At the Intersection of Physical and Human Geography

Climate change requires us to think in new ways about how physical and human geographies intersect: how does the one impact the other?  How do human artifacts built for one set of circumstances react to the change in conditions?

Simon Dixon notes on Geography Directions:

We are undeniably living in the age of humankind, the “Anthropocene”, but we are still coming to terms with what this means for the planet and for ourselves. Researchers and policy makers have begun to consider the social and environmental impacts of our increased urbanisation. There are also efforts to understand the impact human activity is having on the surface of the earth more broadly – for example, through the creation of anthropogenic landforms like open-cast mines, and by changing erosion processes in rivers through human activity. However, so far there has been little attention paid to the way earth surface processes are slowly altering and morphing the fabric of our cities to create new, startling and potentially dangerous features.

As his blog post illustrates, using the subject of urban sinkholes, climate change is also a fruitful area of research for geographers and social scientists, because these processes are also happening at/impacting human artifacts and structures.  Remember the giant sinkhole in Japan late last year?

Hakataekimae Avenue near Hakata Station caved in on November 8, 2016, Hakata Ward, Fukuoka City, Fukuoka, Japan. The sinkhole is filled with water. Wikimedia Commons user: Muyo took this photo at the rooftop of Hakata Station JR Hakata City. CCA-SA 4.0

As this post was being written, the nightmare of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey began to unfold, as did the unusually intense monsoon rains in South Asia.  As it affects literally millions of people simultaneously, these events are an even more powerful reminder that physical and human geography intersect in ways that are increasingly unfamiliar.

Houston is a very flat city, as is explained in WorldView Software’s World Geography Case Study: Human Migration: Texas.  Its prosperity has come from the way humans have modified this surface, with railroads, ship channels, and pavement.  However, this makes it prone to flooding when its bayous cannot empty into the Gulf of Mexico.  In a prophetic 2016 series, Pro Publica and the Texas Tribune teamed up to explain why Houston was going to be in dire straits sooner rather than later:

As millions have flocked to the metropolitan area in recent decades, local officials have largely snubbed stricter building regulations, allowing developers to pave over crucial acres of prairie land that once absorbed huge amounts of rainwater. That has led to an excess of floodwater during storms that chokes the city’s vast bayou network, drainage systems and two huge federally owned reservoirs, endangering many nearby homes…

This lack of zoning regulations is one of the factors that made Houston America’s fourth-largest city, attracting builders to the area.  But zoning and environmental planning can be useful in a disaster: see WorldView Software’s Civics and U.S. Government Project: Environmental Impact Statements.  As Ian Bogost writes in The Atlantic,

The natural system is very good at accepting rainfall. But when water hits pavement, it creates runoff immediately. That water has to go somewhere. So it flows wherever the grade takes it. To account for that runoff, people engineer systems to move the water away from where it is originally deposited, or to house it in situ, or even to reuse it. This process—the policy, planning, engineering, implementation, and maintenance of urban water systems—is called stormwater management.

On top of that, climate change enters into the picture when it raises the water temperature of the Gulf: higher temperatures make it easier for the air to contain more moisture and for storms to generate more power.  For example, precipitation totals have demonstrably risen the past several decades in the North Atlantic.

The intersection of geographies raises many questions that your students will have to answer in their lifetimes.  How would you deal with a disaster? Check out World Geography‘s Internet Project: The Devastation of Katrina for starting points on imagining yourself in a crisis.  Because the sooner we start imagining the unimaginable, the safer we can make our future.

[See this list compiled by The New York Times for reputable organizations if you want to help the Harvey victims.]


BulbgraphOnOffHelp ELL students acquire vocabulary by using the glossary’s audio files. Definitions + pronunciation = oral and textual word recognition.


