What happened to the American geography department?

By Benjamin Sacks

Today, Dartmouth College remains the only Ivy League institution to maintain a distinct geography department. (c) 2015 Wikimedia  Commons.

Today, Dartmouth College remains the only Ivy League institution to maintain a distinct geography department. (c) 2015 Wikimedia Commons.

Tim Hall et al.’s recent Area examination of the changing fortunes and distribution of British geography departments identified both shifts in scope and funding. The geography department was ‘neither stable historically nor universal in nature’, and has been subject to merging, reclassification, separation, and redistribution since the mid-1990s (p.58). This problem however is also the discipline’s trump card: inherently interdisciplinary, geography can stand on its own and be classified with other related disciplines without significantly threatening its future. The United Kingdom continues to dominate geographic research and study, leading most recognised international league tables (e.g., QS World University; THES). The 2013 ESRC-RGS-AHRC report into Britain’s standing within academic geography trumpeted the country’s extraordinary impact in primary (field) research, geographical theory, and GIS development, despite the fact that the number of free-standing geography departments dropped from 47 (1995) to 33 (2013). In sum, geography’s preeminent position in British higher research and education is guaranteed as long as further fiscal cuts are not implemented. Hall et al also noted other, mostly Commonwealth countries, where geography research and education has expanded or diversified since the end of the twentieth century.

The situation is unfortunately vastly different in the United States. Despite longstanding efforts by the National Geographic Society and the American Geographical Society to expand geography education at the secondary- and university-levels respectively, geography remains a little-studied or even -understood discipline. At present it remains the only major academic field not to receive national education funding. As recently as 2010 the National Assessment Governing Board admitted the failure of American geography education. ‘The consequence’, they conceded, was ‘widespread ignorance of our own country and of its place’ in the world. World events change the situation little. This time last year, Kyle Dropp (Dartmouth), Joshua Kertzer (Harvard), and Thomas Zeitzoff (Princeton) surveyed 2,066 Americans on their knowledge of Ukraine and the Russian Federation. Eighty-four per cent could not identify Ukraine on a world map. The average answer, calculated from all guesses, suggested that Ukraine was located somewhere in Western Europe and the Mediterranean – over 1,800 miles from its actual position. Distressingly, they uncovered a direct inverse correlation between knowledge and support for US military intervention. The less likely participants were able to accurately identify Ukraine’s geographical position, the more likely they wanted Washington to intervene on Kiev’s behalf.

In 1900, nearly all major American colleges and universities maintained active (even thriving) geography departments. Today, only one Ivy League university – Dartmouth – still hosts an independent department, and few programmes still exist at private universities. The situation at flagship public universities has fared somewhat better, largely thanks to their role as ‘land-grant’ institutions. The University of California at Berkeley and Los Angeles, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison stand out as particularly internationally competitive programmes. This dilemma is all the more worrying when one considers the importance and impact of United States’ foreign policy.

What accounted for this seismic change, particularly given the rapid expansion of international affairs programmes at the undergraduate and postgraduate level? In 1987 Neil Smith, then at Rutgers, examined the collapse of Harvard’s geography department following the end of the Second World War. Echoing Jean Gottmann’s declaration that the closure of the Harvard department was ‘a terrible blow’ from which American geography ‘has never completely recovered’, Smith recounted how Harvard president James Conant declared that ‘geography is not a university subject’, ignoring both British investment in the discipline and competing American universities own departments (159). Geographers on both sides of the Atlantic criticised Harvard’s decision, adding that the university had neglected the programme for at least a generation, crippling its scholarly output and the careers of its faculty even as knowledge of international studies, lands, and peoples rapidly expanded in importance. Other American private institutions soon followed Harvard’s decision to terminate the department. Yale’s programme dragged on – near death – until 1967; Pennsylvania incorporated theirs with Wharton Business School, only to close the department in 1963. Columbia’s department – easily the most prodigious of the Ivy League – finally ended in 1986 due to a lack of popularity and funding. The collapse of Columbia’s department evidenced the American geography education’s cyclical crisis: lack of investment in primary-level geography education led to little undergraduate or postgraduate interest in geography, which in turn led to calls for programme closures.

