Geography education is about understanding our relationship to the world around us. We need to seek out the best examples of a culture’s relationship to their environment. We need to seek out the best examples of communication about that relationship through a culture’s writers, philosophers, musicians, and artists.
One form of Geography education that I have been examining is through travel. In the last month, I have had the opportunity to spend time in both England and Nunavut. This has allowed me to contrast different regions of Canada, as well as to compare the information culture in different countries. Please see the references at the bottom of this article for further reading.
Let’s start with England. The primary purpose was to walk part of the coastal path in Cornwall. Part of the culture is travel writing, which provided the opportunity to catch up with newspapers, journalists and writers. Readings included books by both AA Gill and Michael Palin. AA Gill has two collections where the objective is to interview places. He includes a wonderful conversation at the Royal Geographical Society about whether there remain new places to explore. Palin has written two volumes of his diaries, which include Travelling to Work. He is no stranger to Canadian geographers through the Royal Canadian Geographic Society.
A second observation about England is the depth of information that exists on the British landscape. In Cornwall at the National Trust bookstore in Boscastle, I picked up a book called The Wild Things, from a TV series on Channel Four. It describes the changes in plant distribution across the country. This book is based primarily on the plant atlas, produced fifty years ago by the Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI). Another example comes from the graveyard at St. Genny’s church, north of Crackington Haven. On the noticeboard, a sheet stated that the graveyard was the habitat for 130 species of lichen, the second highest in the country. Remarkable information!
This depth of information, plus the historical BSBI benchmark based on a citizen science network, contrasts strongly with my experiences in different parts of Canada.
Returning to Nunavut, much of the knowledge of the landscape remains in the heads of the Inuit elders. It is reflected in their art and story-telling, and is likely inaccessible to most Canadians in the South. However, some of the best external writing can be found in the work of Hugh Brody.
One of the joys of visiting Iqaluit is to go upstairs in the Arctic Ventures store and browse the books. There, I found Ava and the Little Folk by Neil Christopher and Alan Neal, published by Inhabit Media. It is a wonderfully illustrated description of an Inuit folk tale. Another joy, even in late September, is to be able to pick cranberries within a hundred metres on the house on the open tundra.
What is the message?
We have a new age of travel. It is possible to make these observations on the ground, and read the local authors. At the same time, we maintain our connections and interests with other geographies through the Internet. We can appreciate a ‘sense of place’. We can develop and share ‘story maps’.
The importance is that through travel, feet on the ground, we can expand our attitude towards other species and other cultures, as well as observe the impact of different economic models. Travel does not have to be exploitative. It can be informative. It can be shared electronically.
My action is to encourage greater appreciation of Geography in the schools. To go beyond lists of places or maps as visual objects, to include an understanding of our landscape, its history, and the changes that we are affecting through ongoing political and economic processes.
AA Gill is Away. 2002
AA Gill Is Further Away. 2012
Michael Palin. Diaries 1980-88 Halfway to Hollywood
Michael Palin. Diaries 1988-98. Travelling to Work
Trevor Dines et al. The Wild Things: Guide to the Changing Plant Life of the British Isles. 2012.
Hugh Brody. Maps and Dreams: Indians and the British Columbia Frontier. 1981
Hugh Brody. The Other Side of Eden: Hunters, Farmers and the Shaping of the World. 2000.
Neal Christopher & Alan Neal. Ava and the Little Folk. 2013