Dr Alison Williams
Senior Lecturer in Political Geography


I am Senior Lecturer in Political Geography, with interests in military geographies and geopolitics. Specifically, I am interested in vertical and aerial geopolitics; analysing the role of aviation and aircraft in the projection of power across space. This interest has both historical and contemporary foci and, to date, includes work on the aerial geopolitics of the inter-war Pacific, the use of military air power to enforce international boundaries, the performativity of UK military airspaces, and the embodied geopolitics of drone warfare.

I am currently PI on a two-year ESRC funded project investigating the 'value' of university armed service units, and am academic lead on a Leverhulme Artist-in-Residence project on visualising military airspaces. Between July 2008 - June 2011 I was an ESRC Research Fellow working on a programme of research entitled 'The Geographies of Military Airspaces'.

Roles and Responsibilities

Geography Careers & Employability Co-ordinator

Military, War and Security Research Group Convenor


Power, Space, Politics research cluster Convenor


ESRC Peer Review College member (2010-)

Member - Northumbrian Universities Military Education Committee (2008-)


2001-5: PhD Human Geography, University of Hull

1998-9: MA International Relations, Keele University

1995-8: BA (Hons) Geography, University of Liverpool

Previous Positions

2011-2014 Lecturer in Human Geography, School of Geography, Politics and Sociology, Newcastle University

2008-11: ESRC Research Fellow, School of Geography, Politics and Sociology, Newcastle University

2007-8: Lecturer in Human Geography, University of Liverpool

2005-7: Post-Doctoral Research Associate, International Boundaries Research Unit, Geography Department, Durham University


Fellow of Royal Geographical Society-Institute of British Geographers

Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

Research Interests

Geopolitics and technogeopolitics

Military geographies, especially relating to military air power

Geographies of airspace use and control

Drones, especially their use by military forces 

US aviation in the interwar Pacific 

The transferable skills agenda 


Current Research

University Armed Service Units  

I am PI on a two-year ESRC funded project investigating the non-economic value of the University Armed Service Units (USU). These student societies are run by the UK Armed Forces and teach military skills, as well as transferable skills. This project will undertake an in-depth UK-wide analysis of the impact of USU participation for current students, USU graduates who have not pursued military careers, graduate employers, UK universities, and the UK Armed Forces. Working with Prof Rachel Woodward (Co-I) and Dr Neil Jenkings (Co-I and SRA), this project will use a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods to investigate the worth of USUs in relation to transferable skills, civil-military relations, and militarism. I received a Faculty Research Fund Award (2009) to enable an RA to conduct a pilot study into the relationship between membership of the university's armed service units and the development of transferable skills which provided pilot data for the ESRC project. For more about this visit http://research.ncl.ac.uk/usu-research/

Aerial geopolitics 

Between July 2008 and June 2011 I was an ESRC Research Fellow, working on a programme of research under the heading of the 'Geographies of Military Airspaces'. Within this Fellowship I sought to theorise airspace; investigate how airspace is constructed through a variety of legal regimes; discover how military flight crews are taught to 'see' and understand airspace; consider popular geopolitical representations of military airspace in video gaming; and analyse the significance of unmanned aerial vehicles technologies within the military sphere. This research has been published in a number of journal articles and I continue to write up this research for publication.

Visualising the aerial

I have ongoing interests in how militarised spaces can be represented through engagements with artistic and creative practice.

I am academic lead on a Leverhulme Artist-in Residence award working with Dr Matthew Flintham to create artistic interventions to visualise military airspaces. Running from October 2013 for twelve months, this project provides Dr Flintham (as a practising artist) opportunities to create art works that will visualise the spaces used in the UK for the training of military aircrews, offering opportunities to uncover these hidden spaces. The work produced in the project will be shown at a public exhibition to be held in Newcastle in January 2015. For more information on this project visit http://research.ncl.ac.uk/larp/

During spring 2010 I was part of the Interventions Project, which brought together designers and researchers to collaborate to produce a piece of work related to our research. I worked with Nelly Ben Hayoun (www.nellyben.com), an award winning designer based in London on a project to materialise resistance to airspace control. For more information on our project visit http://www.ncl.ac.uk/gps/geography/research/human/psp/interventions.htm. I continue to work on the intersections between geopolitics, militarism and art.

Pedagogic research

I am also interested in the wider issue of transferable skills and the graduate skills agenda. To this end, I have developed a website for Newcastle Geography students to help them identify the transferable skills that completion of the various modes of assessment within our degree programmes can enable them to advance (makinggeographywork.ncl.ac.uk). I have also received funding (with Dr Simon Tate) from the Newcastle University teaching and learning Innovation Fund to develop video-based peer learning tools to enhance students' dissertation skills. 

Future Research

My future research will continue to centre upon geographies of aviation and airspace in both historical and contemporary periods, and military geographies more widely.

I also plan to continue my work on the graduate skills agenda and student employability, and the relationship between the university and the military.

Research Roles

Military, War and Security (faculty-level) Research Group - Convenor 


Power, Space, Politics research cluster - Convenor


Postgraduate Supervision

I welcome PhD enquires from students interested in undertaking research on geopolitics, military geographies, aerial geographies, and international boundaries. For more information see; http://www.ncl.ac.uk/gps/geography/postgrad/research/phdtopichg.html 

2008-12 : Matthew Rech - Critical geopolitics of RAF recruitment (ESRC) - currently Teaching Fellow in Human Geography, Newcastle University

2011- : Daniel Bos - Popular geopolitics of military video games (ESRC DTC)

2012- : Panayiotis Hadjipavlis - Analysing the geopolitics of Cypriot airspace (part-time self-funded) 

2013- : Matthew Scott - Technogeopolitics and the Berlin-Baghdad Railway (ESRC DTC)


2013-14: Leverhulme Artist-in-Residence award (c.£15,000) Visualising Military Airspaces (PI; artist Dr Matthew Flintham)

2013-2014: Catherine Cookson Foundation (£700) Historical geographies of military aviation in the north-east (scoping study)

2012-14: ESRC Research Grant (c.£270,000) 'The value of University Armed Service Units' (PI; Co-I Prof Rachel Woodward; Co-I & SRA Dr Neil Jenkings) ES/J023868/1

2011-12: Newcastle University Teaching and Learning Committee Innovation Fund (c. £3000) 'Learning from Research Practice: developing a web-based video resource that will provide Geography dissertation students with examples of how Geography staff and postgrads do their research' (with Simon Tate)

2009-2010: HaSS Faculty Research Fund (£3650) 'The graduate skills agenda and the university armed services experience'

2008-2011: ESRC Research Fellowship (c. £350,000 including PhD studentship)'The Geographies of Military Airspaces' - RES-063-27-0154

2001-2005: ESRC Open Competition PhD funding (c. £40,000)'Aviation Technogeopolitics and the Territorialisation of the Pacific as US Space, 1918-1941'- R42200134521


Undergraduate Teaching

GEO1096 Study Skills (Personal Tutor)

GEO2043 Key Methods in Human Geography (Lecturer)  

GEO2047 Political Geography (Lecturer)

GEO2105 Military Environments and Landscapes Field Course (Lecturer)

GEO2111 Doing Geographical Research (Lecturer and Mentor)

GEO3099 Dissertation (Mentor)

GEO3102 Geopolitics (Module Leader and Lecturer)

GEO3131 Aerial Geographies (Module Leader and Lecturer)