A positive example, however, remains: the United States Military Academy at West Point continues to require its students to undertake courses in environmental, human, and scientific (engineering) geography, a tradition established with the introduction of French geographical and engineering methodology at the Academy’s founding in 1802.

books_icon Tim Hall, Phil Toms, Mark McGuinness, Charlotte Parker, and Neil Roberts, ‘Where’s the Geography department? The changing administrative place of Geography in UK higher education‘, Area 47.1 (2015): 56-64.

books_icon Roger M Downs, ‘The NAEP Geography Report 2010: What Will We Do Next?‘ Journal of Geography 111.1 (Jan., 2011): 39-40.

books_icon Kyle Dropp, Joshua D Kertzer, and Thomas Zeitzoff, ‘The less Americans know about Ukraine’s location, the more they want U.S. to intervene’The Washington Post, 7 April 2014.

books_icon ‘Geography Framework for the 2014 National Assessment of Educational Progress’, National Assessment Governing Board, accessed 8 April 2015.

books_icon Neil Smith, ‘“Academic War over the Field of Geography”: The Elimination of Geography at Harvard, 1947-1951‘, Annals of the Association of American Geographers 77.2 (Jun., 1987): 155-72.

Collecting as Archiving

By Will Andrews, Aberystwyth University

In a recent article published in Transactions, Didier DeLyser (2015) explains the importance of the what she refers to as ‘archival autoethnography’ (p209) as a way to approach and analyse the intimate spatialities of social memory tied up in amateur collections.  The article explores DeLyser’s own collections of souvenirs related to Helen Hunt Jackson’s 1884 novel Ramona, whilst contextualising this within wider enthusiasm for the novel and its impacts.  Many of these souvenir items, such as written postcards are tied to certain geographical locations in Southern California, in this way they connect people to place as well fitting into broader narratives of collection and enthusiasm the postcards in particular providing clear and intimate accounts of social memory in place.

800px-Collection-of-cameras                                        A Collection of Old Soviet Cameras (Dzhepko, 2007)

April 7th saw the second series of BBC 2’s Collectaholics (BBC, 2015a), a popular culture lens on the personal collections and archives compiled by various individuals who have interests in subjects which do not always attract more mainstream archival attention. The programme details, “the weird and wonderful collections of some of Britain’s passionate and avid…collectors” (ibid). As DeLyser (2015) explains such collections transcend cultural capital or monetary value (p209) and have more to do with the personal experiences and memories of the collectors. Collections on the BBC series range from an archived collection of natural history items in the first episode to more performative archives as in the sixth episode when Mark Hill explores a home transformed by its owner into a recreated early twentieth century cottage (BBC, 2015a). Both collections can be seen as pertinent examples of DeLyser’s observations, that people collect items which connect them to certain places and broader narratives, preserving their own, ‘intimate spatialities of social memory” (p210).

p02nbbzz                                                 Episode 1. Collectaholics (BBC, 2015b)

Beyond the importance of collecting as a creative process or practice DeLyser (p209) argues the methodological importance of collecting as archiving. That by gathering texts and artefacts ourselves we can contribute to important alternative archives which through the scholarly realm may ultimately bring more attention and inquiry to their circumstances, as is true of Ramona as a result of DeLyser’s work. Furthermore by collecting souvenirs we can better understand the work these do in the lives of those who purchase them. Through my own autoethnographic research within modified car culture I have begun to see the building of the modified car as a sort of collection of parts and indeed many people collect parts in order to maintain a sort of archive. In this way I would argue that DeLyser and Greenstein’s (2014) account of rebuilding a classic Tatra car is itself another example of creating an alternative archive. Traditionally historical geographers have approached the archive as something separate from the domestic or professional spaces of their homes and offices instead we can and should turn to the collections which “reside with us in our homes and offices” (DeLyser, 2015: 209).

