I was delighted to be asked to speak at TEDxEHL last month at Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne. I used my 15 minutes to argue that we are currently going through an Exploration Revolution, but that we’re not making the most of it… especially in schools. The talk takes place during the 125th anniversary of National Geographic, a year in which many people have been asking the society “what’s left to explore?“. This short video answers that question and more.
The latest edition of Ecological Urbanism is terrible doorstop. The first edition is 655 pages, smells good, weighs 2kg and keeps most of my other books in their place. Despite its strengths, it can’t do video… something the latest version on the book can do. The original hardback book by Mohsen Mostafavi and Gareth Doherty features hundreds of photos that I took while walking across Mexico City, Mumbai and London for Urban Earth, a project in urban exploration that I started in 2008. Out today, the new version splits the book into digestible chapters and includes over 15,000 photographs within the 3 Urban Earth films that I made by taking pictures every 8 steps while crossing these massive cities. You’ll find the films in volume 2, Anticipate, and are accompanied by a short piece of text that Kye Askins and I wrote. I’m delighted to see the films come to life in the book. I hope you enjoy it.
The Ecological Urbanism project has a Facebook page that you can follow here.
A short time ago I set GeoEdChat.com live. It’s a new effort from a group of us in The Geography Collective that we hope will bring about new relationships, thinking, practices and initiatives that will improve geography education. The idea follows #UKedChat and other hashtag based Twitter conversations that bring together educators to talk on a specific theme. #GeoEdChat is especially for anyone interested in geography education and will take place every Wednesday. It does not matter what your specialism is or the age of the people you work with, if you have something to say or want to learn more about geography education then this new site should be useful for you.
All educators clearly have different experiences of geography. We all work in different settings and situations, often with different aims and objectives. That said, the world we occupy and the internet that reaches around it are shared between us and together we can use one to influence the other. #GeoEdChat is an international, new and focussed opportunity to develop and share ideas and practices in geography education. I do hope that you’ll join us.
I’m always fascinated to discover the reasons why explorers and adventurers do what they do. In November Ben Saunders (@PolarBen) gave a TED Talk in which he described his amazing solo trek across the Arctic (from Siberia to Canada) and explained his main reason for the journey.
“One of the magical things about this journey however is that because I’m walking over the sea, over this floating, drifting, shifting crust of ice that’s floating on the surface of the arctic ocean is that it’s an environment in a constant state of flux. The ice is always moving, breaking-up, drifting around, re-freezing.. so the scenery that I saw for nearly 3 months was unique to me. No one else will ever, could ever, possibly see the vistas that I saw for 10 weeks and that, I guess, is the finest argument for leaving the house.”
Ben’s story is inspirational and his reason for leaving the house is certainly captivating, but I’m not convinced that the exclusivity of experience or sole ownership of it are the best reasons to explore. No doubt taking such an extreme trek is geographically (in location, distance, scale, environment and human isolation) beyond what most people would do, but surely no one else will ever, could ever, possibly see the same vistas for any period of time? Growing trees, moving cars, changing window displays, rotating kebabs and dogs running in the park are all always changing and so are our gazes and our opinions. If the finest argument for leaving the house is to have a unique experience, all we have to do is be semi-conscious of the fact our experience is unique. We don’t have to travel to the ends of the Earth to have sole ownership of our experiences on it.
That said, I’m curious about the reasons why, as a tourist, traveller, explorer or simply someone bothering to leave the house, I enjoy a place or event because I’m the only one who has experienced it compared to experiences that are, to some degree, shared. When does sharing heighten, intensify or improve and when does it dilute, obstruct and corrupt? Clearly is depends entirely on the situation.
I enjoy the music festival scene in the UK and go to several major events each year. Something that’s often described is a tipping point where the festival organisers have sold too many tickets and the community feel of the event is lost. In the case of Glastonbury, the UK’s biggest festival, the organiser’s themselves have complained of there being an imbalance in the age of their audience… it’s ageing. Those who have been going to Glastonbury for sometime often complain that it’s become too big and too mainstream. That said, the feeling of being part of a massive drifting, shifting and moving crowd is often just as important as the band on stage. Everyone who is present creates the geography of the moment, the atmosphere that creates the place and so the destination that everyone has come for. Are these camping festival survivalists who brave the elements to enjoy this unique location any less an explorer because what they seek is music together rather than snow alone? I don’t think so.
We are all explorers, or as the poet Kate Tempest (@katetempest) would say, we are the Brand New Ancients.
I recently watched Step Up Revolution and was struck by what an awesome case study this film would make in geography classrooms. Some people may be fooled into thinking this is just a film about dance, but Step Up Revolution is a classic geographical (if fictional) study of people, place, power, planning and protest in cities. When a strip in Miami is threatened with topocide and gentrification “The Mob” fight back to protect their home. Guerrilla Geography is rife in this blockbuster, as the dancers move from ‘performance art’ to ‘ protest art’, intentionally occupying spaces to make their point and exert their power. It’s full of beautifully geography-based quotes too, as the characters debate identify, culture and more.
