Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Returning to the Ernestina

December 28, 2022 EDIT 

Greetings from State Pier in New Bedford, where my son Harvey took this
nice photo on December 27, 2023 -- a couple weeks after the
Schooner Ernestina-Morrissey returned to its permanent home.

When I posted this photo on Facebook and Instagram, I promised to post comments with some details related to this boat and my teaching. I then realized I had a lot to say, so the comments will point to this post (which will probably evolve in coming days).

In the original post, I mentioned undergraduate research I have been mentoring and two courses I will be teaching in 2023. None of these will be on board the Ernestina, but all of them relate to the ship's incredible legacy that connects New Bedford to the wider world. 

This post will be edited as I have time to add some of those connections. For now, the three teaching connections I mentioned originally: 

First, I had the great privilege of mentoring a Bridgewater State University who has completed a fascinating museum exhibit on the connections between Cape Verde and Cape Cod. The project was funded by WHOI Sea Grant and is described by my colleague Brian Benson in the article Cape Connection. Carolyn King's research for this project is complete, and the installation is currently is progress. I will be posting details for in-person and virtual access in coming weeks.

Second is Coffee & Volcanoes: Travel Course in Cabo Verde. The course will take place in Cabo Verde in May 2023. Application deadline is February 24, 2023. This is available for undergraduate credit, graduate credit, or non-credit participation. The credits easily transfer to other universities.

Third is my domestic travel course GEOG 296/520 New Bedford: Maritime City, which I will offer July 17-28, 2023. I originally offered this as New Bedford Fortnight but eventually concluded that not enough people know that "fortnight" simply means "two weeks," which is the duration of the course. I named it in contrast with an earlier summer course, Coffee Week. I have offered the New Bedford Course a few times, but have never gotten enough students to allow it to run. We came close in 2022, so I am trying again. I have not posted details yet but my course blog gives a pretty good sense of what we will be doing for those two weeks of three-hour classes.

I will add a few more things here about the ship itself -- meanwhile, please visit the Ernestina web site.

Wednesday, December 07, 2022

Bittle Groun'

The title of this post -- Bittle Groun' -- means (more or less) "food land" in the Gullah Geechee language. I claim no competence in the language, but I am thankful for the Gullah Words glossary for allowing me at least to recognize the language. It is hosted on the Gullah Tours web site and draws on the work of Ambrose E. Gonzales and Alphonso Brown.


The St. Helena Island restaurant shown above is far more than a restaurant. It is the hub of one of several communities along the South Carolina coast that Padma Lashki visits in the Gullah Geechee episode (s1e4) of her magnificent Taste the Nation series on Hulu. She is herself a migrant and the series focuses on communities in which the foodways of communities (either migrant or indigenous) contribute to a local sense of place. 

Here is a trailer for the episode in which she explores the Gullah Geechee nation through the foods grown, cooked, and taught by the descendants of people brought in bondage to this area from the Rice Coast of West Africa, specifically because of their expertise in cultivating rice in coastal lowlands.
The first person she interviews, for example, is  writer Michael W. Twitty, a food scholar who identifies as an Africulinarian and knows that his family was taken from what is now Sierra Leone. Tragically, they were marginalized and abused by people who relied on both their labor and their expertise to build fortunes in plantation agriculture.
Gullah Geechee homes on Sapelo Island.
Photo: Richard Burkhart via CSM

Whether or not you are able to access the show through Hulu, I recommend several recent articles about Gullah Geechee in particular and the restoration of African American connections to land in general (in addition to the links sprinkled throughout this post). 

The first of these was recommended by my favorite librarian. "In Georgia’s Hogg Hummock, a fight for a people, a culture, and the land" was recently published on Christian Science Monitor.  For a broader discussion, see "Foraging, Farming, Hunting, and Storytelling: How Black Creators Are Growing Emancipated Spaces" posted to kitchnn by Kayla Stewart in recognition of Juneteenth this year. Steward mentions the tremendous work of Alexis Nicole, who brings humor and brilliance to this topic on TED Radio Hour, her Black Forager channel, and many other venues.

NOTE: This post is the basis for a lesson in my environmental geography course. A federal judge recently issued a ruling protecting this kind of teaching from government interference. The governor of Florida had recently attempted to block all teaching of this kind in his state's universities.  I am lucky to live in a state that would not elect such a person as governor; more importantly, though, I live in a country with a First Amendment. Even in Massachusetts we have ongoing threats to academic freedom, but not of this ideological sort.


I am overdue for a return to the Charleston area, which I visited in 1990, 2000, and 2010. Each visit was for a different purpose, but each time included a visit with friends we had made in Puebla, Mexico in 1989. We had no such agenda in 2020 (and would probably have canceled it anyway), and did not become aware of Gullah Geechee culture until very recently. So I hope to return to the area soon to revisit those friends while we are all still young -- this time spending some time with Gullah Tours, Gullah Grub, and the rest of the Gullah Geechee Heritage Corridor. 

Monday, November 21, 2022



Although I my employment has been primarily academic for most of the past 35 years, I did have two extended brushes with professional employment outside of the so-called Ivory Tower (where I have encountered very little ivory and very few towers, by the way). The second of these -- at the end of my doctoral program -- was in various roles at The Wornick Company, which was then (and probably still is) the largest purveyor of combat and humanitarian rations. 