Cake_drums_-_Belgium                                               Cake Drums- Belgium (Spotter2, 2009)
To conclude, the current BBC series Collectaholics shows that there is a popular fascination with collecting and the subsequent informal and personal archives created, by watching these episodes through a lens informed by DeLyser’s (2015) article we can begin to see the geographical and intimate spatialities woven into the tales of these weird and wonderful collections.
References

globe4 BBC (2015a) ‘Collectaholics‘, BBC Two website

60-world2 BBC (2015b) ‘Episode 1. Collectaholics‘, BBC Two website

books_icon DeLyser, D. (2015) ‘Collecting, kitsch and the intimate geographies of social memory: a story of archival autoethnography‘, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 40(2), 209-222

books_icon DeLyser, D. & Greenstein, P. (2015) ‘ “Follow that car!” Mobilities of Enthusiasm in a Rare Car’s Restoration’, The Professional Geographers, 67(2), 255-268

60-world2 Dzhepko, L. (2007) ‘A collection of old Soviet cameras on sale in the Vernisazh in Izmailovky Park, Moscow, Russia‘, Wikimedia Commons

60-world2 Spotter2 (2009) ‘Cake Drums- Belgium‘, Wikimedia Commons

New in Transactions: Editor’s issue spotlights

Looking for inspiration for Easter reads? Issue two on Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers is now available online.

TIBG 40(2)

The Editor’s issue spotlights include:

Climate change and the geographies of objectivity: the case of the IPCC’s burning embers diagram. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 40: 153–167 by Martin Mahony, KCL (UK)

The ties that blind: making fee simple in the British Columbia treaty process. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 40: 168–179. doi: 10.1111/tran.12058 by Nicholas Blomley, Simon Fraser University (Canada)

Policy mobilities in the race for talent: competitive state strategies in international student mobility. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 40: 235–248 by Kate Geddie, Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (Canada)

The tactile topologies of Contagion. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 40: 223–234. doi: 10.1111/tran.12071 by Deborah Dixon, University of Glasgow (UK), and John Paul Jones III, University of Arizona (USA). (open access)

The issue also includes an editorial introduction to a Transactions virtual issue on Financial Geography, guest edited by Manuel Aalbers,  KU Leuven/University of Leuven (Belgium) . The virtual issue is free to access on the Transactions Wiley Online Library.

Open science: carrots and sticks

Open data can help boost democracy around the world, wrote Jonathan Gray in The Guardian. Writing in advance of the fifth global Open Data Day, he argued that open data are vital in struggles for social justice and democratic accountability.

In this context, Sabina Leonelli, Daniel Spichtinger and Barbara Prainsack’s commentary, ‘Sticks and carrots: encouraging open science at its source’ – published in new RGS-IBG open access journal, Geo: Geography and Environment – is very topical.

Open data and open data are key parts of Open Science (OS) which commonly refers to (i) transparency in experimental methodology, observation, and collection of data; (ii) public availability and reusability of scientific data; (iii) public accessibility and transparency of scientific communication and; (iv) using web-based tools to facilitate scientific collaboration (The OpenScience Project).

Open Science Umbrella. Image credit: Flikr user 지우 황 CC BY 2.0

Open Science Umbrella. Image credit: Flikr user 지우 황 CC BY 2.0

Leonelli et al argue that while great strides have been made to make research outputs (such as research articles) publically accessible via open access, more needs to be done to ensure that the open science agenda is fully realised. They make a case for developing greater incentives for researchers to engage in OS across all of its stages, and for OS to be more systematically supported and promoted by funders and learned societies, in order to improve scientific research and public participation. The authors argue that the OS agenda offers opportunities that Geographers are yet to fully taken advantage of, and point to potentially productive discussionsaround the ethics and sensitivities of data sharing.

