New book: Standing on Holy Ground in the Middle Ages by Lucy Donkin

Dr Lucy Donkin (History of Art, University of Bristol) has published a new book on holy ground in the middle ages.

Standing on Holy Ground in the Middle Ages illuminates how the floor surface shaped the ways in which people in medieval western Europe and beyond experienced sacred spaces.

The ground beneath our feet plays a crucial, yet often overlooked, role in our relationship with the environments we inhabit and the spaces with which we interact. By focusing on this surface as a point of encounter, Lucy Donkin positions it within a series of vertically stacked layers—the earth itself, permanent and temporary floor coverings, and the bodies of the living above ground and the dead beneath—providing new perspectives on how sacred space was defined and decorated, including the veneration of holy footprints, consecration ceremonies, and the demarcation of certain places for particular activities.

Using a wide array of visual and textual sources, Standing on Holy Ground in the Middle Ages also details ways in which interaction with this surface shaped people’s identities, whether as individuals, office holders, or members of religious communities. Gestures such as trampling and prostration, the repeated employment of specific locations, and burial beneath particular people or actions used the surface to express likeness and difference. From pilgrimage sites in the Holy Land to cathedrals, abbeys, and local parish churches across the Latin West, Donkin frames the ground as a shared surface, both a feature of diverse, distant places and subject to a variety of uses over time—while also offering a model for understanding spatial relationships in other periods, regions, and contexts.

Cornell University Press are offering a discount of 30% using the code CSVS2022 at

A vegetal world? Exploring ‘The Work That Plants Do’

James Palmer (School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol) introduces a new collection of essays, The Work That Plants Do: Life, Labour and the Future of Vegetal Economies (Transcript, 2021).

Are we living in a vegetal world? Plants are increasingly recognised as sensate, communicative, world-making beings. At the same time, more hope than ever is being pinned on them to address environmental, social and economic challenges – whether through rising interest in nature-based climate solutions, plant-based diets, biotechnological innovations, or beyond. What kinds of connections exist between these philosophical and instrumental views of plant agency? And what relations do they bear to the crisis of capitalism?

In a new collection co-edited by Marion Ernwein (The Open University) and two Bristol geographers – Franklin Ginn and James Palmer – environmental humanities scholars from the UK, US, France and Australia shine a critical light on evolving understandings of the nature and potentials of vegetal life under contemporary capitalism. Drawing on diverse case studies, The Work That Plants Do asks what kinds of work plants do in capitalist economies today. Contributors to the book investigate the fraught processes through which plants are turned into commodities, put to work, or enrolled in projects of social and environmental reproduction. Specific chapters delve into cases ranging from the craft horticultural practices undergirding annual ‘Wisteria Festivals’ in Japan through to laboratory-based succulent conservation in the US, and from the metabolic activities of grape vines in the capitalist viticulture through to the ‘shady work’ performed by urban trees in the increasingly overheated urban environments of north Australia.

If a core ambition of the book is to explore the theoretical and political implications of diverse recognitions of plant agency in contemporary capitalism, an equally central concern is to insist that plants’ alterity – their difference – makes a difference. To attend critically to the capacities of plants is, the book aims to show, not simply a case of extending the existing tools of critical political economy or multispecies studies to a new empirical domain. Rather, the book suggests that plants require new concepts and ways of thinking – about work and labour, about the driving purpose of economies themselves, and indeed about the relationships that should operate between productivity and vitality, growth and life.

Ultimately, the book argues that a closer attention to the heterogenous agencies of plants might serve not only to enrich understandings of capitalism itself, but potentially also to catalyse new forms of resistance to its logics.

The Work That Plants Do: Life, Labour and the Future of Vegetal Economies is published by transcript Verlag and can be purchased directly from the publisher or via their US distributor, Columbia University Press.