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Professor David Green

Professor David Green

David GreenProfessor

Email: david.r.green@kcl.ac.uk
Tel:  +44 (0)20 7848 2721

Department of Geography 
King's College London 
K4L.09 King's Building 
Strand Campus
London 
WC2R 2LS   

Research Interests

  • economic, social and political change from 18th, 19th and early 20th Century London
  • social policy, working class communities, welfare and urban government

Biography

I graduated with a BA in Geography from Cambridge University in 1976 and was awarded my PhD in 1984. Since then I have worked in the Geography Department at King’s College where I am currently Professor of Historical Geography.  My main interests focus on poverty and wealth in nineteenth and twentieth-century Britain, and more generally on the relationships between economic change and welfare. As a historical geographer I am as interested in exploring the spatial dimensions of these relationships a I am the temporal ones. I was editor of the London Journal from 1998 till 2003 and am currently chair of its trustees. For several years I was the honorary chair of the urban history group annual conference committee.  Recent work outside academia has included a variety of advisory and consultancy roles for a wide range of organizations, ranging from the QCA on developing new geography curricula at GCSE and A level to TV production companies and the New Deal for Communities programme. I have appeared on national and international television in programmes relating to various aspects of nineteenth-century London, family history and the history of the British landscape. I am passionate about outreach activities that extend the opportunity to experience a university education as widely as possible. I am also equally passionate about my role as a teacher and as a learner.

David Green

What first sparked your interest in human geography?

As an undergraduate I liked history, English and geography in equal measure, so I could have chosen either one of those. I thought geography would give me the opportunity to combine all of them, whereas I didn’t see the same opportunities in English or history. 

So, it wasn’t that I loved geography by itself, it just it gave me more opportunities to explore different sets of interest at the same time. There is no such thing as a point in time without a point in space. You’ve got to describe it, discuss it and explore it, and to do that you need a combination of different subjects.  To me, English, history and geography just combine effortlessly. 

In the 2015 prospectus you mention that taking your students outside
of the classroom and into London is an exciting part of your work at
King’s. Where do you most enjoy taking them?

London is the most amazing city to just be out and about in, both because of the depth of history and also because of the speed of change. It doesn’t matter how many times you walk down a street, you will always see something different. So, where I go in London isn’t so important.   What is  important is to be out and to have your eyes open. 

So, I vary where I take students, partly because I like exploring the city through new eyes. I quite like going around the West End, just because people assume it might be a bit dull or based around retail. But actually, it’s got some fantastic history that really goes back into the 18th century, with some of the squares and some of the shops in the West End, some of the bespoke tailors on Savile Row and the Royal Arcade. 

I particularly like the area to the north of Barbican, which is the old area of Finsbury (postcode EC1). It’s got some of the best social housing ever built in the country. It’s also got some incredible history with the Smithfield Market. Smithfield’s generating that area through food, so it’s got a lot of layers of history. There’s also the East End, the area around Spitalfields, which is a fantastic melting pot of places and peoples.  All these places are north of the river. 

As I live south of the river I really should mention Bermondsey, which is again one of those areas that’s got a fantastic physical history in terms of water, and the way London’s rivers actually converge on the Thames. There’s also what’s happening now in terms of regeneration in Bermondsey High Street and Shad Thames. In terms of links with the past – it’s where the 1848-49 cholera epidemic broke out, so some of the poorest areas are now some of the wealthiest areas in London. To see that change in terms of geography is absolutely fascinating. 

So there are lots of different areas in London, but London as a whole is wonderful.

If you had a group of brand new students, brand new both to London
and the UK, where would you recommend they explored?

If they were a King’s Student, I would always start from where you are, which is King’s. Once you know how to explore, you can then do it yourself, but sometimes you need a little guidance about what to look for and how to see. 

Everything in the landscape gives you a clue, from the angle of the street, to the name of the street itself, to the material that the buildings are made from, what they look like. So, just understanding a street, or streetscape in a systematic way is a skill, it’s a geographers skill actually. Teaching that skill from where you are will allow people to take what they have learnt, and wherever they are in London they will be able to use it. They will just be able to explore wherever they are. I would always start from where you are, and how to do something, and then London opens up for people. 

Who or what has inspired your research the most?

The ‘what’ is probably easier to answer than the ‘who’. A lot of geographies are to do with inequalities. Where people are partly determines how long they live, what chance of employment and education they have, so where things are is really important. The kind of research I do looks at patterns of social inequality. I happen to look at them in the past, but the questions are very pertinent to the present, such as why people’s life chances differ depending on where they live.

I do that in relation to London, so I’ve written a couple of books on London. The first book was on how the London economy was restructured with the coming of the free market in the 19th century. That was written in a time when a lot of deregulation was happening in the City and a lot of British industry and British commerce was being opened up to competition from the rest of the world. I was curious about what the historical parallel of that was, and I explored that in my first book, From Artisans to Paupers: economic change and poverty in London 1790 – 1870

The second book, Pauper Capital: London and the Poor Law, 1790 – 1870, was on the impact of economic change on  the welfare system. So as the economy changed, people gained and people lost, and I looked at how the welfare system reacted to that pattern of economic change. That was about 19th century Poor Law. 

The kind of things I do are about contemporary society, about today’s society, about economic inequality, about welfare provision, but I study that in the past. That’s the ‘what’ that drives my research. 

