Heading to ASA 2016

Excited to share the great news that our panel, “Geography, Maps, and Visions of Home in the Classroom,” organized by Eric Covey (U Miami) and including the likes of Elizabeth Belanger (Hobart & William Smith College), Anita Elizabeth Huizar Hernandez (U Arziona), and Patrick McGreevey (American University of Beirut). The abstract is below. It will be wonderful to think about the place of geography in the American Studies pedagogy and contribute to its teaching including and beyond the role of maps through conversations about the meaning and role of space, place, and environment. What is the geographical imagination of American Studies in the research we teach and discuss, and in the assignments we give students that allow them to shape their own understanding of the world and its practices and processes? What geographical imagination should we offer them in order to produce more justice worlds? The abstract for the session is below.

Geography, Maps, and Visions of Home in the Classroom

A glance at past ASA programs suggests that geography is an under-represented field within the association. Yet geographical knowledge is essential to much of the research presented at the annual meeting, and equally critical in members’ engagements with students. In this roundtable session, participants Elizabeth Belanger, Eric Covey, Jen Jack Gieseking, Anita Huizar-Hernández, and Patrick McGreevy will address theoretical and methodological questions regarding the role of geography and maps in the classrooms where we are.

McGreevy argues that geographical knowledge constitutes a fundamental emptiness near the center of the American Studies classroom. The most important reason for this, he says, is that land, territory, and space are so deeply enmeshed in powerful dominant narratives that any attempt to treat geography in a more empirical manner can be threatening. As Belanger points out, critiquing these relationships among space, power, and identity in the United States is a critical component of American Studies. Of course where we are in our classrooms must be considered as we undertake this work. In Hartford, Gieseking points out that Trinity prides itself as being the liberal arts college in the city, yet the relationship between city residents and students is often strained. And Covey wonders how mapping technologies—ranging from hand outs and overheads to video animations and GIS projects—can enable students to envision the ways in which their lives have been shaped by geographies of settler colonialism.

Students’ reactions to visual and textual representations of evolving borders are fascinating, as Huizar-Hernández observes, yet also produce frustration as students attempt to create their own maps. McGreevy worries that geographical work in the classroom often projects certain kinds of privileged gazes. How should our methods respond to these concerns? The practical challenges associated with incorporating geographical work in the classroom might seem daunting for some teachers but they can be overcome. Belanger speaks specifically to these concerns, describing what a unit focused on GIS and critical spatial thinking skills might look like in an American Studies methods course, as well as how this course might scaffold spatial thinking for novice learners. Huizar-Hernández describes a class in and on Arizona taught in Spanish that examines colonial-era documents and then asks students to map their own relationship to the state. In Hartford, Gieseking points out that Trinity prides itself as being the liberal arts college in the city, yet the relationship between often impoverished city residents and students at the elite college is often strained or absent, and requires interventions on the part of both parties for social change. While McGreevy reports on the provocative reactions of Arab students to the role of land and space in the United States, Covey charts the trials and triumphs of a GIS assignment that asks students to connect the landscape of home to the history of settler colonialism and the forced relocation of North American indigenous groups. Roundtable participants will comment on the level of support, technical or otherwise, that is necessary to incorporate exercises like these into classrooms in a range of settings.