On the 15th February I went along to one of the seminars arranged by the London Group of Historical Geographers and held at the Institute of Historical Research in London. The speaker was Nigel Clark from the Open University. In his talk, Nigel explored ‘hospitality’ (the theme of this seminar series), and climate change. The title of the talk is drawn from a quote from Ariq Rahman (1995) who wrote that, “If climate change makes our country uninhabitable we will march our wet feet into your living rooms”. Nigel attempted to bring the global and intimate scales of the climate issue together, explaining that in heating our own living rooms we may be having a negative effect on places elsewhere in the world.
With massive displacements of people potentially on the horizon in the form of climate or environmental refugees, encounters between strangers are intensifying. But are there conditions placed on the hospitality offered to these people? Who ‘owes’ what to whom? And how do we respond to an unpredictable Earth? Nigel used the example of Hurricane Katrina to explore the issues further. Through amateur film footage (‘Troubled Water)’ of the aftermath of Katrina, Nigel recounted the outburst of generosity following the hurricane (and also some of the very inhospitable acts) where online adverts of food and shelter were offered to complete strangers in need. Openings to the ‘unknown’ are always both promising and risky, with disasters causing great destruction whilst also offering the possibility of a new and different future. The film took us back to the everyday, the personal and the home, and a family who picked up a complete stranger whilst fleeing New Orleans. When Hurricane Rita struck, many of those playing host to refugees became refugees themselves and the original refugees took over the helping role. The initial moment of hospitality was thus moved beyond, forming more of a reciprocal opening.
The seminar was really thought-provoking, and I think demonstrated the importance of community in tackling climatic change and extreme weather events. This local working-together approach is something that regional museums would be well placed to address.