Thursday, July 24, 2014

Look out the window and imagine!

Image above: Plane Finder map the day after the 18 July Malaysian Airline tragedy. Ukraine is given a wide berth, but not by all! That day changed the geographic imaginings for many of us for ever about that art of the world.

Related links to Spatialworlds  
Spatialworlds website

Australian Geography Teachers' Association website    

Where am I??  

Adelaide, Australia: S: 34º 55' E: 138º 36'

Looking out the window: near and far

"Humans conjure up powerful images of places--that is, the geographical imagination."
                                                                                                         Yi-Fu Tuan (1976)

Geography student should be looking out the window and imagining! In workshops and the classroom I use the great website called Plane finder to travel around the world and challenge the geographical imagination of individuals.  I ask participants to imagine they are on one of the planes shown on the Plane Finder screen and to then imagine the landscapes, settlements and cultures they are flying over and imagine the nature of these at their destination. These are questions we should be asking students all the time about the world to stimulate their geographical imagination. 

Here are some writings to help us get our head around the concept of geographical imagination. It can be confusing because the term “geographical imagination” is a popular catchphrase in the geographical literature with multiple interpretations, often unclear and highly intellectualised. In this posting I have distilled the concept to being a way of thinking about the world, considering the nature of places, their relative importance and the relationships between “our” places and “other” places. 

Derek Gregory believes that the concept involves:

"...mental images and socially produced discourses about cultures, spaces, and differences. How people see the world is influenced by many factors, including social class, education, and personal and political philosophies. The particular moments in history in which people live also play a major role in how they view the world around them. Derek Gregory explains that the geographical imagination plays a significant role in shaping much of the world's social and spatial thought. Through the geographical imagination, people (both individually and collectively) develop a sense of boundaries, which separate “our” spaces and places from other spaces and places. Geographical imaginations are thus central to the social and spatial constructions of identity."

Mark Twain wrote the following, as far back as 1878 on geographical imagination (although he did not call it that) and travel:

"The human imagination is much more capable than it gets credit for.  This is why Niagara is always a disappointment when one sees it for the first time.  One's imagination has long ago built a Niagara to which this one is a poor dribbling thing.  The ocean "with its waves running mountain high" is always a disappointment at first sight; the imagination has constructed real mountains, whereas these with swelling at their very biggest and highest are not imposing.  The Taj is a disappointment though people are ashamed to confess it.  God will be a disappointment to most of us, at first.  I wish I could see the Niagara’s and Taj’s which the human imagination has constructed, why then, bless you, I should see Atlantics pouring down out of the sky over cloud ranges, and I should see Taj’s of a form so gracious and a spiritual expression so divine and altogether so sublime and so lovely and worshipful that—well—St. Peter's, Vesuvius, Heaven, Hell, everything that is much described is bound to be a disappointment at first."                                                            —Mark Twain's Notebook

Mark Twain in these writings is challenging the accuracy and veracity of our geographical imaginings – that rarely do they match reality. Alan Marcus considers that geographical imagination is just a "part of the common experience of man” and defines it as "the spatial knowledge--real or abstract--that allows individuals to imagine place," 

It is as a significant, and mainly non-economic, component propelling migrants to leave places like Brazil for the United States and the English for Australia and also prompting some to return. Geographic Imaginings’ constitute an important aspect in geographic research, enriching our understanding of places and societies as well as the contested meanings people have towards spaces. No matter how accurate or fallacious our geographical imaginings are, they are real to us and influence our attitudes and behaviours to a great extent as we look out the window of our small part of the world and contemplate places far and near. The development of such imagining’s are influenced by our readings, what we watch, discussions with others and just our imagination based on an impression we gather about a place – often based on information we have no idea where it came from. Several concrete examples of the influence our geographical imaginations can be found in migration studies and tourism marketing:

Geographic Imagination and migration
In the late 1980s more than 1 million Brazilians left Brazil without returning. Today an estimated 2 million Brazilians live abroad, 1.2 million of them in the United States. Brazilians migrate for a variety of reasons, including the geographical imagination, as do many English migrants come to Australia because their geographic imagination of Australian has been developed through the TV shows Neighbours and Home and Away!

Geographic imagination and tourism
The marketing and development of tourist destinations offers a fertile ground for the exercise of geographic imagination. Tourism marketing distils the essence of a place, and imagines an identity that is attractive to tourists and residents alike. Such spatial identities, however, are seldom hegemonic and are often highly contested.