I learned quite a lot at Wornick that I still use in my teaching, but I learned even more at Dames & Moore, where I worked just prior to starting my doctoral courses. It was a civil engineering firm with offices worldwide, which had recently (I believe) started to develop expertise in environmental regulatory compliance. I worked in Cincinnati, as part of a team of about 10 "regulatory analysts" within an office of about 80 employees. We were mostly geographers, with the rest of the group mostly engineers and a few geologists, graphic artists, and clerical staff. 

I remember my first day on that job; I started on a day when several of the people I would normally work with were gone. So I was left -- almost like a substitute teacher -- with some simple tasks so that I could be at least somewhat productive. Proctor & Gamble had recently bought Fisher Nuts, and I was to make some phone calls about a particular packaging facility in Kentucky. 

That kind of investigation for property transfer became a large part of my work during what turned out to be year full of learning experiences. I also worked on applications for permit applications -- I remember power-line routing, sediment remediation, and hazardous-waste treatment -- but most of my work was what we called Phase I Site Assessments. Whenever a client (or a client's client) was buying a company,  we would be given addresses of specific properties that were included; in some cases -- as with Fisher Nut -- this would mean several of us dividing a list and spreading out to different jurisdictions. In most cases, though, we just had 1-3 addresses in the same area and a very short turn-around to conduct that Phase I.

As soon as I got such an assignment, I would immediately schedule a visit, buy plane tickets, and book a rental car and hotel. I would do the client a favor of doing the visit on a Friday or Monday if possible, so that I could include a Saturday-night stay. Back then, the economics of flying was such that a short-notice reservation was much shorter if it included weekend travel -- so much cheaper that this would more than pay for my extra day. As a geographer and insatiable explorer, I almost always did this -- and still have fond memories of exploring on my own. In Charleston, this meant dinner with a friend I had met in Mexico and in Texas it meant knowing my way around the Rio Grande Valley before we ended up moving there a few years later. In fact, because these trips usually involved a visit to local libraries, I had actually been in the reference department of a library where my spouse would later become head of reference. 

The visits were always scheduled quickly, because our work would take place only after a sale (or a loan or an insurance policy) was imminent. We also had to be very careful about asking questions, because in many cases we had news of a sale that could be considered insider trading -- and none of us expected to be treated as well as Martha Stewart if we went to jail. (I mention Fisher Nut freely, because this was over 30 years ago. 

I would then prepare FOIA requests for every public agency that might have information about the property or its neighbors. This was part of helping the client -- who was usually a buyer  due diligence, 


Insomniacs might enjoy scrolling through my Fun Jobs List, where I list all of my jobs, including those mentioned above and many others of a more fleeting and often less rewarding nature. 

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Fashionable Reckoning

Just as the first book I purchased on Amazon the online store was about Amazon the forest, the most recent video I purchased on the site is about Amazon the river. Specifically, it is the second episode of the first season of Rivers of Life, recommended by a fellow geographer and available on PBS and Amazon Prime.

But this post is not about the Amazon -- it is about the Nile, because my favorite librarian and I decided to watch the series in order, and it begins with what is commonly thought of as the longest river, followed by the other top contenders: the Amazon and the Mississippi. It so happens that we watched the Nile episode on the same day that our EarthView team had been showing our giant floor map of Africa to some delightful second graders. I had been spending quite a bit of the morning looking at the Nile and its tributaries -- especially when the last group decided that they would ALL use their feet to measure the river!

This geographer on our Africa map, sans second graders.

While looking at the big print map, I remember looking at various headwaters areas, and noticed for the first time that one of the tributaries near Lake Albert is called the Albert Nile. I learned a lot of geographic details from the PBS program that I wish I had known to share with the kids, and that I hope I remember next time! Two of these are that the Nile stretches from the equator to more than 30°N and that Lake Victoria is the world's largest tropical lake. The program and I both point out that the Nile -- like virtually all rivers -- has more than one source. 

I recommend watching the show as I did -- with a laptop handy, open to Google Maps. I will be doing this for all of the remaining episodes. Among the most interesting things I learned this way is that some of the river's major tributaries pass through areas that are either so narrow (rocky gorges) or so broad (marshy wetlands) that they really do not appear as rivers on satellite imagery. 

All of this was in mind -- especially some questions I had about Lake Albert and the Albert Nile -- when I heard a story about a project of post-colonial reckoning at a London museum. More specifically, the Victoria and Albert Museum -- named for two leaders in the colonial subjugation of the continent -- has launched an exhibit that highlights post-colonial African fashions. As the museum web site describes the exhibit, "Africa Fashion explores the vitality and global impact of a fashion scene as dynamic and varied as the continent itself."

At right, from the exhibit: 

Alchemy collection, Thebe Magugu, Autumn/Winter 2021, Johannesburg, South Africa. Photography: Tatenda Chidora , Styling + Set: Chloe Andrea Welgemoed, Model: Sio

On the western side of the continent, by the way, I told a couple of stories about the brilliant and fabulous singer Angélique Kidjo. I showed them her home country of Benin and described her anthem Afrika (which I heard her perform in Providence in early 2020) and the ballad Iemanja, which was my introduction to her beautiful and multilingual body of work. 


