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Far away and close to home: Children’s toponyms and imagined geographies, c. 1870 – c. 1950

Burchardt, J. (2020) Far away and close to home: Children’s toponyms and imagined geographies, c. 1870 – c. 1950. Journal of Historical Geography, 69. pp. 68-79. ISSN 0305-7488

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1016/j.jhg.2020.05.005


This article draws attention to a neglected topic in historical geography: the names children give to places that matter to them. In doing so, it seeks to make a contribution to the rapidly developing field of children’s geography and to bring together two rarely connected research areas: geographical and psychological research into children’s play and literary research on cartography in children’s fiction. Although early studies of the spatiality of children’s play emphasized the need for research into children’s toponymy, there has as yet been little scholarly response. The present study focuses on a specific form of children’s toponymy current in early and mid twentieth-century England: transfigurative naming. This is where familiar places in the child’s home neighbourhood are given exotic names, sometimes in an ongoing, processual dialogue with fictional cartography (as in Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series). Investigation of four life-writing case studies suggests that transfigurative naming drew on discursive sources that were contingent on time, space and class, but that there were nevertheless important commonalities in the circumstances in which it arose and the purposes it served. The most striking of these was that transfigurative naming was deployed by children and youths in stable affective and residential contexts seeking to explore and extend their ‘home range’. It is argued that this may reflect a developmental dialectic between security and growth. The article concludes by considering some of the methodological and conceptual challenges scholars will need to address to achieve a more comprehensive knowledge and understanding of children’s toponymns.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Humanities > History
ID Code:72997
Uncontrolled Keywords:Children's geographies; literary cartography; landscapes of play; transfigurative naming


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