The love interest plot in the film revolves around Sean and Emily, two dancers who have fallen for each other but who are separated by their differences in wealth. To top that it’s Emily’s dad who is trying to redevelop the area and Sean is one of the leaders of the “Mob” that is uprising. Near the end of the film they dance together to the song “To Build a Home” by The Cinematic Orchestra, a beautiful song that with its use in this film draw parallels between finding a sense of home in both place and people… in this case, with each other through dance.
The film ends with Emily’s dad (the property developer) saying “Maybe there is a way to build-up this neighbourhood without tearing it down”. What a classic problem for any classroom of students try and tackle.
Last week I had great fun helping to make this live Guerrilla Geography video with National Geographic Education for Geography Awareness Week. What do you think of it?
Geography is an important part of all our lives, yet the subject is often misunderstood, marginalised and even damaged. Geography Awareness Week is an important effort to raise awareness of how powerful and useful the subject is.
Geography Awareness Week is celebrated at different times of the year depending on where in the world you live. This week National Geographic Education is taking the lead in North America and is being supported many other organisations across the continent and world. The Geography Collective, which I help to lead, is very pleased to be one of them.
This is not just an opportunity for North America though. Wherever you are in the world you will find ideas and resources on the Geography Awareness Week website that you can use to promote geography and support your work.
Tweeting on #GAweek, this year focuses on the complex and important geographical idea of interdependence. This theme is a challenging one that mixes ‘human’ and ‘physical’ geographies that are so often divided. It also helps to avoid the ‘trivia geographies’ of naming capitals that prevent so many people from having a deeper understanding of the power of our field.
Here are some great resources things that are happening this week that you can get involved in:
> Measure and map your interdependence with the Global Closet Calculator. This is an awesome tool and if you spend some time with it you can get some exciting results and mapping. Made by our partners at The Workshop for National Geographic Education you can have a go here.
> We’ve made a whole bunch of free Mission:Explore resources. This includes a special version of Mission:Explore Food that’s full of Interdependence missions along with new challenges on the Mission:Explore website.
> Get the toolkit.
> On Tuesday evening at 7pm I’m going to be giving a special Nat Geo Live presentation on Guerrilla Geography from the National Geographic Society in Washington DC. You can get tickets here.
> On Thursday we’re going to be having a Guerrilla Geography Google+ Hangout. Join us at 1pm ET as we spend 30 minutes exploring, sharing and discussing guerrilla geography challenges. Explorers in the UK, India, New Zealand and the US will be joining in.
> This weekend I’ll be with National Geographic Education in Seattle for the 2012 National Council for Social Studies conference. I’m going to be presenting and the Nat Geo team will be getting everyone excited about geography.
I do hope that you can join one of these things. If not, why not find your own way to celebrate this important week or simply pass the message on?
I love this short film by the Light Surgeons.
When it comes to exploring and making sense of the world there are some good old rivalries in many education systems. Science v Art is one, with science winning in the vast majority of schools. STEM (Science Technology Engineering & Maths) Education is all the rage, with some artists arguing that STEAM education would be more appropriate. I personally fear a society that neglects the arts and fails to recognise its importance… or the beauty in science itself.
History v Geography is another curious professional and educational face off. In the English education system the two subjects are often pitted against each other, fighting to recruit students at option time. As a geography educator I’ve had many challenging conversations with history teachers who argue their subject to be a superior lens for interpreting the world. In the United States geography is mainly taught through other subjects and mainly in history lessons. A situation that I feel is disgraceful and am so pleased that National Geographic Education is working on so hard to change.
In reality these cockfights are, in many ways, ridiculous.
Shakespeare’s Restless World, a new radio series by the BBC with The British Museum, begins with Neil MacGregor examining Drake’s Circumnavigation Medal.
In the first episode MacGregor explores how “England goes global” and “how one man’s voyage changed a nation’s horizons forever”. To the English in 1580 the world was just being discovered and maps created. These maps were not (just) scientific however, but artistic tools of propaganda that created (imaginary) histories and geographies of their own. A practice that continues to this day.
As the programme points out, the influence of privateering voyages not only influenced economic wealth but also the arts.
“In The Comedy of Errors, written about 1592, Dromio, the quick-witted servant, outrageously compares a plump kitchen maid to a globe as he sets off on a raunchy geography lesson looking for treasure all over her:
Dromio: She is spherical, like a globe. I could find out countries in her.
Antipholus: In what part of her body stands Ireland?
Dromio: Marry, sir, in her buttocks. I found it out by the bogs.
Antipholus: Where Scotland?
Dromio: I found it by the barrenness, hard in the palm of the hand…”
After a very long journey I’ve woken up in Portland, Oregon. The mountains on landing were stunning and I’m excited to get out and start exploring the city. I’m here to help National Geographic Education train a number of Geography Awareness Week coordinators in how to use the new Mission:Explore website which is coming out this September.
Tomorrow we’re going to be walking 22km across Portland from west to east. In the style of URBAN EARTH, we’ll be taking photo’s every 8 steps and putting together a short film.
On Friday and Saturday over two sessions I’ll be explaining the history of guerrilla geography, Mission:Explore and how this approach to geography education can help to engage young people differently.
I’ll let you know how it goes.