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School of Environment, Education and Development

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BA Geography with International Study

Study a course tailored to you at the university ranked fourth in the UK for Geography (Guardian University Guide).

BA Geography with International Study

Year of entry: 2018

Course unit details:
Transport Geographies

Unit code GEOG20541
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Geography
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


The ability to routinely transport masses of people and millions of things from place to place is one of the defining geographical characteristics of the modern metropolis. Over the last two centuries cities have grown massively in population size and spatial extent and in the process becoming engines of ceaseless mobility. To make this possible requires significant amounts of infrastructure, the engineering of environments and building of specialised, capital intensive structures and deployment of large, complex machines so that billions of individual movements can proceed on a daily basis.   

What is infrastructure? It is the engineered structures and machinery that works seamlessly in the background to make everyday living comfortable and more convenient. Yet transport infrastructure is more than merely technical, it can be intensely controversial when proposed and face concerted opposition to its planning and construction. Building infrastructure often requires huge capital outlays, the enrolment of a range of professions and many skilled workers, and the power of the state to forcibly insert them in cities. The monolithic scale of transport infrastructure, in particular, means that they can involve profound changes to the visual landscape and significant interruption of established social patterns in cities. Once infrastructure is in place it can easily come to be seen as a permanent feature of the environment and its construction mythologised as a story of heroic achievement. Effective infrastructure seems to be stable and operates reliably, often to such an extent that it seems to disappear from conscious thought of most users. Yet infrastructure is always provisional and liable to breakdown; it requires continued care and maintenance, typically by a small cadre of specialised staff dealing with myriad daily faults and routine problems, to operate unnoticed in background. And when infrastructures do stop transporting people as expected – due to component failures, serious accidents, labour disputes, extreme weather, and so on – they can have significant consequences and make news (the media all too often hyping the failure infrastructure with stories of ‘chaos’). These days infrastructure is also making the news because the government and allied policy makers hope major investment in constructing new transportation networks can provide an economic stimulus to pull Britain out of recession and perhaps begin to rebalance the national economy. There are also interesting issues about how to cope with infrastructure once it becomes too old and obsolete to perform its primary task. Should it be scrapped, abandoned and demolished, or simply left to decay in situ? In regards to transport systems there have often been creative solutions to reuse infrastructure or to try to preserve them as form of heritage (the story of the British canals is an apposite case).

The key modes of transportation chosen for consideration in this course are waterborne shipping, trains, planes and automobiles (no buses or bikes!). The course will involve examination of the engineered permanent way of the canals, the railways tracks, the tarmac road surface, runways and the invisible air routes. The focus will be on personal mobility, the mass of passengers, the means of moving human bodies. It will look critically at the spatial and social form of many key sites of transportation including: docks, airport terminals and train stations.

The course will unashamedly use Manchester and the local region as a ‘living laboratory’ to explore the histories of these key modes of transportation, and their major sites and iconic facilities. After all there is a convincing case to be made that Manchester is a city made from innovations in transport infrastructure. The canals, docks, and railway warehouses were essential facilities in the growth of industrial scale manufacturing and international


  • To build an empirical understanding of the infrastructures that are necessary to support key modes of transportation;
  • To think about the relations between large-scale transportation systems and the structure of urban space, within the context of cultural change, political power, economics and everyday social practices;
  • To discuss the relevance of historical approaches to study the ways cities have evolved since the industrial revolution through transport developments, exploiting Manchester as the primary case study.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course unit, you should be able to:

·         Appreciate and account for the development and changes in the key transport infrastructures of the canals, railways, road network and aviation system over the modern period;

·         Critically deploy ideas from human geography and transport studies around differentiated social impacts, cultural interpretation and environmental concerns to understand the nature of transport infrastructures and how they work to restructure space for the benefit of some and to the detriment to others;

·         Demonstrate an appreciation of the various methods that can be used to study transportation systems and travel patterns, including ideas from the Mobilities paradigm and historical geography;

·         Develop your arguments with case studies drawn from the Manchester region as well as the historical patterns of transportation in elsewhere in Britain and the industrialised world. 