Why is this important? Leonelli et al argue that open science can lead to better and more efficient science; skill share between researchers; increased transparency of knowledge production and its outcomes; greater public participation and engagement and; even economic growth, in particular for small and medium sized companies who have increased access to important research findings.

About GeoGeo

Geo is an open access journal, which means that anyone with an internet connection can read and/or download articles free of charge.

 Leonelli, S., Spichtinger, D. and Prainsack, B. (2015), Sticks and carrots: encouraging open science at its source. Geography and Environment, doi: 10.1002/geo2.2.

60-world2 Gray Jonathan 2015 Five ways open data can boost democracy around the world  The Guardian

Breaking Bad, Masculinity and Media Pilgrimages

By Ashley Crowson, king’s College London

Depending on your TV viewing habits, the house below is either an entirely unremarkable suburban residence or it is the home of television’s greatest antihero, unassuming high school chemistry teacher turned underworld kingpin Walter White.

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Walter White’s house. Albuquerque, New Mexico. Image: Karl Kaktus Creative Commons 2.0

This house has recently featured in the entertainment press as Breaking Bad creator, Vince Gilligan, while discussing the show’s new spinoff series Better Call Saul, has chastised fans for repeatedly throwing pizzas on to its roof. The house, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is home to a retired couple and was used for exterior shots in the show. The pizza throwing fans are replicating an infamous scene, in which an enraged Walt hurls a ‘party pizza’ on to the garage roof.

Walt’s infamous pizza throw. Image: funnyordie.com

Visits to the White residence, alongside many other sites used as locations on the show, have been driving something of a tourism boom in Albuquerque. Fans can take Breaking Bad tours and buy merchandise at numerous themed gift shops. This impulse to undertake a pilgrimage to locations associated with popular films and TV series is something that has intrigued geographers.

Couldry (2003) argues that such pilgrimages are implicitly connected to the symbolic authority of the media; they represent a symbolic journey in which the distance between the ‘ordinary world’ and the ‘media world’ is momentarily collapsed, giving the impression that this boundary is traversable.

Writing in Area, Stijn Reijnders take issue with this approach, arguing, “We should take into account the cultural embeddedness of media pilgrimages.” And that we need to acknowledge “the way the authority of the media is related to other power structures, such as gender and ethnicity.” Reijnders does this by focussing on the relation between media pilgrimages and masculinity, looking specifically at why fans travel to James Bond film locations.

Reijnders explains, “Scholars interpret Bond as a paragon of manliness – a paragon with a strongly conservative and hetero-normative disposition… The respondents recognise this sexual ideology, but without explicitly condemning it. On the contrary, these fans – the majority of whom are white, heterosexual men – adore the character of Bond. Exploring his world and repeating some of his actions affords these fans the opportunity to embody and act out a certain idealised masculinity.”

Breaking Bad is also a show with a lot to say about masculinity. One reading might interpret it as a cautionary tale about the foolishness of traditional notions of masculinity. In one scene, big-time drug dealer Gus Fring tells Walt, “A man provides. And he does it even when he’s not appreciated, or respected, or even loved. He simply bears up and he does it. Because he’s a man.”

This is a concept of masculinity that our protagonist seems to embrace. When Walt gets his cancer diagnosis, pride prevents him from accepting assistance from very wealth former colleagues. Instead, in a bid to ‘provide for his family’, he embarks on a course of violence, criminality, brutality and, ultimately, tragedy.

An alternative reading might see the show as revelling in the transformation of Walter White from a meek and nerdy teacher to a hyper-masculine gun-toting criminal mastermind. The audience is invited to celebrate occasions when Walt dominates and out-manoeuvres his prototypically macho brother-in-law, who previously mocked his bookish demeanour.

