focus on heritage contexts. 

Dr Jennifer Lea

Jen specialises in geographies of the body and embodiment, focussing on geographies of spirituality and wellbeing, geographies of education, and perinatal mental health and the geographies of recovery.

Professor Catherine Leyshon 

Catherine is a human geographer whose work is unified by an interest in landscape, place, identity and social relations in space. Most recently, Catherine’s research has followed two main strands: social innovation and volunteering in place; and landscape and climate change.

Dr Michael Leyshon

Michael is a social and cultural geographer whose work seeks to ground place-based person-centred approaches in a variety of locations, practices and performances, by focusing on issues relating to care in the countryside, and business adaptation to climate change.

Dr Pepe Romanillos 

Pepe studies the geographies of death, absence and finitude, cultural geographies of literature and visuality, and the history and philosophy of geographical thought.

Professor James Ryan

Much of James' research concerns the contested meaning and practice of photographic representation and the power of photographic media to shape human understandings of the world.

Dr Laura Smith 

Laura is a cultural and historical geographer specialising in ecological restoration, environmental history, and 19th and 20th century American literature.

Dr Nicola Thomas 

Nicola explore cultural and humanities perspectives on the creative economy; postcolonial geographies of gender, race and empire; histories of geography and science; and gendered labour practices and career progression in higher education.

Professor John Wylie 

John is a cultural geographer interested in the development of landscape theory in geography, and more broadly in geographies of visual art, writing, haunting and performance.

Research highlights

The brainchild of Exeter-based artist Volkhardt Muller, the Common Line is the longest straight line that can be traced across the landscape of Britain without crossing any sea or tidal waters. Our vision is for the Line to be planted with trees across its entire length at 20-metre intervals – a linear forest spanning Britain.

The Common Line project is a collaboration between the University of Exeter, art group Blind Ditch and creative technology SME Controlled Frenzy. In our work to date, supported by the AHRC & EPSRC, we have determined the Common Line itself and conducted site-based investigations in Cumbria, Yorkshire & Lancashire, Milton Keynes, and Hounslow, west London. We use immersive digital technologies to help publics imagine and envision the Line and stage events, demonstrations and presentations tat use the Line to call attention to contemporary issues of landscape and environment in the UK.

The Common Line webpages showcase the Line and our work to date.


  • Crutchlow, P., Drever, J., Hunt, C., Jiadong Qiang, P., Muller, V., Palmer, S., & Wylie, J (2021) ‘The Common Line project: lines, landscapes and digital citizenships’, in Waterman, P., Wall, E. &Wolff, J (eds) Landscape Citizenships (Routledge)

Practitioners and policy-makers are seeking innovative and creative ways of managing heritage assets in the face of increasing economic and environmental pressures. The concept of ‘curated decay’ responds to this challenge with a new conservation approach which shows that the accommodation of ruination and material transformation can enhance heritage experience and generate both cultural and ecological value.

Based on research by Caitlin DeSilvey and collaborators, the concept has been enthusiastically debated and selectively adopted by UK national heritage institutions, and recognised for its international reach and significance.


Caitlin's book Curated Decay: Heritage beyond Saving won the University of Mary Washington’s Center for Historic Preservation 2018 Book Prize for its positive impact on preservation in the United States.

The HAIRE project, led by Catherine Leyshon, Michael Leyshon and the Social Innovation Group, aims to bring about social innovation and empowerment for older people in rural areas.

Rural communities are at risk of dying out: their populations are ageing and poor public transport, lack of local support and facilities, out-migration of young people, reduced services, isolation and fragmented health and social care systems all negatively impact the health and wellbeing of older people.

HAIRE is working with village communities in the UK, Netherlands, Belgium and France, to enable them to define what support they need, participate in the design and delivery of services, and develop solutions for themselves to reduce loneliness and improve their quality of life, health and wellbeing.

The project brings together local people, local government, agencies, organisations and the voluntary sector to innovate in service design and delivery using tools such as the Guided Conversation, Social Network Analysis and Neighbourhood Analysis.

Find out more on the Social Innovation Group website.

Created by Ian Cook and artist/PhD student Paula Crutchlow, this museum is neither a building nor a permanent collection of stuff - it's an invitation: to consider every shop, online store and warehouse full of stuff as if it were a museum, and all of the things in it part of our collective future heritage.

The Museum of Contemporary Commodities (MoCC) invites people to imagine themselves as its curators with the power to choose what is displayed and how; to trace and interpret the provenance and value of these things and how they arrived here; to consider the effects this stuff has on people and places close by or far away, and how and why it connects them.