Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Elvis Atlas

The Elvis Atlas: A Journey Through Elvis Presley's America (Henry Holt Reference Book) by Michael Gray and Roger Osborne
Michael Gray and Roger Osborne follow the career of Elvis documenting the geography of the world of the king, the geographic basis of the influences on him and his music, and the places where Elvis played and made his career. A detailed history accompanies the maps and charts.
The first chapters begin with the musical roots of his music and family. We get to see mapped and discussed the places he was known to frequent. Elvis is a product of those things that influence d him. His music is not a creation of itself.
The influence of the South is vividly made in the book. Tennessee is the hub for those concerts making Elvis a musician and then a star. Gray and Osborne map out the concerts of Elvis to show the locations and the size of the crowds. The South is also the melting pot for the country, blues, gospel, and African components that combine in early Rock and in the music which begins his career. Elvis sang a combination of Country as it was based in Appalachian music, Blues as sung by African-Americans, Gospel as sung by both Whites and African-Americans, and the rhythms of earlier African-American and African music.
Interesting is that Elvis venturing north was not an automatic success. Early concerts in the North do not have filled auditoriums. One does not expect this. It is possible that anti-Rock and Roll movements or the cost of tickets held these audiences down. The eventual fan base for Elvis is not reflected well in his early concerts outside the South.
The move to Hollywood for movie making takes his music west, but also spreads it around the country. This period would include his time in the Army and Germany. Rather than Elvis in concert, you get Elvis as movie star.
The sorrow of the later post-military movie period is shown as putting weight on Elvis as it was his managers will and not his. The early films and their locations were films Elvis wanted to make, but his later career’s films were formularized to maximize Colonel Parker’s sense of what would market Elvis. There is some expansion of his geographic world to Hawaii, but this is not his favored part of the world.
The fall of Elvis is shown in his being pulled away from the places his early and middle career took him. Graceland becomes an escape His spiritual comfort is in his youthful locations and work. Pulled to Hollywood and places not to his suiting, stages where he is not singing his work, deprive him of reward.
In this wonderful work, one flaw that should be noted, is in the attempt to place the Presley family in its historic perspective. This also extends into the historic development of Country Music itself. If going into this history at all, the specific history of the Scot-Irish people should have correctly noted. Country Music develops from a Scot-Irish musical tradition. The sense of sadness, gloom, hurt, loss, and the tough nature of life in early Country Music—or first called “Hillbilly” music-- reflects the history of the Scot-Irish people.
The Scot-Irish title denotes a group of people who began as Scot crofters or farmers who were expelled from their land in favor of sheep herding by the land owners. These Scots were offered land in Northern Ireland as the British consolidated their control of the Irish in the North just after 1600. Later their Presbyterian faith was not regarded as acceptable and they faced some persecution in Ireland. Those who left for America were called the Scot-Irish after their previous dual locations.
In America they moved to the hills to escape the governmental control they regarded as mean and unsafe. Life in the hills was not pleasant or easy. It was a tough life with many hardships. The sense of death, loss of love, hard conditions of Country Music comes from their songs into the mid-1900s. Rock then takes an African set of rhythms, blues, and instruments and Rock was created. Elvis develops his music out of this heritage.
The Elvis fan can follow the career of the king in this book, noting the geography of his life and music had great impact on him and the music many like.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Introduction to The Nine Nations of North America