Reijnders concludes that media pilgrimages are about more than simply closing the gap between the ‘ordinary world’ and the ‘media world’. Imitating Bond “at the very place where he was sitting, running, fighting or making love” enables fans to “recollect the roots of their own masculinity, to refresh it and to define it.”

Unlike Bond, who arrives as a fully formed paragon of heteronormative masculinity, Walter White transforms into something not too dissimilar on screen. Many of the male pizza tossing fans, then, who travel great distances, often at considerable expense, to replicate the antics of their hero might be considered not just to be closing the gap between ‘real world’ and ‘TV world’, but to be engaged in processes of defining and redefining their own masculinity, processes in which location is of crucial importance.

 Stijn Reijnders, 2010, On the trail of 007: media pilgrimages into the world of James BondArea 42(3) 369-377.

 Nick Couldry, 2003, Media Rituals: A Critical Approach. Psychology Press.

Geographies of Human Rights and Responsibility

By Izabela Delabre, University of Reading

As Hillary Clinton stated in the 1995 United Nation (UN) Fourth World Conference on Women, “Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.” Twenty years later, this message remains critical.  Commemorating International Women’s Day, on 8th March 2015, President Barack Obama stated, “in too many places, women are treated as second-class citizens. Their abilities are undervalued. And their human rights – the right to learn, to express themselves, to live free from violence, to choose whether and whom to marry – are routinely violated.”

Writing in Geography Compass (2015), Nicole Laliberté explores the contribution that Geography can make in the critical study of human rights. She describes the language of “human rights” as emerging from relative obscurity in the 1940s, to being incorporated into the humanitarian and development industries in the 1980s. Today, human rights is the contemporary common language of justice claims (Cmiel, 2004). In the article, entitled “Geographies of Human Rights: Mapping Responsibility,” Laliberté identifies a gap in the critical geographic scholarship on questions of responsibility, including the multiple and conflicting claims of responsibility tied to spatial variations in the understandings, experiences, and deployments of human rights.

Human rights has become the contemporary lingua franca of justice claims

Helsinki Pride 2013: Human rights has become the contemporary lingua franca of justice claims (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Early geographic engagements with theories of responsibility were challenged for emphasizing a “top–down” approach. This view perceived richer countries as being responsible for less affluent countries and individuals, rather than interrogating how the rich are implicated in unequal distribution of resources. Critical geographers have used geographic theories of place, space, and scale to demonstrate how responsibility is not restricted by proximity and can function as a means of tracing and shaping social relations between distant individuals.

Laliberité finds that critical geographic analysis, when applied to the politics of human rights and the relations of responsibility associated with them, can provide a means of mapping injustice, analyzing landscapes of power, and practicing emancipatory politics. A number of feminist scholars argue that human rights are a modern form of masculinist and imperialist mediation that maintains injustice. Laliberté, however, recognizes the potential value in using human rights in specific contexts to fight injustice. She challenges the assumption that promoting human rights equates to promoting social justice, and argues against a singular normative meaning of either human rights or social justice.

References

60-world2   Clinton, H.R. (2015). First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton Remarks for the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women. Beijing, China. September 5th, 1995.

books_icon   Cmiel, K. (2004). The recent history of human rights. The American Historical Review 109 (1), pp. 117–135. doi: 10.1086/ahr/ 109.1.117.

books_icon   Laliberté, N. (2015). Geographies of Human Rights: Mapping Responsibility. Geography Compass 9 (2) pp. 57-67. doi: 10.1111/gec3.12196.

60-world2  The White House (2015). Statement of President Barack Obama Commemorating International Women’s Day, March 8th, 2015.

Slimy geographies and sticky human-animal relationships

By Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

In a further attempt to stress the variety of work in Geography, and also its relevance to everyday life, this month I’d like to highlight Franklin Ginn’s (2014) recent article on human-slug encounters. This rather common-or-garden topic may seem a little strange, but Ginn demonstrates wonderfully the spatial and ethical issues that arise when interrogating practices of slug control.