African leaders on our Africa map: the Bridgewater State University 2022 class of the Mandela Washington Fellowship program.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Crossing the Bay


I took this photo yesterday (November 13, 2022) -- at the beginning of my second walk across the southern span of the twin-span Chesapeake Bay Bridge. The first walk had been with my favorite librarian and eventual spouse, so long ago that we did not even know she was going to be a librarian yet. She was with me this time as well, along with our sister-in-law, who now lives at the far end of this bridge. This year my brother shuttled us to the shuttle, but we will all four do this together some time! 

The bridges were built in the 1960s where a ferry had previously operated. The first span has two lanes and was augmented with the three-lane span some years later, but long before I moved to the area in 1980. Neither span has even the hint of a sidewalk or bike lane, so the occasional opening for a walk is a real treat.

When we walked in 1986, it was not yet a regular event. It is now known at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Run/Walk, a 10k event that is popular among those who travel to such things. 


NOTE: If this is the last paragraph you see in this post, please come back later. I don't know how many geographers were among the 16,000 people in this crowd, but there was one at least, and he has some geographic observations (and more maps) to share!

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

Towering Emergent

A friend who is both a geographer and a librarian (great combination!) recently shared the story of a very tall tree. Indeed, this beautiful 290-foot angelim vermelho is the tallest tree ever measured in the Amazon rain forest. 

Image: Imazon/Idelflor/AFP

An October article in Nature tells the story of this tree, which emerges so high above the surrounding canopy that the individual tree was identified by remote sensing. Its distance from roads and rivers made it very difficult to reach and this indeed is what has allowed it to grow to this size. Even knowing exactly where it was, researchers spent a lot of time and effort to reach it. 

And to protect it, the location is described only vaguely in the article; they indicate only that it is somewhere in the reserve shown below, well to the west of Belem. Wood poachers sometimes destroy large tracts of forest on their way to harvesting a single specimen like this.

The article does not use the term "emergent" but that is what such towering trees are called. They require an enormous base of buttresses for support, because roots reach only a few inches into the surprisingly poor rainforest soils.

The Environmental Geographer showing off the 
buttresses of a much smaller tree in a different
part of the Amazon in 2003.

The article mentions not only the hardships of the journey to the single tree in Amapá, but also a large number of people involved in the work. I remember a presentation by a scientist who mounted a similar expedition to find rare lemurs in Madagascar. She and a photographer and a guide were going, but they needed people to cook food, carry the cameras, and carry the tents. And then those people needed more tents, food, and the like. In this way an expedition of 2-3 people quickly becomes almost two dozen.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Paving Paradise

During my first or second visit to Brazil -- it would have been 1996 or 2000 -- I remember starting a little debate among a small group of students and faculty in Porto Velho by asking a simple (it seemed) question: "Can a person drive from here to Manaus?" which is about 600 miles to the northeast. 

Half of the people present said yes, because you could take BR-319. The other said it was impossible, because that highway exists "only on the map." Both answers were correct in their own way. Two decades later, Google Maps is not ambivalent at all: get started before breakfast and you could be there by bedtime.

Just take the highway: Google Maps

The reason for the debate, of course, is that roads paved in the Amazon do not remain paved for long. Often carved into an undulating terrain with almost no surveying ahead of construction, steep slopes, poorly structured clayey soils and extremely heavy rainfall make pavement little better than gauze over time.

This all came to mind today, as I listened to a report on the paving of this very road by John Otis on NPR. The condition of this road is of international interest as the presidency of Brazil is being decided in a run-off election today. As Otis suggests in his reporting, while the previous incumbent -- the once-and-future Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva -- has equivocated on the question, while the current incumbent -- Jair Bolsonaro -- is firmly committed to the repaving of BR-319. 

Where there are roads, there are cattle. Deforestation is directly proportional to road construction.
The web version of the reporting by John Otis includes several stunning photos by Bruno Kelly.

As with other aspects of national policy regarding the Amazon rain forest, the choice is between ineffective protection and very effective exploitation. Within an hour of my posting this story, we expect to which direction the voters of Brazil are taking. And within an hour or two of that, we will know whether the voters will be heeded, as Bolsonaro is hinting that he might ignore the results, as his friend to the north attempted on January 6, 2021.

Update: On November 5, NPR journalist Carrie Kahn detailed the outcome of the election I had been awaiting when writing the above. It took a few days, but Lula won and the incumbent eventually stopped contesting the win. Kahn's reporting describes that win and the importance of the Amazon among Lula's challenges. UPDATE: On November 16, Kahn reported on Lula's stunning appearance at the climate conference in Egypt, which he attended instead of the sitting president.

The last academic conference I attended before the Covid lockdown was in Porto Velho, where I was invited to speak on the acceleration of deforestation there. The conferees were interested in hearing my insider/outsider views. My talk was called Fogo, Política, Bife, y Soja -- Fire, Politics, Beef, and Soy -- because they are all connected.


The story mentions Dr. Philip Fearnside, the first person I met in Brazil and still one of the forest's most ardent academic advocates.