The Geographical Association in the UK has recognised the importance of geographical imagination in the teaching of geography for many years.  

Doreen Massey on geographical imagination:

'It is probably now well accepted, though it is still important to argue, that a lot of our "geography" is in the mind. That is to say we carry around with us mental images of the world, of the country in which we live (all those image of the North/South divide), of the street next door. The New Yorker's mental map of the USA, Ronald Regan's imagination of the world, became popular posters.
All of us carry such images, they may sometimes be in conflict or even be the cause of conflict, and digging these things up and talking about them is one good way in to beginning to examine what it means to think geographically'

Massey, D. (2006) 'The geographical mind' in Balderston, D. (ed) Secondary Geography Handbook, Sheffield: Geographical Association

Here are some activities which aim to stimulate the student’s geographic imagination.
* The Valuing places section of the GA site is a very useful summary and resource on geographical imagination
* Where will we live GA activities: examples of activities related to 'Geographical Imaginations?'

The Australian Geography Teachers' Association's (AGTA) GeogSpace website to support the Australian Curriculum: Geography also explores the concept of geographical thinking in its Thinking Geographically Support Unit. Nick Hutchinson, the writer of the unit created an excellent Illustration of Practice called; The Child as a Geographer which further developed the thinking on the concept of geographical imagination.

In conclusion, many go as far as to say that at the core of modern geographical thinking is the concept of geographical imagination and the associate concept of place (attachment and sense of).

Thursday, July 17, 2014

An interesting take on attachment to place: not just sets!

Image above: The West 81st Street address that was home to Jerry, Kramer, and Newman can still be found on a quiet block between Amsterdam and Columbus avenues.

Related links to Spatialworlds  
Spatialworlds website

Australian Geography Teachers' Association website    

Where am I??  

Adelaide, Australia: S: 34º 55' E: 138º 36'

The Geographic Legacy of 'Seinfeld'

Although focussing on the Seinfeld comedy series, the example profiled in this posting provides the opportunity to explore the concept of place and peoples attachment to place from afar - that is attachment to place, even though an individual has never been to that place, but only experienced it through their TV screens. In fact, there is an industry across the world built around an individuals attachment to place through paintings, plays, books, movies and television. When visiting a place a person wants to see it 'in the flesh', to feel and sense the actual place that they had lived and experienced through the art form. Although attached to a place through their imagination, a person can often be disappointed that although the place looks physically the same, it no longer exists as they imagined because the human component that was an integral part of their attachment to the place from afar is no longer there. The human component that gave the individual their attachment and sense of place no longer exists. Even so the person still wants to visit the place to let their imagination make what it can of the place as it is. 
If this sounds all rather indulgent and somewhat abstract, I feel that the example of the Seinfeld places in New York and peoples fascination with seeing these places is a great chance to elucidate the richness of the place concept in the Australian Curriculum: Geography - to draw out the aspect of the concept which is very much a human construct. If nothing else, if you were/are still a fan of Seinfeld, why not let your geographical imagination about place run wild by flicking through the 'real' locations out of "the series about nothing". As the site says, "why not make maps about nothing?" ... but is it about nothing? It really is about our attachment to the place Seinfeld and his friends occupied!

  Taking the discussion one step  further, why not get students to do a virtual study of the locations in their favourite television show (or whatever art form they wish) and draw a map of the sites and embed images for each of the places identified. There certainly are tours of the Seinfeld sites (the one conducted by the real Kramer certainly would play with your mind!), Sex in the City tour, The Lord of the Rings Middle Earth sites in New Zealand, the bar from Cheers and the sites in New York from Friends - I am sure there are many more such place based tours. The difference with these tours compared to a tour of famous iconic places is that with these sites we feel a very strong attachment to (rather than just fascination with) because we feel that we have actually visited the place through the characters we enjoyed and in many cases identified with - the characters and the places they inhabited became part of our lives and geography.

 The Seinfeld locations: Maps about nothing! 

* The attached site is a digital reality tour of five classic New York locations still existing, and five since gone. 

* Part of the site provides a spatial guide to New York and scenes from the series.

As much as Seinfeld is a show about nothing, it's also essentially a show about New York. No other series integrated Manhattan life into its story lines to a greater degree. As Jerry Seinfeld says: 
"It wasn't clear at the beginning that the city itself would be such a big character in the show."

