My mission in life is to empower people and make them more aware of how their behavior and identity is informed by the spaces they move through.

Adrian Mulligan

When students walk into Professor Adrian Mulligan’s office, they often unknowingly illustrate the importance of geography in our everyday lives. As they step from the tile floor of the outer hall across a border of sorts onto the carpeted floor of his office, they reflexively adopt a more professional and respectful demeanor.

“I ask students how they knew to act in a different way when they crossed that border. It’s because they moved into a different space,” says Mulligan. “We’re shaped all day long by spaces we move through, and we’re not 100 percent conscious of it. My mission in life is to empower people and make them more aware of how their behavior and identity is informed by the spaces they move through, and to not take for granted the roles that spaces play in our lives.

“There is a spatiality to just about everything,” he adds. “If you focus on that spatiality, you can understand all kinds of different phenomena.”

Far beyond just examining physical borders, geography can also be used to further understand the intersection of identity and place. The landscape of a particular country often helps shape its people and contributes to its political and cultural philosophies.

“Geography isn’t just about making maps,” says Mulligan, a native of Ireland whose research has focused on such topics as nationalism, race, gender and sexuality. “You’re thinking spatially about the world and the role that landscapes play in these philosophies.”

Mulligan’s research into the shifting character of St. Patrick’s Day parades in Boston and New York, as well as an exploration of Frederick Douglass’ abolitionist tour of Ireland in the 1840s has added another dimension to the study of historical sites and events.

More recently, he took a six-month sabbatical in Southern Arizona as part of a research study that examined a former temporary Japanese-American internment camp that was constructed on a Native American reservation during World War II. The Japanese-American prisoners reaffirmed their identity during their time on the reservation by developing gardens and pools as a means of adapting to an alien, landlocked landscape.

“Moments in our history can be useful today if we can remember and recover them,” said Mulligan. “Historical geography can remind us of things of the past, and allow us to chart a more inclusive direction.”

Posted December 2018