About a week after posting this story, a geographer/librarian friend shared another story from the Amazon -- this an encouraging story of discovery in an area far from any roads, in the easternmost part of the rainforest. I introduced the story in Towering Emergent.

And finally -- I am going to make that trip between Manaus and Porto Velho in 2023, but I will not see the BR-219. I will be on a boat like this, as I originally intended to do in 1996. 

The photo is by the amazing Ocampo Fernandes, posted in the online group Rondônia, Minha Querida Rondônia.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Nowhere-ing a Bridge

Most of the Amazon Basin is flat, very flat. How flat? Flat enough that the Rio Solimões and Rio Negro flow languidly beside each other for about 30 miles past their confluence, in the famous Wedding of the Waters near Manaus.

The slope of Amazonian rivers is remarkably flat even hundreds of miles upstream, closer to headwaters areas, as I was reminded when trying to understand this pair of photographs, which I noticed this morning on the Rondônia, Minha Querida Rondônia page on Facebook. 

Group administrator Dacosta Dacosta shared these, with the caption "Ponte EFMM de Mutum Paraná, em duas épocas" (Madeira-Mamoré Railroad bridge at Mutum Paranà, in two different periods).

My first instinct was to look for the bridge on Google maps, based on the place name he used. There is an interesting difference between the map version and the satellite version of the map right now; the map has not caught up with this inundation, even though it seems to be more or less permanent.

Both images, Google Maps as accessed October 19, 2022

The main indication that this is a permanent flood -- indeed, an anticipated flood -- is that a causeway and  bridge were built for the BR-364 highway, where nothing more than a culvert is present on the map version.

 I assumed that this related to hydroelectric projects that were completed about a decade ago -- none were present during my first three visits to the area, but I did see the Santo Antâo dam when I returned in 2019. My master's thesis involved finding dams of various sizes on aerial photographs and satellite images, so I assumed searching the area of the lake that now contains Rio Cutia would be simple. I looked over this area, to no avail:

Back I went to Google. This time I searched for the Mutum Paraná and the word "usina" for hydroelectric plant. I remember the word from visiting and researching Usina Samuel on the Rio Candeias years ago. This led to an article about Usina Hidrelétrica de Jirau, which fortunately includes geographic coordinates --  9°15′51.8″ S, 64°38′30.8″ O. Realizing that O is for Oeste, I searched for this lat/long, changing the last character to W, and found the Jirau hydroelectric. 

Usina Jirau, Google Maps accessed on
October 19, 2022

Zooming out, I could see that this is nowhere near the inundation that first got my attention. In fact, it is about 60 kilometers (35 miles) downstream -- with many miles in between where the Madeira (the Amazon's longest tributary) seems to be within its normal banks.

The engineers who built the dam, however, know exactly how flat this land is, and they used Geographic Information Systems to figure out where the floods would be and what steps they would need to take in order to protect the BR364 highway as it passes over what was previously a trivial tributary, many miles from their main project.


During my first visit to Rondônia (Brazil's 26th state) in 1996, I saw the first internet server while it was still in a shipping box. For years after, my (now outdated) Rondônia Web page was the only online English-language resource about the place. Now it is a place full of very connected people of all ages, and this particular Facebook group has almost as many members as the entire state did in 1960. This page is similar to many groups pages I find in U.S. communities, brimming with nostalgia.

Monday, October 10, 2022

The "Crying Indian" Ad

 Anybody who was watching U.S. television in 1970 and the following few years will remember the poignancy of this video, which was called Keep America Beautiful but was better known as the Crying Indian. It was released around the time of the first Earth Day. 

I do remember learning much later that the actor was not Native American: he was Italian-American Iron Eyes Cody (1904-1999). Still, I thought, the video was well-intended, and it did cause people -- at least some people -- to think about our place in the environment. 

It was not until I started looking for the video for this year's Indigenous Peoples Day that I learned the insidious background of the story. Writing for the Chicago Tribune in 2017, journalist Finis Dunaway argues that the ad fooled the environmental movement by shifting attention -- and thereby responsibility for pollution away from manufacturers and toward individuals. It was, Dunaway argues, part of a greenwashing campaign that ushered in an era of disposable packaging. Half a century later, we still struggle to develop sustainable waste-management strategies that actually existed prior to this ad.   

Writing for The Columbian (Vancouver, WA) in April of this year, journalist Greg Jayne offers a different perspective, insisting that the ad had a positive influence on a generation of young people.

Monday, October 03, 2022

Coffee & Volcanoes: Travel Course in Cabo Verde

UPDATE: This May 2023 program was postponed to January 2024 because of airline scheduling problems. Please contact Study Abroad immediately if you would like to join us. Students from any university -- and even non-students -- may apply.

When I led my first Cabo Verde travel course in 2006, we spent all of our time on Santiago (which was fantastic) but we were not able to get to Fogo (which would have made a great trip even better). All these years later, we are finally doing it! Both islands will be part of my next travel course.

We are taking applications now for Geography of Coffee and Volcanoes in Cabo Verde. We will start on Santiago with an introduction to the country and its important role over five centuries connecting (in ways both terrible and wonderful) Africa, Europe, and the Americas. We will then fly to Fogo to learn about one of the world's smallest and most unusual coffee industries -- where the coffee is grown inside an active volcano. (Active means recently erupting, not currently erupting.)

