While (historical) geographers are now increasingly engaging with material things and approaches, there has been little debate about the role and place of material sources and methodologies within historical geography research. This special section of Area draws together five papers in which historical geographers explore material sources and the application of material approaches in order to make conceptual, methodological and empirical contributions to (historical) geography. These papers demonstrate the potential range of possibilities available to geographers (historical or not) attuned to the materiality of space and encourage further discussion about the relationship between material cultures and geographical research. This introductory editorial outlines the impetus for this special section. It reflects on how material culture has already been used within geographical research, considers why there is a need to debate (specifically historical) geographers’ engagement with materiality in greater depth, and suggests some ways in which the papers in this special section have already contributed to this debate.