The city supplied the "excruciating minutia" that kept the narrative motor running for a group of self-obsessed, over-analytical, otherwise-unoccupied characters (think about it: only Elaine had a steady job). Given the close connection between city and show, it seemed fitting to check on Seinfeld's geographic legacy as a place. The site profiles five classic Seinfeld spots still in New York to be visited, and five since gone.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Amazing Human Geography GeogStories

Image above: A male beauty contest in the desert from the BBC Human Planet Explorer

Related links to Spatialworlds  
Spatialworlds website

Australian Geography Teachers' Association website    

Where am I??  

Adelaide, Australia: S: 34º 55' E: 138º 36'

 Fascinating human stories

As previously mentioned in a Spatialwolds blog posting, I am a fan of the 3-4 minutes video program excerpts from the BBC Human Planet Explorer site. These clips from vastly contrasting world environments show some amazing WOW (World of Wonder) geogstories about how humans live in a range of environments. The following clips are examples of some great human geography for the classroom to show how humans create social structures and cultural  traits to adapt and survive in their harsh environments. In many cases, in ways inconceivable beyond the comfort of the built environment that many of us live in. Some of the clips however are just plain interesting human behaviours in different places around the globe.

Here are some amazing human geogstories from the Human Planet Explorer site:

* Inuit Throat singing

Saturday, July 5, 2014

An OZ interconnection story

Image above: The Dingo Fence is one of the world's longest man made structures. In fact it is also the world's longest fence, stretching across Queensland and South Australia. The Dingo Fence is 5,614 kilometres long.

Related links to Spatialworlds 
Spatialworlds website

Australian Geography Teachers' Association website    

Where am I??  
Adelaide, Australia: S: 34º 55' E: 138º 36'

An Australian example of environmental interconnection

in a previous Spatialworlds posting, in reference to the Australian Curriculum: Geography interconnection concept,I showcased the fascinating environmental interconnection example of the wolves in the Yellowstone National Park. When I recently showed that wonderful video on the wolves at a geography workshop one of the participants directed me to a parallel interconnection story, this time about the dingo in Australia. 

After years of being killed, defamed, restricted in movement (the dingo fence) and generally seen as a pest, some farmers and ecologists are speaking out about  the important role the dingo did and can play in the Australian ecology.  They even go so far as to suggest that it may be a good thing for the environment to re-introduce them to areas where they have been previously been restricted and/or eradicated.  Here is the story from a recent ABC Bush Telegraph story.

Dingo researcher Lyn Watson believes farmers might soon want to restock their properties with dingoes. Watson, who runs the Dingo Discovery Research Centre north of Melbourne, is trying to breed a viable population to re-introduce into the environment. 

'Now it's being proven that ... leaving dingoes alone is actually leading to better control of herbivores that are in competition for the grass,' say Watson.
'I think many of the enlightened farmers are starting to come around now.'
Arian Wallach, ecologist at Evelyn Downs station, South Australia  agrees, and has set up one of the country's first 'predator-friendly, dingo-friendly cattle stations' at Evelyn Downs in South Australia.

'We cannot have a pastoral system without a healthy ecosystem and we can't have healthy ecosystems without dingoes'

'We have to start letting go of how things were done one hundred years ago and move into a predator-friendly pastoral stations.'

Wallach's farm runs a herd of over 1000 cattle, and lost eight calves last year to dingoes. But she says that's 'a small price to pay for the ecological services [dingoes] provide'.

Arian and her husband, Adam O'Neil have developed the Dingo Diversity Project to study the role of large apex predators in a healthy of ecosystem.

'They are Australia's top order predator and the health of the ecosystem—its biodiversity, its productivity, the condition of it's soil, the rivers, the endangered species—are all tightly linked up with the dingo,' she says.

Watson, for her part, admits that dingoes can be a threat to livestock.

'Farmers have brought northern hemisphere, prey species to Australia and put them right in the territory of the predator,' she says. 'It was just a natural progression that there was going to be a collision.'
'Dingoes do not want to eat sheep. They can't. Sheep are fat and dingoes can't digest fat. But they will kill anything that runs and panics because that is what triggers the prey drive.'

There is increasing pressure to control wild dogs in grazing areas and Lyn thinks the dingo is unfairly caught up in the debate.

'The term wild dog was conveniently put into legislation in order to put the dingo on the pest animal list and not get it on the protected list,' she said.

Will we continue to see the dingo as a pest or embrace their re-introduction into areas of  Australia? Just like the wolves in Yellowstone, we may not know how important they are until we re-introduce them - they too may cause trophic cascades that we cannot predict and even impact positively on the physical geography of Australia.