This course is available for undergraduate or graduate credit (contact me directly if seeking the latter) and is open to BSU students as well as alumni, students at other universities, and other adults who want to have this learning experience. For BSU students, the class can count toward a major or minor in geography and toward minors in Cape Verdean studies, sustainability, or African studies. 

I use "we" above because this course results from deep collaboration with the Office of Study Abroad and the Pedro Pires Institute for Cape Verdean Studies. We will also be working closely with the University of Cabo Verde and the schools and municipal governments of the island of Fogo. Pre-departure meetings wil be both on campus in Bridgewater and via Zoom as I travel to Fogo for a coffee festival about a month before the trip itself.

Please apply now, using the following links.

Everybody can look at the program brochure for highlights of the trip. The $2,900 cost is the same for all participants, whether seeking credit or not. Also see syllabus for more details.

Current BSU students can apply by starting at the course application page. Please read it carefully!

People who are nod current BSU students needs to start by getting a Banner ID from the Take a Course page at the College of Continuing Studies.

This course will visit two of the Sotavento (Leeward) Islands.
See my Cabo Verde Basics post for introductory geography notes.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Buffalo and Other Climate Havens

Buffalo, New York declared itself a climate have in 2019 and has an Office of New Americans to facilitate its role as a place of welcome. In yesterday's episode of On Point, journalist Kimberly Atkins Stohr brings together an impressive array of guests -- from planners and scholars to a recent climate refugee in Buffalo itself -- to examine the many geographic implications of climate migration in America.

America’s Climate Havens of the Future begins with the story of Maria Agosto, a refugee from the eponymous hurricane that drove her from her home in Puerto Rico to her new home in western New York. On  Point is always worth listening to; this episode is worth listening to twice -- and taking notes. Some of its lessons are in my own notes below.

This photo from Isle of Jean Charles, Louisiana accompanies the podcast. As I mentioned in my 2016 article Climate Attack, this community may have been the first in the U.S. to be abandoned entirely because of climate change.

Sociology professor and demographer Matt Hauer describes lessons that are already beginning to be learned about the migration of humans because of environmental push factors. His own research focuses on migration that is likely to result from rising seal levels, and he is well aware that other consequences of climate change will also result in migration. Some patterns are counterintuitive, though: as dangerous as increased temperature itself is, a lot of migration is toward such urban heat islands as Atlanta and Austin, which exhibit pull factors that will continue to further their growth. 

His models estimate 13 million migrants resulting from rising sea level alone. During the interview, he explains why other serious hazards -- from wildfires to hurricanes -- do not necessarily drive significant migration. 

Beth Gibbons, executive director of the nonprofit American Society of Adaptation Professionals, says, "the past is no longer a good guide for what the future is going to look like." In some ways -- such as flood modeling -- the past is not even a good guide to the present.

Both Hauer and Gibbons note that a lot of migration continues to be stepwise -- people tend to move to nearby places where they might have some social capital before they make long-distance moves to places where they have little prior connection. The story of Maria Agosto and her family is an exception that may become increasingly common. Planners in Buffalo, in fact, are counting on it. 

The city is already known as a welcoming place and is embracing its potential as a climate haven. Even the most welcoming places are working to mitigate aspects of rapid growth on housing affordability, indigenous communities, suburban sprawl, and more.

During the program, Missy Stultz, sustainability manager for Ann Arbor, Michigan describes some specific ways in which her city is preparing for its role as a climate haven Geographers, by the way, are well prepared for exactly the kind of work she is doing. 

Gibbons points out that "legacy" (aka Rustbelt") cities of the north have the potential to benefit from climate-driven migration. She cites Detroit, whose population has declined from 1,200,000 to 700,000 and therefore has a lot of physical space for newcomers, but would need significant restoration of its infrastructure to return to anything like its former population.

She further describes how infrastructure investments can use both state and federal resources not only to accommodate new residents, but also to do so in more equitable and sustainable ways. Among the many specific details she mentions is the rarely discussed but increasingly dangerous problem of combined sewer overflow (CSO), which is just as nasty as it sounds. 


We have been here before, though for different reasons. The episode page includes a link to What Migrants Displaced By The Dust Bowl And Climate Events Can Teach Us, a 2018 article by Francesca Paris on Here & Now Compass.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Where the Party At?

 Geographers ask three questions: Where is it? Why is it there? So what? 

Followers of this blog know that I apply these questions to all kinds of things in both the human and natural realm. Today. write simply to share a "Where?" question with very little insight about the "Why?" or the implications -- at least so far.

The hedonistic scene above is from a short video on BBC, representing decades of escalation in the party atmosphere of the Spanish island of Ibiza. I found it after hearing The Nightclub that Changed Ibiza, which was today's 4:50 am (Boston time) segment of Witness History. 

I think that this story got my attention because the place transitioned from a hedonistic counterculture to a place reserved for the extremely wealthy.

Since neither the audio nor the video include a map, I add one here. It does begin to address the "Why?" question. Ibiza is part of Spain, but far enough from the mainland to have served as a refuge in the Franco dictatorship. It is surrounded by water and by definition has the Mediterranean climate that is so good for relaxation: mild winters and low-humidity summers. The map also reveals that the island is part of the Balearic archipelago, which features several other party destinations.

