Lecture and workshop with Dr Randy Widdis on border studies

Randy Widdis
Randy Widdis, Professor Emeritus of Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of Regina in Canada, was invited to the C²DH in February 2020 for a “Hands-on History” lecture followed by a two-day workshop.

Historians are latecomers to the interdisciplinary field of border studies, which critically assesses spatial changes by analysing de/rebordering practices and border crossings. But historical geographer Randy Widdis is a forerunner in the field. In this lecture, he summarised the historical research he has conducted on the Canada-US borderlands for more than twenty years. He particularly focused on the powerful conceptual framework he has developed in order to understand its complex history. Randy makes no attempt to develop a general theory of borders or to devise a methodology that transcends disciplinary boundaries. However, he does outline an approach that offers a framework for studying the evolution of borderlands over time. Randy Widdis’ Spatial Grammar approaches borderlands as spaces of flows and networks displaying various routes for people, goods, capital and ideas through time and space. During his lecture, Widdis used maps to demonstrate how the Canada-US borderlands have varied in their spatial extent and embodied different kinds of flows over time. An explanation of this approach was preceded by a brief discussion on some of Randy Widdis’ views on historical approaches to the study of borders and borderlands. At the end of his lecture, the author reflected on the role of historical research for policy making today.


Lecture: The Spatial Grammar of Borderlands

Workshop: Towards a Spatial Grammar of Luxembourg and Beyond?

After the lecture, the two-day workshop “Towards a Spatial Grammar of Luxembourg and Beyond?” took place at the C²DH Lab. Organisers Machteld Venken and Christoph Brüll invited 17 scholars from Luxembourg and the Greater Region to brainstorm how Randy Widdis’ approach could be used in historical research on the contemporary past of Luxembourg and its neighbouring countries. In four sessions, they discussed the flows of people, goods, capital and ideas.


In this interview led by Machteld Venken, Randy Widdis talks about how he became interested in border studies. He then outlines his work on the Canada-US borderlands as the Research Leader of the history section in the recently completed Borders in Globalization Project. The majority of the interview is dedicated to a further explanation of Randy Widdis’ Spatial Grammar. The author details his definition of flows and reflects on the possibility of including qualitative research data. He concludes the interview by repeating that bordering processes are shaped by different geographies and histories.


Randy Widdis is a Professor Emeritus of Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of Regina in Canada. He is the author of over seventy publications and is the recipient of forty awards and fellowships including the Albert B. Corey Prize for the best book on the history of North America (2006) and a Fulbright Fellowship (1994). He has published widely in the areas of rural development, heritage tourism and land settlement, but has more recently focused on the historical geography of the Canada-US borderlands. Dr Widdis is finishing his work as the lead for the historical theme and the Great Plains/Prairies region components of the Borders in Globalization Project.