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Introduction P+++++++p At a banquet in ancient Thessaly, the Greek poet Simonides of Ceos (556–468 b.c.) chanted a lyric to a roomful of celebrants during a dinner convened to honor their host, Scopas. According to Greek storytellers, when Simonides stepped outside a short time later, the roof of the house collapsed, all were killed, and the bodies were crushed beyond recognition. Called upon to help identify the victims, Simonides subsequently was able to name the dead by recalling the places they had sat at the table. His “method of loci,” later referred to as “the memory palace,” was reported by Cicero: “He inferred that persons desiring to train this faculty (of memory) must select places and form mental images of the things they wish to remember and store those images in the places, so that the order of the places will preserve the order of the things, and the images of the things will denote the things themselves, and we shall employ the places and images respectively as a wax writing-tablet and the letters written on it.”1 The relationship between memory and location discussed by Cicero, Quintilian , and other ancients, and exploited in the academic practice of memorization in medieval Europe, has been investigated recently by researchers who have begun to refer to “spatial learning” as an aspect of human brain activity located largely in the hippocampus.2 Brain science proposes that the mental organization of our activity in the world and the recall of events has much to do with our experience of space. The spatial organization of knowledge is not just a trick of the Greek poet but a hard-wired process that affects the manner in which persons engage the world and make sense of it. That spatially enabled practice of mnemonics encompasses not only the business of storing thoughts, but as Yadin Dudai and Mary Carruthers recently have suggested in Nature, it also frames creative and future-oriented thinking.3 Spatial thinking is not a sideline to other kinds of thinking but is closely interwoven with them, playing a crucial role in the human practice of world-making through the mental production, organization , archiving, and alteration of knowledge. To think spatially as a historian or academic humanist is to take seriously the degree to which persons’ experience of space influences the manner in which they make sense of their lives. Over the course of the past few decades, researchers in various disciplines have made strong contributions to our understanding 2 Introduction of how space is constructed in culture. We have learned much about the ways in which cultural boundaries are established, contested, and erased; how power has spatial referents; how our engagement of the spaces of everyday life shapes our lives in unexpected fashion; and how the territories of body, society, and nation can be reimagined. Such research has proven fundamental to the work of many historians. At the same time it has had the effect of distracting us from thinking more seriously about the manner in which our engagement of physical space— in the sense of Euclidean space, within which we as embodied individuals are situated—influences our lives. In the last decade or so, scholarship has begun to reassess the importance of physical space and to estimate how our lives within it are recognizably wrought. As scholars increasingly have turned their attention to geographic space, a promising avenue of historical investigation is developing at the intersection of (1) research that focuses on the cultural construction of space and (2) studies that stress the direct influence of natural and built physical environments on human lives. From the former we can glean insight into how space is conceived in ways that represent cultural ideals and social predicaments, and from the latter we can learn to appreciate how a coastline, mountain range, piazza, skyscraper, or vast desert set terms for how persons think about their lives and direct their behavior. Spatial thinking joins an awareness of physical environment to culturally derived notions of space as a mirror of social order and power. Such an approach blends attentiveness to what the seating places at Scopas’s table reveal about social status, emotional relationships, and religious and political traditions with judgments about the relation of actors to the physical environment. Research that is attentive to spatiality, then, recognizes the cultural construction of space while remaining wary of taking such constructions as accurate diagrams of physical environment—a virtue historically modeled by Copernicus . A “spatial...


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