How does a person define the ‘essence’ of a place, person or thing? Is it possible to even articulate the sense of being that a location can convey? Over the last 50 years many scholars and writers have explored this concept by applying the word ‘Topophilia’ to such an exercise. The term is a construct of the Greek word topos for ‘place’, and philia for ‘love of’. It has been used to articulate how people feel about certain places, and how these places evoke feelings of emotion around spatial and cultural identity.
The Chinese-US academic and geographer Tuan Yi-Fu explored this topic in his 1974 book Topophilia: a study of environmental perception, attitudes, and values. The book is significant because he does what museums have been trying to do for decades: identifying what factors, be they physical, cultural or emotional, make a place so special.
For the Royal BC Museum, this challenge underpins most of the work it does when developing exhibits, collecting specimens or curating programs. The museum provides a multi-faceted window to the ‘spirit’ of the Pacific, the sense of place that residents and visitors feel when talking about the coastal communities and habitats of British Columbia. It also provides a sense of identity for west coasters, as the province aligns itself with the growing ambitions of the Pacific Age.
This latest issue of Curious Quarterly provides a perfect vantage point to explore what shapes our sense of place here in the grand Pacific. I hope you enjoy this edition and come away with feelings of both awe and resonance, something museums like RBCM are so proud to provide.