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Resource Highlight: Fragile States Index Data

Data used in the Fragile States Index from The Fund for Peace can be used to create many different kinds of visualizations and explorations: scores and rankings, country dashboards, comparative analyses, trend analysis, FSI heat maps, and so on.  Use it to see which indicators FFP says are getting better or worse in a country, to argue over the political importance/relevance of those indicators, and to spark discussions about methodology.

For example, the United States is a stable country, but according to the index it has been worsening over the years:

Data from the U.S. country dashboard

(One irritating thing about the site is that it’s not responsive, so you will have to enlarge the window until the whole thing fits if you don’t want to continually scroll side-to-side.)

Spring Equinox

The March equinox is when the days and nights are of equal length as the days get longer and the nights get shorter in the northern hemisphere and vice versa in the southern hemisphere.  This change in the angle of the sun is the result of the earth’s orbit, which causes its tilting axis to point in a different direction.  And it means that spring is starting in the northern hemisphere and fall is starting in the southern hemisphere.  In 2017, the vernal equinox falls on Monday, March 20th.

Learn more about how the earth’s orbit and axis tilt work in WorldView Software’s World Geography Chapter 2: The Earth.  For example, you can use this graphic (with introduction and questions) to spark class discussion, or as a starting point for a demonstration:

Screen grab from World Geography

The equinoxes (like the solstices) are events that have huge impacts on life on earth (think: growing food).  And given that importance, they’ve had a tremendous impact on the development of methods to keep track of and predict their occurrence: mathematics.  For example, it’s thought that Stonehenge’s purpose is tracking solar and lunar movements:

Screen grab from World History A

WorldView Software’s World History A also has a terrific series of tutorials explaining how mathematics based on observance of astronomical phenomena developed in different civilizations:

  • Ancient Chinese Science, Technology, and Mathematics
  • Ancient Indian Science and Mathematics
  • Greek Accomplishments in Science, Technology, and Mathematics
  • Math and Technology in the River Valley Civilizations
  • Science, Mathematics, and Technology in the Islamic Caliphates
  • Technical Trends in Pre-Columbian Latin America

Use the equinox as a springboard into history!


BulbgraphOnOffUse the chronology entries to gain context for an event or an era, or as a starting point for further research.


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How Landscape Managers Think about Local Landscapes

By conducting qualitative interviews with local staff … we uncovered four different narratives – in other words, storylines – about what Cornwall’s landscapes are, how they are affected by climate change, and how one should adapt to these changes. These four narratives conceptualise the Cornish landscapes as:

  • the region’s basis for economic growth
  • an intermediate result of an ongoing human-environment relationship
  • a mosaic of wildlife and habitats;
  • and a space for production, e.g. of agricultural goods.

By identifying these different narratives, we show that although superficially often understood as one and the same thing, the concept of landscape means very different things to different actors concerned with its management.

Source: How Landscape Managers Think about Local Landscapes

[Such differing conceptions obviously have a great impact on the policy options preferred. Pick a landscape in your area and survey how people feel about it (U.S. Government Project: Conducting a Poll) and how those feelings would impact the uses to which the landscape is put (U.S. Government Project: Environmental Impact Statements).]

United and divided responses to complex urban issues

“There are increasing suggestions that extreme weather events and climate change will have the greatest impact in cities, where people are concentrated and many of the natural systems that could provide buffers against extreme weather have been removed or degraded. When one starts to deconstruct the causes and impacts of natural disasters, the messiness and interconnectedness of contributing factors quickly become evident. Natural disasters occur at the intersection of social, political and environmental systems.”