As for the ‘Who’, that would have to be a very famous geographer called David Harvey who, when I was a student, wrote a book called Social Justice and the City. He started to raise some of these questions about equity and justice in urban environments. That book for me was very important, so I would say Harvey had an influence on me. 

The other person is a social historian called Edward Thompson, who wrote a book called The Making of the English Working Class and it was very much about everyday people and how in the 18th- and 19th- century they, in England, created class consciousness. So, it was about the struggles of everyday people, and I think that is a really important piece of work. It made sure that the everyday person, the ordinary person doing ordinary things was a legitimate subject for historical enquiry. I’ve always taken that as the basis of my research. It’s the ordinary, the everyday, that’s as important if not more important than the unusual and the exceptional. 

What does your current research focus on and what do you hope to discover?

There are two strands to my research. The first is the next book that I am planning out, which is about the rights to public space in 19th century London. That comes out of a kind of trilogy of books – one about economic change, one about welfare, and this book is about how people use space. It’s about everyday struggles of ordinary people on the streets, in their homes, in the institutions where they find themselves through the workplace or workhouse or prisons and so on. Some of that was inspired by thinking about the occupy movement, about how and why people will occupy certain parts of the space and the rights they’ve got to remain there. Those are the kind of questions I want to explore in terms of the middle of the 19th century. 

The second element of my research is about wealth and inheritance in England and Wales as a whole. It’s a collaborative project and it comes out of another strand of my research, which looks at the wealth that people generated in the 19th century and how that was distributed. That involves understanding a little about gender, about people’s desire to preserve family wealth or to distribute it, and the decisions they make and the impact those decisions have. So, just understanding what people owned, how they disposed of their wealth, to which members of family, which friends and so on, and the impact that has on subsequent generations is something that I’ve been looking at. 

What do you choose to do in your spare time, when you are not
at King’s?

Well, it sounds terribly boring but academics often have quite limited amounts of spare time. Time is never spare, and there is always a list of things that need to be done. I walk as much as I possibly can, so I walk to work now, and that for me is spare time. I do quite enjoy going down to Dartmoor, so I spend a bit of time down there, but the concept of spare time unfortunately is rather alien to me at present, sadly. 

Why should students choose to study Geography at King’s?

I think there is an amazingly dedicated group of staff here that really actually care very deeply about the importance of what they are studying. Those things are significant issues for everybody in society. It could be understanding climate change, it could be understanding patterns of inequality in cities, it could be understanding how to develop research skills that will allow people to pose questions in a critical way and answer them. 

We make sure that we deal with a range of important questions, and that might be from the past or might be thinking ahead to the future. We provide students with a fantastic range of skills in order to research those questions so that at the end of their time as students here, they are critical thinkers, the can ask some really important questions about the world and they have the skills to go and find out the answers. So why would I recommend a student to come here? It’s because we will act together, encourage them to become those critical learners that we need for the future of our society, and geography deals with some fundamentally important questions.

What advice would you give a GCSE or A-level student hoping to
study geography at King’s?

My advice would be to do what you love. Because, when you love something you do it freely, it’s not a chore, it’s something you enjoy doing and you put effort into it. So if you love geography, do it, if you love English, do English, if you love history, do history. 

Obviously we like people to do geography, where you can combine geography, history and English, plus physics, maths and chemistry. It’s one of those subjects where, if you’ve got a broad range of interests, you can incorporate all of those, but do what you do as passionately as you possibly can and the world opens up for you at that point. 

What would you advise an applicant to put in their personal statement
to help King’s recognise them as a future geographer?

Think about why geography is a subject of importance to you. It could be that it is something very personal to you. You may come from a migrant family that has only just arrived in the UK, in which case you’ve got a worldwide interest in what’s happening in other places, and geography is a subject that encourages you to think about the inter-relationships between other places and other processes. 

If you are interested in migration, you might also be interested in climate change because climate change often destroys and undermines livelihoods, and that has a knock on effect in terms of migration. Think about how you personally might be linked up to some of these really big global processes, and then put that in your personal statement. 

You might not come from a migrant family – you might come from an area that suffers from flooding. What’s happening? Why is it being flooded? What are the risks? 

Or you might come from a city like London or Manchester, which is increasingly international and global. How has that affected you? 

Put yourself at the centre of a set of geographical relationships and explain why that has driven you to decide to take geography. 

Why should individuals looking to study at university look to study at King’s?

King’s is a true university and, by the word university, I mean a place where there is a diversity of subjects taught and a range of ideas explored. So, you’re not just going to be studying with social scientists, you’re going to be studying or living with people from different backgrounds studying different subjects, , and discussing ideas with them. They might be studying arts and humanities, they might be studying medicine, or dentistry, or nursing or physiotherapy. You can learn from everybody, so the great diversity of students you will find at a place like King’s, which is one of the world’s great universities, not just in terms of subjects but in terms of where people come from, from around the country and overseas, you will learn from those people if not as much then more than you might learn from your lecturers. 

Those people are here because it’s an academic university, it’s ambitious for its students, we want our students to do well, both academically and in their subsequent work life. Those are people that really want to make a change. So by being part of that, you yourself will change. 

So, why come to somewhere like King’s? Diversity of subjects, diversity of students and the one thing that really links them all together is that they want to make a change, in their personal lives and many of them want to make a change in the broader world itself. So, come and be part of that.       

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