Content of the theme

In recent years, categories such as space and place has come to inform the way various humanistic disciplines regard their methods, research questions, and the nature of knowledge. The significance of this approach has further been emphasized by referring to current developments as ‘the spatial turn’. The experience of space and place forms an important part in how people relate to the world and to each other. It also plays an important part in the formation of individual and communal identities. Within the theme’s courses, space and place are examined in a variety of forms: as urban and rural environments, built and natural places, public and private, sacred and profane, mental and physical, real and imagined. The theme explores ‘space’ as a factor in the formation of memory, the past, social relations, and identities.

The aim of the theme is to give doctoral students knowledge and insight of various aspects associated with spatial theory, as well as to supply them with a set of theoretical and methodological tools that can be applied in research and other specialist work. The students will be acquainted with a broad selection of materials, including written texts, art, architecture, physical landscapes, material objects, historical maps, place-names, GIS-mapping, and spatial reconstruction.

The theme addresses questions of how people find meaning in spaces, places, and landscapes, how the organization of spatial dimensions has affected and reflect social relations and identities in past and contemporary societies, and what kind of political, cultural, and social uses it has served. The structure and implementation of the theme is thoroughly multidisciplinary: the students will be acquainted with essential analytical and theoretical concepts from history, archaeology, digital humanities, human geography, art history, architecture, linguistics, and history of religions, which allows for a comprehensive understanding of space and place and comparisons across the disciplines.

The theme runs over two years, beginning in Autumn Term 2019. It consists of four courses, five credits each, which are interlinked and increasingly advanced. The first is a theoretical and methodological course providing the students a comprehensive background and overview of the concepts of space and place, including their implications for the humanities. Two subsequent thematic courses offer the doctoral students a deep understanding of the ways space and place function as essential building blocks in the formation of identity, social relationships, and politics, but also of how the recognition of space as both physical and mental category has affected the research fields in many humanistic disciplines. All three courses involve practical moments such as the production of learning journals, hands-on seminar exercises and excursions with field exercises. The theme concludes with a workshop and fieldwork in Rome, where doctoral students apply in practice the knowledge, theories, and methods discussed during the three preceding courses of the theme.

Year one: Autumn 2019–Spring 2020

Course 1: The Spatial Turn in the Humanities: Theories and Applications, 5 ECTS credits, Autumn 2019.

This course addresses the so-called ‘spatial turn’ in the humanities and offers doctoral students theoretical and methodological tools to critically analyse space and its cultural significance from an interdisciplinary perspective and across time periods. The participants will be acquainted with a variety of theoretical and methodological approaches that have been applied in humanistic research in the past decades. A critical understanding of what spaces are, how they function, how they are constructed and named, how this concept has affected contemporary research, and how it can be made a tool for own analysis, is an essential goal of this course.

Course 1 is offered also as a free-standing course for any doctoral student who does not wish to take the full theme.

Course 2: Space, Memory and the Past, 5 credits, Spring 2020.

This course offers a comprehensive overview of questions related to space, memory and the past, and works out from an interdisciplinary approach to how these three concepts intersect and have been, in the past and in the present, used for purposes ranging from positive creation of communal narratives to violent exclusion of ‘others’. During the course the doctoral students examine how spatial organisation functions as part of individual and social memory, both in contemporary cultures as well as in historical narratives, and analyse the role of space in sustaining notions of the past, cultural groupings and ethics in contemporary societies.

Please note that passing Course 1 is a requirement for admission to this course.

Year two: Autumn 2020–Spring 2021

Course 3: Spaces and Identities, 5 credits, Autumn 2020.

This course will widen the scope of the theme by examining how social relations and identities are determined by the spatial organisation of social life. During this course doctoral students will analyse how different types of spaces constitute and project group and individual identities, and through them allow for and enforce different social structures, social discourses, linguistic borders, as well as sense of community but also social unrest. Special attention is given to the differences between urban, suburban, and rural spaces and their impact on the formation of identities.

Please note that passing Course 1 is a requirement for admission to this course.

Course 4: Workshop: Space and Place in the Humanities, 5 credits, Spring 2021.

During the final course of the theme the doctoral students apply in practice the knowledge, theories and methods discussed during the three preceding courses. During a one-week workshop on location in Rome, the course participants will practice their skills in analysing the social and cultural roles of urban and rural spaces, and how the uses and conceptions of space differ over time and between cultures. The main features include a preparatory seminar, field work on site in Rome, and a final colloquium after the excursion.

Please note that passing Courses 1 and either 2 or 3 is a requirement for admission to this course.


Theme coordinator: Inka Moilanen PhD, Department of History.