23rd June 2000 at 01:00
THE NEW READING THE LANDSCAPE: Fieldwork in Landscape History. By Richard Muir. University of Exeter Press. pound;18.99. Tel: 01392 264364

This completely rewritten version of Muir's earlier book about the interpretation of landscape, originally published 20 years ago, is exciting and compulsive reading. It covers a range of aspects of landscape history (or historical geography, depending how you look at it) in an eclectic and passionate way, combining analysis and aesthetics in a brilliantly fluent narrative.

The book will be an ideal companion for teachers who themselves are keen on fieldwork and who want to know more about the heritage and the underlying sub-text of the landscape in which they and their clases go out to study and learn.

Muir sets out his credo in his introduction: "Globalisation, the tyranny of economics over higher values, and the phenomenon described by one geographer as 'time-space compression' magnify a long ing for identity and roots. In the past people knew who they were and where they were from... perhaps in reconstructing the landscape of the past... we are piecing together new but authentic worlds of the imagination that we may wishfully inhabit?" Muir covers, in successive chapters, woodlands, forests and parks, landscapes of olonisation, boundaries, routeways, visible signs of status and authority and landscapes of belief, settlement and defence. He ranges over a wide variety of examples which are excellently illustrated by map, photograph and diagram.

Muir's interest, on the whole, is in what happened before the Industrial Revolution changed the face of large swathes of Britain. A diagram of rural field boundaries and patterns shaping the townscape of Teddington and a Second World War steel pillbox in East Anglia (pictured because it is sited on Civil War ramparts) are lone pictorial representatives of modern development. The archaeological remains of old industrial England, the differential evolution of suburbs, the extensive palimpsest of Second World War airfields on the countryside find little or no place in this account.

Muir has another book to write to cover 20th-century landscape change, unless an alert publisher has already harnessed his elegant style to produce a series of definitive regional guidebooks to the historical landscapes of Britain for discerning travellers, a task, which on this evidence, he is admirably equipped for.

Rex Walford was formerly Geography PGCE Tutor at the University of Cambridge and is a Fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge

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