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Burn Pits of Iraq

On NPR's Morning Edition, journalist Leila Fadel interviewed anthropologist Kali Rubaii of Purdue University about her research into the ongoing health problems experience both by U.S. veterans and Iraqi civilians, because of the unregulated burning of mixed waste during the wars there.

In the 1970s and 1980s, newly emerging environmental laws were widely ignored on military bases in the United States. This changed at some point in the 1990s, personnel were retrained, and those bases began to come into compliance. The case of Iraq, however, highlights the long-term damage done by war.

Children in Mosul, from Professor Rubaii's 2020 article
Birth Defects and the Toxic Legacy of War in Iraq

This is a particularly difficult example that illustrates the severe damage done by long-term exposure to toxic chemicals. It is as if we either learned nothing from Love Canal or chose to ignore what we did learn.

City Champions

As I prepare a full slate of classes for the fall semester, I enjoy planning the weekly activities of Discovering Brockton, a First-Year Seminar I offer to students in the Commonwealth Honors program at Bridgewater State University. 

Class chat in Brockton City Hall. Photo: Brian Benson, BSU

In 2019, we were fortunate to have Brian Benson of our university publicity office join us for a day. His article City Champions remains the best summary of what we try to do in the class. 

For two semesters during the pandemic, I offered this class fully online. I was grateful that so many collaborators in the region helped me to have meaningful video class sessions in which they shared various facets of the community. Videoconferencing, however, did not provide the kinds of insights that arise from driving or walking around a place with a geographer. 

For that, I created a series of Windshield and Sidewalk Surveys, with the help of my artist son who happened to be visiting for a few weeks as the 2020 semester was about to begin. See the playlists Windshield Surveys, Sidewalk Surveys 1, and Sidewalk Surveys 2 to join some of the fun.


Championing the City of Champions (2012)

Geographic Lens on New Bedford (2017)

Brockton Honors (2020)

Monterrey COIL Project: Livable Cities (2022)

And more news about the Department of Geography.

Students tour City Hall in 2007, the second time 
I offered this course. See my Geography of Brockton 
web page, which I can no longer update.

Sunday, August 07, 2022

Wall Street Over Haiti

 In The Ransom, NYT outlines nearly two centuries of interventions by France and the United States that -- combined with the collusion of internal elites -- have perpetuated debt and disarray in Haiti. Even coffee is implicated.

US Military in Haiti, 1920 Image: NYT

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Detroit Museum Visit

I have been teaching Detroit: Arts City for several years, without having ever been to the city. Some people are surprised, because a lot of my teaching is about places I have been. Finally getting back to Chicago and Wisconsin for family visits last week, 

I was glad when my spouse suggested a stop in Detroit. We saw as much as we could manage in just 21 hours, mostly in two of the city's many museums: Detroit Institute of Arts and Detroit Historical Museum. The former is a global treasure -- the fact that bureaucrats seriously considered selling off its contents as a "rescue" plan is what got me interested in the study of the city in the first place. My son wrote a most excellent paper arguing against this deeply flawed and ignorant plan.

These are two institutions that tell a lot of stories, so my snapshots hardly do either of them justice. Still, for those who have never been, I hope that the slides below from our quick visit will inspire an appreciation for some facets of this remarkable city and its cultural treasures. 

Please click the right arrows to advance slides, and click the ... three dots below each image to expand the captions. Apologies that Flickr "updates" do not make this a bit more user-friendly. You can also go directly to the Flickr album if that works better for you or you want to look at a single image more carefully.
Detroit: Arts City in 21 Hours
I look forward to sharing these with my honors colloquium students in the fall.

Rosa Parks, Detroiter

Rosa Parks is one of the most famous participants in the Great Migration, but most people who know her name do not know that she migrated! This included me until very recently, when I learned about her experiences in Detroit, where she spent a bit more than half of her life. 

Icon of civil disobedience: justice sometimes
requires breaking unjust laws.

Despite the success of her role reducing racial discrimination in Alabama by challenging segregation on buses in 1955 -- perhaps even because of that success -- she was unable to find work there and was forced to escape, first to Virginia and then to Detroit, Michigan. There she worked for U.S. Rep. John Conyers for many years. 

After retirement, she was assaulted in her own apartment and forced to move. Little Caesars Pizza mogul Mike Ilich privately paid her rent for many subsequent years, though this arrangement seems to have ended during her final years.

The logo I have seen in 2-D throughout
the USA is 3-D throughout Detroit,
even in the Detroit Historical Museum.

Friday, July 08, 2022

Water Deep Dive (The Takeaway)

I usually find The Takeaway from WNYC to be compelling radio. Even in the context of the general excellence of the program, the broadcast I am listening to on WGBH 89.7 is so exceptional,  that even as I listen, I am preparing this post as part of making the broadcast required listening for most of my classes.

Deep Dive: Water as a Human Right

Even if you are not in one of those courses, I strongly encourage you to listen to Water, a single episode in the program's Deep Dive series. As the title suggests, the scope of this episode is ambitious; one might even say daunting.

