Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Wherever you go, there you are!

Image above: The video called 'Move' - 3 guys, 44 days, 11 countries, 18 flights, 38 thousand miles, an exploding volcano, 2 cameras and almost a terabyte of footage...

Related links to Spatialworlds  
Spatialworlds website

Australian Geography Teachers' Association website

Where am I??  

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

Geography and travel

Over recent months I have been finishing my workshops with the  Where the hell is Matt? videos. Matthew "Matt" Harding is a traveller and now an Internet celebrity who in his videos dances in front of landmarks and street scenes in various international locations. When experiencing the sheer joy of life as Matt dances in the places around the world, it got me thinking about the relationship between travel, geography and geographers. All the geographers I know love travelling and seeing the world that they spend a lot of their time teaching about.  In fact, I believe the power of travel is fundamental to many of the aims of geography teaching. Linking geography to travel and experiences on the move enhances students understanding of the processes of the earth, broadens their perception of their world, stimulates a students geographical imagination and develops a more globalised and non-ethnocentric view of the world amongst students. Travel takes a student beyond the me!! I know we cannot take our classes on excursions around the world (unless you are very lucky!) but with the power of the Internet, image capture and spatial technology we can travel virtually to anywhere in the world (knowing without going) and take in the sites and even interact with people in those places. We also know that geography teachers love telling geogstories of their travels and even showing and using those slides (now thousands of digital images). Why not?... geography should be about story telling, as is history.

Such views are not new as indicated in the following quotes over the years from famous people from all fields of human endeavour.

Some great quotes about the power of travel: 

"Wherever you go, there you are."    Jon Kabat-Zinn

"To travel is to live."  Hans Christian Anderson

"Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow." Anita Desai

"Travel is a fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness. Broad, wholesome, charitible views of men and things cannot be aquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." Mark Twain

"The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page." 360AD  Augustine of Hippo

"Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see teh place you came from with new eyes and extra colours. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving." Terry Pratchett

"I travel not to go anywhere but to go . I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move." Robert Louis Stevenson

"Travel makes you modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world." Gustave Flaubert

"Ones destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things." Henry Miller

Continuing with the travel theme and the potential for the geography classroom here are some video treasures from some young people living the travel dream through film

Rick Mereki is an independent film-maker based in Melbourne,  Australia. He shot to fame in August 2011 after releasing several short films that he created with Tim White and Andrew Lees. The films were seen to be some of the fastest growing viral videos in Vimeo's history.

Here are the films on Vimeo:

MOVE is an excellent video that inspires students to see the world and learn about the people and cultures from far of places.
* LEARN   
* EAT  

Making a Travel Wishlist

In a more traditional travel sense the attached images of Icons of place on the travel bucket list site are a great discussion starter on travel for students.  Why not get students to make their very own travel wish list with the reasons why? 

The antipathy of learning through travel - ethnocentric news coverage.

On the other side of the travel coin, this Ted Talk on Geo-ignorance in relation to geographical news coverage is an important discussion point to open the eyes of students to the western-centric and ethno-centric nature of the news they are fed on a daily basis. 

As the Ted Talk says:

"The U.S. News is remarkably USA-centric, so in the era of globalization and the fragmentation of  information, most American TV viewers know less about the world than they did 40 years ago."

I would like to think a student studying geography and experiencing travel though their virtual experiences and development of their geographical imagination can counter the impact of such news coverage. Sadly in the United States geography is not big in schools. A 2013 National Geographic survey found that:
  • 20%of Americans think Sudan is in Asia
  • Half of young Americans can’t find  New York on a map
  • Only 37% of Americans can find Iraq on a map

Mark Twain did famously say in 1880:
"God created war so that Americans would learn geography." 

I am not sure that in Australia our students or the public in general are much better geographically informed than the US. Hopefully with all students in Australia now doing geography from at least Foundation to Year 8 will improve our geographic capacities as a people.

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 students 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.