Empty Spaces: perspectives on emptiness in modern history


Courtney J. Campbell
Allegra Giovine
Jennifer Keating


How is emptiness made and what historical purpose does it serve? What cultural, material and natural work goes into maintaining ‘nothingness’? Why have a variety of historical actors, from colonial powers to artists and urban dwellers, sought to construct, control and maintain (physically and discursively) empty space, and by which processes is emptiness discovered, visualised and reimagined?

This volume draws together contributions from authors working on landscapes and rurality, along with national and imperial narratives, from Brazil to Russia and Ireland. It considers the visual, including the art of Edward Hopper and the work of the British Empire Marketing Board, while concluding with a section that examines constructions of emptiness in relation to capitalism, development and the (re)appropriation of urban space. In doing so, it foregrounds the importance of emptiness as a productive prism through which to interrogate a variety of imperial, national, cultural and urban history.

Published as part of the IHR Conference Series by the Institute of Historical Research.


  • Introduction: Confronting emptiness in history
    Courtney J. Campbell, Allegra Giovine, Jennifer Keating
  • 1. ‘Take my advice, go to Mongan’s Hotel’: barrenness and abundance in the late Victorian Connemara landscape
    Kevin J. James
  • 2. Amid the horrors of nature: ‘dead’ environments at the margins of the Russian empire
    Jennifer Keating
  • 3. Empty spaces, aviation and the Brazilian nation: the metaphor of conquest in narratives of Edu Chaves’s cross-country flights in 1912
    Leonie Schuster
  • 4. Looking over the ship railings: the colonial voyage and the empty ocean in Empire Marketing Board posters
    Tricia Cusack
  • 5. Spectral figures: Edward Hopper’s empty Paris
    Emily C. Burns
  • 6. Landscapes of loss: the semantics of empty spaces in contemporary post-apocalyptic fiction
    Martin Walter
  • 7. Surveying the creative use of vacant space in London, c.1945–95
    Krystallia Kamvasinou, Sarah Ann Milne
  • 8. Urban prehistoric enclosures: empty spaces/busy places
    Kenneth Brophy


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August 21, 2019

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