In just 48 minutes, journalists Melissa Harris-Perry, Dorian Warren and an impressive array of guests connect water insecurity in the United States to human concerns ranging from physical and mental health to racial inequality and political stability.

Their conversation stretches from Chicago and Detroit to the Navajo Nation and to the world beyond. The program ends with a serious of important questions about how we use water, from the global level to the level of individual households.


Only one of the guests is identified as a geographer, but a geographic perspective is woven throughout the conversations. It is, in fact, a good example of political ecology, the theoretical outlook that has informed my approach to environmental geography since my doctoral studies

Sunday, July 03, 2022

Coffee Cups without the Coffee

Note: This entry is cross-posted on my new blog, Doctor Potato Head.

Many people know that my #CoffeeMaven priorities are more about the farmers than the coffee itself (though I love the coffee itself!). I use the tag #ThankTheFarmers on many of the words and images I share; this little story is an example of gratitude that extends to all kinds of farmers – not just the beloved cafeteros in my life.

Two of those farmers are Ron and Connie of Maribett Farm, with whom we have many kinds of connections, agricultural and otherwise. While helping us with some permaculture projects in our back yard, they recently left this gift on our back porch. They even sent the photos, since we were not home at the time.

The plant is Colocasia esculenta. It immediately reminded me of a plant I know as elephant ear, but I thought I was mistaken because this plant is pretty small, and the elephant ear I have seen in Nicaragua has individual leaves almost as big as I am. 

A quick internet search confirmed my original hunch, and browsing my Flickr albums of Nicaragua travels brought me to the comparison I was thinking of.

I think our farmer friends chose this plant because of the name used by the vendor: Coffee Cups. Even if they did not intend this, it was the first thing I noticed! This was the first time I had seen or heard that name. The gift is a great example of how my friends have helped me to develop my #CoffeeMaven identity – that of a completist who endeavors to learn about all possible aspects of coffee

The notes from the Proven Winners company mentions that the plant is toxic to both pets and humans, even though the Latin name of the species indicates that it is edible. In fact, Colocasia esculenta is a leading food crop throughout the tropics. The top is known as elephant ear, but the bottom is known as taro (malanga in Spanish), a root that is readily edible and resembles a potato.

It is, in fact, one of several tubers in the lineup of potato-esque roots from which the popular snack Terra Chips are made.

Lagniappe: Thirsty Plant

Long before I saw – and ate – this plant in Nicaragua, I had learned that it can be a problematic invasive plant, at least in one setting. When we took a glass-bottom boat tour of San Marcos Springs in Texas, we learned that hydrologists had calculated how much the Edwards Aquifer was losing through the evapotranspiration from the enormous leaves of plants that surrounded the spring-fed waterways along the escarpment. I do not remember the number, of course, but they were making comparisons to the water demand of a small city.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Unfettered Rockets


Famous environmental radical Richard
Nixon signing the National Environmental
Policy Act
(NEPA) on January 1, 1970.

President Nixon was no radical, of course, but he did sign a number of common-sense environmental laws that have provided for improved protection of land, water, and public health for the past half-century.

One of these is the National Environmental Policy Act, which created the Environment Protection Agency and instituted the requirement that any large project involving the Federal government would require an assessment of its potential environmental, economic, and health impacts. What would be more inappropriate, after all, than for one arm of the Federal government to damage an environment that other Federal agencies were endeavoring to protect? 

This is all on my mind as I read about the Federal Aviation Administration green-lighting the latest ego trip of a certain billionaire with extra-planetary ambitions. The New York Times headline tells us that SpaceX Wins Environmental Approval for Launch of Mars Rocket, but one must read the article itself to realize how errant that decision is and how many aspects of the project merit review. It will push people out of their homes and disrupt access to a nearby beach on a frequent basis. 

Even a cursory glance at the map of the area in question -- where SpaceX already has some facilities -- shows that it is in an extremely sensitive coastal location, surrounded by fragile barrier islands, wildlife management areas, and a rare kind of estuary. 

Having lived in the region -- and having taught environmental geography about a mile from the site -- I can think of several more aspects of this location that warrant review. Brownsville is in the Lower Rio Grande Valley -- the delta of the Rio Grande -- which is superlative in several relevant ways.

The four-county area is overwhelmingly Hispanic and low-income, suggesting two ways in which local power may not be exercised fully and fairly in this complex process. Moreover, this region is the area in which the seasonal flyways of many protected migratory birds converge. In fact, the majority of the birds found anywhere in the United States are found at least seasonally in this region. Certainly the potential interactions between these birds and rocket launches is worthy of study. 

It could be that a thorough NEPA review would still allow for this project to go forward; we will not know unless the Biden Administration does its job and insists on it. Even if the project is approved, however, the thorough review required by Nixon's pen would almost certainly lead to useful modifications of the project.

Lagniappe: Local Voice

It is gratifying to see our old friend Jim Chapman mentioned in the article -- the entire region would probably be a parking lot by now if it were not for him and other brave activists in the Valley.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Monterrey COIL Project: Livable Cities

This post is a bit longer than usual because I am both describing a recent teaching collaboration and including the thoughtful work that our students produced. Because the post is rather long, I am going to open with the conclusions -- what some might call the take-away findings.

