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Significant developments in geography always were deeply connected with map drawing and cartography. In the early 90s, after a long period where geography was taken as a science that did not have much to offer apart from satisfying the curiosity of those interested in map history and map collecting, geography started emerging again. A combination of several factors were responsible for a growing relevance of geography among social sciences, and it did not take long until it was acknowledged as a unique science that has what it takes to uncover possible relations in today's world. Climate change, migrations, food shortage, fast growing urban environments, sustainability, sea rising, over (and sub) populating areas, ecology and many other issues can and should be addressed by physical geography, human geography and urban geography. Adding to that, the rapid growth and development of new technologies also have contributed to new data access and processing of information allowing the establishment of more reliable patterns and more accurate mapping relations. The emergence of a global scale geography, more quantitatively sustained, asked for had an equally fundamental theoretical and critical development. That has been happening, and therefore geography has been growingly being validated as a key science among social sciences.
Sarah Curtis's book title is integrated in the field of medical or health geography and it specifically aims to approach both critical and theoretically health related issues mapping the access to health care and health care providers; and the effect of the environment on health (and disease). It is therefore usually included in human geography but because ecology plays a significant role, it also requires a close connection with epidemiology and climatology.
The current book title is therefore part of Ashgate's series "Geographies of Health" (ed. Allision Williams & Susan Elliott, both from McMaster University/ Canada) that has set off its publishing in December 2007. Its first volume was on "Therapeutic Landscapes", edited by Allison Williams also from the same university. To mention this first title is important because on it features an article written both by Wil Gesler and Sarah Curtis -- and Gesler was the one who came up with the concept "therapeutic landscapes" ("Gesler, W.M (1992), Therapeutic Landscapes -- Medical Issues in Light of the New Cultural-Geography. Social Science and Medicine, 34 (7): 735-46"). The concept intends to claim the need for a better understanding of the dynamics between place and wellness while encouraging geographers to relate closer with medical and health research addressing it critically.
Wil Gesler (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC/ USA) has his academic background in Mathematics and only later on took his PhD in Population Studies. Sarah Cutis (University of Durham/ UK) has a degree in Geography (Oxford University) and later on specialized in Urban and Regional Studies (University of Kent). Both have worked together while at Queen Mary, University of London and along with Morag Bell (Loughborough University) worked on hospital design projects in the UK back in 2005. Their joint collaboration in 2007 for "Therepeutic Landscapes" was an article titled "Application of concepts of therapeutic landscapes to the design of hospitals in the UK: the example of a mental medical facility in East London".
Sarah Curtis works on health geography, having her first relevant production in the field in 1988, presenting a strong, steady, publishing in the field since 2001. Browsing on Curtis' published articles and after reading the current book title it seems that the book presents us a summary of many years of research on the topic. Perhaps that is why the book proves to be at the same time clear and informative. It seems unmistakable that has been a deliberate intention to make the content accessible to anyone who takes interest in the topic and each of its eight chapters present us a summary, introduction and conclusion, and also short sections titled "learning objectives" and "introductory reading". Along the book the author also provides us with a few boxes (that replace themselves to heavy footnotes having clearly a pedagogical informative goal allowing us to access basic background information) and also featuring a few pictures and graphics that are relevant and do contribute for an understanding of what is being stated. Though the edition has a strong pedagogical, introductory, frame, in no time is it is imprecise or superficial.
Here is a quick review of several concepts approached in the book that can give a rough idea of the interest it can spark in people with different academic backgrounds: "landscapes of heath", emotional geographies, mind-body dualism and embodiment, philosophy and psychiatry, 'benign' environments and 'natural' landscapes, biophilia (Yi-Fu Tuan), urban landscape, feng-shui, therapeutic landscapes, natural hazards, material hazards, environmental pollution, malnutrition, poor housing, social environment and community, 'ethnic density', social disorganization and stress, relative poverty and status anxiety, symbolic dimension of space, 'abnormal' and 'normal' experiences of space, imagination and sacred spaces, fear and phobias, 'geographies of care' (asylums and post-asylum geographies) -- a connection between geography and psychotherapy.
The framing of the book's goal is stated in chapter 8: what is the concept of 'the population's mental health', how to assure it, how to justify it as a global priority, how to base it on equality and how to promote it in a sustainable way? The answer, in this global age, is to suit it to local context. The steps and issues to address in order for that to happen are addressed in the first seven chapters of the book and each place will have its own demands that geography can help diagnose providing the adequate methods.
A number of challenges may still be ahead for medical geography but Sarah Curtis' book does provide us with a good mapping of the field allowing us to focus more attentively on the challenges that lie ahead: "New perspectives on space and scale will be required to allow for a more sophisticated understanding of how different parts of complex systems interrelate, and also to allow us to conceptualizes imagined and virtual geographies of human experience more completely." (p. 238)
The edition provides an extensive bibliography and also an index (on names and basic concepts). It is also thoughtful and scientifically relevant that the first page of the book features a series' statement providing us a framing of the criteria involved in the selection. In short, the book proves to be a careful and relevant edition, as Ashgate has by now gotten us used to, on a growing, urgent and significant topic that needs to be addressed in order help us promote a better, and healthier, future.
© 2011 Diana Soeiro
Diana Soeiro (b. 1978) works and lives and Lisbon. She is currently pursuing her Philosophy PhD thesis "Colour as shelter; Architecture as care" at the New University of Lisbon. www.linkedin.com/in/DianaSoeiro