— from Geography Directions

[Raises some interesting issues about community preparedness; useful discussion points if your class is reading any of the following:

  • Chapter 18: The U.S. Adapts to a Post-9/11 World in American History II
  • Case Study: Insurance in Civics and in Economics
  • Chapter 10: The Federal Bureaucracy in U.S. Government
  • Chapter 23: Search for Solutions to Global Problems, Graph/Chart: Growth of Cities in the Middle East, or Graph/Chart: Urbanization in Latin America in World History B

 

Top Ten Posts in 2016

These were the posts on WorldView Software’s blog that were most popular over the past year:

  1. Home page / Archives – See the latest post here
  2. American Ancestry in Maps – there are LOTS of people with German ancestry
  3. Transgender People in History – definitions, historical examples, and more
  4. The Museum of Lost Objects – documenting antiquities lost to war
  5. How Do Polls Work? – when is a poll a valid measure of public opinion?
  6. Economic Indicators – non-traditional indicators of economic well-being (or not)
  7. Phases of the Moon – why we keep track of the moon
  8. Could You Come up with $1,000 for an Emergency? – a personal financial literacy issue
  9. Secular Homeschoolers – why WorldView’s materials are a good fit
  10. Using Pokémon Go to Teach Local History – how to work the fad into your lesson planning

Have a happy new year, and thanks for reading!


BulbgraphOnOffAlmost any current browser can be used with WorldView Software, making it accessible from a wide range of devices.


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UNESCO Cultural Heritage List

We’ve written before about the UNESCO World Heritage sites, but did you know that UNESCO also maintains Cultural Heritage lists? This is to protect intangible cultural processes — like the traditional process by which really great beer is made.  According to Smithsonian Magazine:

Life in Belgium is soaked in beer, from cheese washed with suds to town festivals to a pipeline that pumps over 1,000 gallons of beer every hour on a two-mile journey through Bruges. So it’s no surprise that beer is part of the world’s vision of Belgium, too…Belgium has more than earned the designation—the tiny country is serious about its beer. According to the Brewers of Europe, a trade organization, Belgium had 168 active breweries in 2014 and Belgians consumed an average of 72 liters per capita that year. Much of that beer is hopped on tradition: Indeed, some of the best beer in the country is made by Trappist monks who have been perfecting and passing down their craft for centuries.

Beer bottle and full glass with Westvleteren logo
Made at at the Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus in Vleteren, Belgium. By DirkVE – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28434250

Belgian beer is just one thing on the Lists of Intangible Cultural Heritage maintained by UNESCO.  Cultural heritage extends beyond the physical location or object:

It also includes traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts.

There are actually two lists: the “List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding,” and the “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.”  (Belgian beer is on the representative list.)  The traditions on the urgent safeguarding list include the Cambodian Chapei Dang Veng and the Ugandan Ma’di bowl lyre music and dance.

The Chapei Dang Veng is a Cambodian

Kong Nay playing the chapei dong veng, Phnom Penh. By n ole - Guitar Master, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3590992
Kong Nay playing the chapei dong veng, Phnom Penh. By n ole – Guitar Master, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3590992

musical tradition featuring the chapei (a type of lute often played at cultural festivals) accompanied by singing. “Song lyrics range from the educational and a type of social commentary, to satire while incorporating traditional poems, folk tales or Buddhist stories. The tradition is considered to have multiple functions within Cambodian communities…”

image by Idro Williams Jean, 2014 from http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/en/USL/ma-di-bowl-lyre-music-and-dance-01187
image by Idro Williams Jean, 2014 from http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/en/USL/ma-di-bowl-lyre-music-and-dance-01187

The making of a Ma’di bowl lyre has several rituals associated with it, while the instrument itself is played on special occasions with specific songs and dances. “The traditional practice is a tool for strengthening family ties and clan unity, as well as educating younger generations about their community’s history, values and culture.”

Both of these traditions are at risk of being lost, for a host of reasons: the perception of being old-fashioned by young people, materials required that come from endangered plants and animals,  and the lingering effects of genocide.

Interested in incorporating intangible cultural heritage into your classes?  You might want to check out the video of a roundtable that included presentations from educators from Belize, Uganda, and Pakistan.  The roundtable was one of the sessions at the eleventh session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.


BulbgraphOnOffInternet Projects can be a great in-class exercise — ask students if they can figure out the principles by which the links were curated.


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