Introduction and Conclusions

This post elaborates on a presentation my geography colleague Dr. Boah Kim and I presented at the BSU-CARS Symposium in May 2022. We were among faculty members from several departments who were describing our recent experiences in several parts of the world with Collaborative Online International Learning, or COIL. Specifically, we reported on our COIL experience with colleagues at TEC-Monterrey in Mexico.

My conclusions:

  • COIL is a valid and valuable international experience, both for those who have additional international opportunities and for those who may lack access to -- or even interest in -- conventional international experiences.
  • Small is beautiful: a short-term assignment of limited scope can produce very positive results.
  • Experience helps: partners with previous COIL experience helped this project to succeed, even though we had not worked together previously.
  • Language: the high level of English proficiency among the students in our partner institution was essential to the success of the project.
  • Collaborating with students in another country helped local students to deepen their curiosity about and understanding of Gateway Cities in Massachusetts.


I had no international academic experiences until the summer after I completed my master's degree, but providing international experiences for undergraduates later became a big part of my career. I have led or co-led short-term programs in Nicaragua, Cape Verde, Cuba, Costa Rica, Panama, and Brazil. I also helped to establish a program of long-term exchanges in Brazil that provided semester-long international experiences for more than a dozen students. 

These have been important, life-changing experiences for the students involved and for me as a professor. They often have ripple effects on other students and on the family members of the students who participate. 

Despite our best efforts, however, only a tiny percentage of the students I teach have had experiences of this kind. And because of an extended global pandemic, I am on an involuntary hiatus from such experiences myself. I am grateful that I traveled with students in January 2020, but it will be at least May 2023 before I do so again! 

Enter COIL -- Collaborative Online International Learning, a concept well described by its name and more fully elaborated on the website of SUNY COIL, one of the institutional leaders in this kind of programming. I was intrigued by this concept when I learned of it from some of our campus leaders in international programs in the depths of the pandemic. I explored the COIL concept with colleagues with whom I had developed some of the successful programs described above, but we did not find a way to make it work. 

In early 2022, I received a more specific invitation: to develop a COIL project with potential partners at TEC-Monterrey, a private university in northern Mexico with deep experience in the approach. We soon formed a team involving two TEC faculty in a planning/architecture program and two BSU geography professors.

We situated the collaboration in my upper-level course Latin America: Globalization & Cohesion. The course was well underway when we began planning, so I had to adjust my syllabus and assignments considerably to make the COIL possible. I decided that the only way to make the experience worthwhile -- especially as it came near the end of an exhausting academic year -- was to give the project plenty of space to succeed. By this I mean that I decided to devote class time to it and to reduce other planned assignments. 

The TEC professors had previous experience with these international collaborations and they had administrative support that was very helpful in structuring the project we did together. The project structure had several key components:
  • Synchronous meetings that would include faculty input and also small-group break-out rooms for the students.
  • Structured "ice breaker" activities -- low-stakes but relevant questions that required students to start talking and writing together during the first meeting.
  • Asynchronous collaborations in the same small groups, working for a week or two on more focused questions and with the goal of combined work products.
The course in which this work was situated is a broad survey course; a collaboration on environmental, cultural, or political geography would have been viable. But since the focus of my collaborators and of the TEC-Monterrey students is urban studies, we made that the focus of our projects. Specifically, Dr. Kim introduced the use of the SWOT (Strength-Weakness-Opportunity-Threat) concept to analyzing urban places and planning. Fortunately, three of my students were in her urban planning class, and a fourth member of that class was able to join our collaboration.

We formed three student groups of equal size, with equal numbers of Monterrey and Bridgewater students in each. All of the Monterrey students applied SWOT analysis to an area of Monterrey itself. The Bridgewater students did the same with three different nearby urban places: the Gateway Cities of Lowell and Brockton and the similarly-situated Boston neighborhood of Dorchester. The level of familiarity with these places varied considerably, so there was a lot of learning required about places close to home. This was fitting, though: in all of the international programs I have led, people learned something about their homes.

The students spent about two weeks applying SWOT to two aspects of these places: mobility and demographic makeup. 

Student Work

After comparing mobility in their communities through a SWOT lens, each group created an infographic to summarize those comparisons. Each group developed its own format, as seen below. Each infographic is a bit too big for this blog screen; please click each to enlarge or open in a separate tab to enable zooming or printing..

After comparing the demographies in their chosen communities through a SWOT lens, each group created an infographic to summarize those comparisons, as they had done with mobility. These discussions were a bit deeperEach group developed its own format, as seen below. Each of these infographics is a too wide for this blog screen, so as with those above, please click each to enlarge or open in a separate tab to enable zooming or printing..


Formal COIL exchanges involve require all students to participate in two activities that bookend the experience. The first is a structured ice breaker and the last is a reflection that is shared with all participants. The reflection posted by BSU student Felicia Prata represents what many of the students wrote:
I thought this was an absolutely incredible experience that was unlike anything I have ever experienced. I learned a whole lot about the country of Mexico and the town of Monterrey, as well as the students, their academic experience in Mexico, and their cultural problems.

It helped me not only learn a lot about them as students and the area in which they live, but also taught me a lot about myself, and the differences we have in our everyday American culture. I would definitely like to do this with my students when I am a teacher as well.

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