University of Nottingham

Understanding landscapes through creative auto-ethnographies (workshops)

Project outline

In this series of workshops, geographers and literary scholars were brought together to find common ground and open up new ways of understanding landscape that drew on and combined their disciplinary strengths and addressed their different weaknesses, helping geographers to understand how people create a sense of place and an attachment to landscape through literature, and helping literary scholars to pay more attention to ordinary, real people who express their identities in part through writing about themselves and their everyday lives.

Understanding landscapes through creative auto-ethnographies  Understanding landscapes through creative auto-ethnographies


The project has provided a model for effective inter-disciplinary collaboration and demonstrated the value of theoretical exchange between geography and literary studies. Creative auto-ethnography has successfully been used as a method to deepen the understanding of the production and reception of creative writing about landscape. Events have also provided some insight into the role of writers' notebooks and their role in the writing process. Landscape is so often mobilized in writing, yet writing rarely takes place in the landscape.

The project events began with a 2-day symposium for geographers, literary scholars and others (environmental scientists, landscape architects, scholars in art and design). A series of writers' events were then held in Cornwall for primary school children (a geography and literacy curriculum unit on rivers was developed by the Cornwall-based curriculum development organisation Sense of Place), young people (aged 16-19 and drawn from literature programmes – raising aspirations for degree level study), and adults from writers' groups (encouraging new reflection and new creative possibilities). These events demonstrate the success the project has had in outreach in local communities. Cornwall’s reputation for inspiring writers, artists and creativity more generally made it an ideal place to explore the meaning of landscape in everyday life. Events were filmed and work produced has been published on the website. All participants were invited to a follow-up symposium where films and examples of creative writing were presented. A final academic conference summed up the broader implications for future work.

New research relationships were formed with scholars on another Landscape and Environment project 'Writing the everyday landscape of the home garden' and from the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment.

A number of papers emanating from the project have already been published, as has the edited book Process: Landscape and Text (2010).

The project also attracted coverage in the local press and several project members gave interviews on local radio. Dr Johns-Putra was invited to sit on the panel of judges of the Writing Centre's 'Myscape' writing competition which invited writers to write about their experiences with the Cornish landscape.


Ongoing influence

A linked European Social Fund (ESF) funded project 'From Climate to Landscape: Imagining the Future' project with Professor Leyshon, Dr Johns-Putra and Professor Matthew Evans, looks at the effects of climate change on bio-physical and cultural landscapes and draws on the project team's experience of interdisciplinary work, developing the broad theme of literature and landscape that was so central to the Landscape and Environment project.

An AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award with Cornwall Council is currently looking at the politics of design in the outdoor landscapes of Cornwall’s secondary schools. The application drew on experience gained from the workshops, particularly working with different and sometimes competing approaches to landscape. A Collaborative Doctoral Award with the Met Office is also under development. The project will deal with the tension between scientific accuracy and rhetorical effect in narratives of climate change.

A successful application to Leverhulme's Artist in Residence programme was made with the Devon-based poet Alyson Hallett, continuing the workshop activities through an exploration of the links between geography, literature and landscape. This is the first time a UK geography department has hosted a poet in residence.

Project web page:



  1. Writing Landscape
  2. Written Landscape
  3. Text Landscape Identity

Award details

Duration: October 2006 - September 2007 (12 months) 

Principal Investigator:
Dr Catherine Leyshon (formerly Brace) 

Dr Adeline Johns-Putra 

Higher Education Institution:
College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter, Cornwall Campus

Selected publications

Brace, C. and Johns-Putra, A. G. (eds). (2010). Process: Landscape and Text . New York: Rodopi.

Brace, C. and Johns-Putra, A.G. (2010). Recovering Inspiration in the Spaces of Creative Writing. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 35(2): 399-413.  

Related links


Landscape and Environment Programme

School of Geography
University Park
University of Nottingham
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

telephone: +44 (0) 115 84 66071