Slugs: pests, yet curiously linked to gardeners and their practices Source: Wikimedia Commons

Last month, the Royal Horticultural Society announced their “top 10 garden pests” (Stone, 2015 [online]), crowning slugs the ‘most troublesome’. As both Ginn and the RHS stress, slugs are unwelcome visitors to any garden due to their perennial appetite, ability to multiply quickly, and monstrously unpleasant appearance. They really do bug gardeners. But, as Ginn argues, ‘living with’ slugs has become unavoidable, and gardening is fast becoming a collaborative practice between gardeners and non-human actors, such as slugs.

Pest control of any species inevitably poses ethical questions. Chemical solutions to slug control are frowned upon by gardening manuals. A recent article in Farmers’ Weekly (Clarke, 2015 [online]) documents the current rush of potato growers to use up methiocarb slug pellets, since the EU banned products containing the substance in January 2014 on the grounds that they endangered farmland birds. There are, of course, many natural or organic ways of dealing with slugs, although these may also raise ethical issues; copper rings, coffee grounds, beer traps, and sharp edges such as egg shells all deter these slimy pests, whilst the introduction of a ‘natural’ predator, such as hedgehogs, can also reduce numbers. However, a recent BBC News article has illustrated that the grass is not always greener on the other side (BBC News, 2015 [online]). In 1974, hedgehogs were introduced to the Uists in the Western Isles to control the burgeoning slug population. Whilst the hedgehogs have fulfilled their role, Scottish Natural Heritage has announced their removal due to their taste for the eggs of ground-nesting birds, causing a marked decrease in the number of birds such as the snipe.

No matter what the method, gardeners kill slugs. Some may be reluctant or express guilt, but the fact remains that slugs are considered ‘out of place’ in the garden and, whether ethical or not, they are removed. Ginn identifies three forms of ‘detachment’ involved in slug control, in which gardeners separate themselves from their sticky foe. The first involves creating distance between themselves and slugs, deeming the slugs ‘killable’. More squeamish gardeners may also create distance between themselves and the practice of killing slugs. The second mode of detachment is to create a ‘hoped-for-absence’; precautions are taken to limit slugs’ access to gardens in an attempt to avoid encountering them in the first place. Grit, egg shells, or copper tape can be used to discourage slugs, as can altering the types of plants grown. Here, whilst gardeners create spaces that are about exclusion rather than encounter, it is clear that slugs, in their absence, still have a very powerful effect on human behaviour. The final method of detachment identified by Ginn is the recognition and acceptance that slugs inevitably affect gardeners, their practices, and the space of the garden. Sometimes you just have to accept defeat!

So, by attempting to separate themselves from slugs through methods of detachment, gardeners are, in fact, reinforcing the connection between themselves and these sticky pests. This is further evidence to support animal geographers’ claims that humans and animals are inextricably linked. As much as gardeners fight against it, it seems, they are ‘stuck’ to (and with!) their slimy neighbours.

 

books_icon

Ginn, F. (2014). “Sticky lives: slugs, detachment and more-than-human ethics in the garden”, Transactions of the IBG, 39(4): 532-44.

60-world2BBC News (2015). “Plan to remove all hedgehogs from the Uists”, BBC News Online, published 19th February 2015, available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-31535502

60-world2

Clarke, A. (2015). “Test slug control options in spuds after methiocarb ban”, Farmer Weekly Online, published 27th January 2015, Available at: http://www.fwi.co.uk/arable/test-slug-control-options-in-spud-after-methiocarb-ban.htm

60-world2

Royal Horticultural Society Website: https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?PID=228

60-world2Stone, D. (2015). “RHS top 10 garden pests”, Express Online, published 19th February 2015, available at: http://www.express.co.uk/news/nature/559320/RHS-top-10-garden-pests-including-ants-slugs-and-snails