1. Introduction: Why study the geographies of transport infrastructure?

2. Canal infrastructure. Transport and the economic development debate

3. Shipping, ports and containers. Transport and environmental impacts

4. Train travel. Cultural dimensions of travel

5. High speed rail. Transport and the reshaping of the national geography

6.  Study week

7. Roads and automobility. Transport and social justice

8. Motorways. Infrastructural sublime

9. Study week

10. Aviation. Transport and safety

11. Airports as assemblage. Transport and security

12. Future Transport

Teaching and learning methods

Transport Geographies will be taught over twelve weeks via a structured sequence of two-hour lectures and weekly series of one-hour seminars. The lecture sessions will be themed and include a variety of topics and case studies, illustrated with a range of media, supported by many key readings on Blackboard. Sessions will draw upon academic research and range of resources, including maps, photography, videos, and statistical data from official documents. The seminars will provide space for student-led presentation and discussion around prescribed televisions documentaries. A significant level of participation will be expected from all students throughout the course.




Transferable skills and personal qualities

During this course unit, you will be encouraged to develop the following abilities and skills:

  • Critical thinking, reflection and self-awareness of our own dependence on infrastructure;
  • Improved information handling skills, online researching and the synthesis of different kinds of evidence from a range of secondary sources;
  • An ability to develop and articulate logical written and oral arguments;
  • Capacity and confidence to structure and present ideas in a professionally formatted report;
  • Personal responsibility for organising research tasks and self-directed learning.

Assessment methods

  • Transport Geographies will be assessed by a two-hour exam paper (worth 67%) in May and one piece of team-based coursework (33%)

  • Coursework assignment deadline – (mid semester, submission date TBA)


    The coursework will involve working in a pair to research and write a 2,500-2,800 word consultants-style report on transport infrastructures in a city of your choice (outside the UK). The research will involve desk study of two distinct modes of transportation in the city, describing their development and existing status of infrastructure provision, assessing current problems and challenges for mobility of the inhabitants. The report must present a range of evidence, derived from credible and cited secondary sources, including descriptive statistics, graphs, photographs and maps. The report should also make appropriate linkage to policy documents, international best-practice guidance and relevant ideas from academic literature.

Feedback methods

Feedback will be provided in the following ways during this course unit:

  • extensive verbal feedback through Q&A, discussion and activities within lectures and seminars;
  • feedback on any course unit issue through face-to-face meeting in consultation hours and via email;
  • detailed written feedback on the coursework assignment.

Recommended reading

There is no single course text. Key readings from journals for each lecture will be made available online. Listed here is a range of good books relating to transport geographies relevant to the course:

·         Rodrigue J-P, with Comtois C, Slack B, 2013, The Geography of Transport Systems, Third Edition (Routledge, London)

·         Knowles R, Shaw J, Docherty I (eds.), 2008, Transport Geographies: Mobilities, Flows and Spaces (Blackwell Publishing, Oxford)

·         Bowen J, 2010, The Economic Geography of Air Transportation: Space, Time, and the Freedom of the Sky (Routledge, London)

·         Cresswell T, Merriman P, (eds.), 2011, Geographies of Mobilities: Practices, Spaces, Subjects (Ashgate, Farnham)

·         Cwerner S, Kesselring S, Urry J (eds.),  2009, Aeromobilities (Routledge, London)


·         Transport Statistics Great Britain (TSGB),



In relation to the development of transport in Manchester these resources are recommended:

·         Brook R, Dodge M, 2012, Infra_MANC: Post-war Infrastructures of Manchester (Bauprint, Manchester)

·         Maw P, 2013, Transport and the Industrial City: Manchester and the Canal Age, 1750-1850 (MUP)

·         Farnie D A, 1980, Manchester Ship Canal and the Rise of the Port of Manchester 1894-1975 (MUP)

·         Haywood R, 2011, Railways, Urban Development and Town Planning in Britain: 1948-2008 (Ashgate)

·         Crosby A G, 1998, Leading the Way: A History of Lancashire’s Roads (Lancashire County Book, Preston)

·         Hyde M, O’Rourke A, Portland P, 2004 Around the M60: Manchester’s Orbital Motorway (AMCD Publishers, Manchester)

·         Kidd A, 2006, Manchester: A History (Carnegie Press, Lancaster)

·         Greater Manchester Local Transport Plan 3 (2012-2016), Transport for Greater Manchester and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority,

·         Transport for Greater Manchester annual reports,


Key Journals:

These academic journals will provide much relevant material for the themes of this course:

  • Journal of Transport Geography,
  • Mobilities,
  • Study hours

    Scheduled activity hours
    Assessment written exam 2
    Lectures 20
    Seminars 10
    Independent study hours
    Independent study 168

    Teaching staff

    Staff member Role
    Martin Dodge Unit coordinator

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