The Nine Nations of North America, by Joel Garreau, has become a classic text on the
current regionalization of North America. While his lack of academic rigor has been criticized, Garreau never establishes himself as a scholar, he is a journalist and an observer. He traveled and wrote about the differences he saw in various parts of the United States and Canada. He found nine basic cultural zones. In looking for an example of what the various sets of national geography teaching standards want one to walk away with, this book serves as a good model of what should be in a student or other’s mind.
  • Quebec: The French cultural dominance of Quebec makes it an area to itself. The language issue is widely recognized, but French culture runs much deeper than language. The attitudes, ethnicity, political outlooks, and other cultural factors separate this area from the rest of North America. The focus of the area is on Montreal, making it a nodal region, too.
  • New England: The Canadian Maritimes and the traditional New England of the United States are seen as one region by Garreau. He saw an area with strong elements of decline seeking self-sufficiency and new industry (computers). Recreation and tourism are growing. The wood stove is seen as a very important focal point. The wood stove, popular in this area, recognizes that this area was hit hard by energy cost rises in the 1970s. The stove was the method to save money and combat another region.
  • The Foundry: This is the manufacturing belt of Canada and the United States. It is the place of cities in trouble and declining industries. The industrial might of both countries was made here, but the toll of time and competition has left this area lagging. Resource depletion plays a role in this. Newer and cheaper resources are in locations that do not favor this area as was once true. This area is also heavily populated and faces tensions over that.
  • Dixie: This region is defined by grits and the traditional South of the Civil War. While poverty areas still are large and widespread, Garreau saw "change" as the keyword here. The New South was turning cheap labor into a selling point for companies trying to stay in America. The rise of Atlanta as a major city is a part of this effort.
  • The Islands: The Islands are tied together by their focus on Miami as a shopping and cultural hub. As people from Eastern North Dakota might go to Fargo to shop, or Minnesotans to Minneapolis, wealthier people (and beyond) in the islands go to Miami. The drug business is certainly another sign of what this area is involved in. Of course, the population of Miami has had a large influx of Cuban people since Castro's Revolution.
  • The Breadbasket: This region feeds the nation. It is an emptier place than The Foundry, with lower population densities, as one would expect in a farm area. It also faces declining population and the loss of small towns.
  • MexAmerica: This region's culture mixes Anglo with Mexican. It is difficult to ignore the population characteristics and their impact on food, broadcasting, music, etc.
  • Ecotopia: New industry (aircraft, computers, etc) dominate the look at this region. Ecotopia takes its name from the ecological orientation of people who live here. The crazy culture of California, as those east see it, is a part of this.
  • The Empty Quarter: This region is seen as empty because comparatively it is. Some areas have little population because of mountains or cold environments. It is a resource provider to the nation, and suffers from a sense of damage because of the exploitive nature of those resource taking activities.
In conclusion, it should be noted that the regionalization of places is a process many engage in. The regions that result reflect the variety of characteristics selected by people. Garreau looked out at what he saw and categorized it.
Book by and map from Joel Garreau, 1981, The Nine Nations of North America, New York: Avon.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Is the Exotic, Far Away Place a Goner Today?


Looking at a travel poster of the South Pacific hanging over my desk, it struck me that today's student differ from older generations in that the far away and exotic appealed and took us away from "here" in previous times. But today the close by is the focus of excitement given the communities of the smart phone age. Prior to starting, I should point out I am high tech. have a smart phone. have had computers for decades now. and can text, tweet, and that old email thing.SouthPacific Poster 1

"High tech-High Touch" was a phrase I recall hearing more than a decade sgo to remind those getting into the computer world of the time to spend some time in that real world. The computer world was not real, it could not fulfill the needs of people for touching real things--whether that be working with your hands, being active outdoors, or just being with people. Those of Baby Boom age understood this concept as they were raised with less high tech to draw them away from high touch. They went to the park. They had limitations on how much television was a part of a day. Stations actually went off the air at night and you only had a handful or less choices. You did other things. Even a long conversation with a friend on the phone was not to happen given party lines and the presence of only one phone for all to use.

Mentally you joined the generation that preceded you and its tradition to get out of this place (epitomized by Eric Burdon and the Animals "We've Got to Get Out of This Place". To do this you had to become familiar with other places and what they offered you. These messages could come from books, movies, school lessons; but you identified with favorite places someplace else. Hence much tourism was to get away to those places and not theme parks.

I, myself, got caught on the South Pacific by the music of the musical on that first album my parents owned on that first stereo they bought. That led to James Michener and his stories of the South Pacific, being in South Pacific twice in high school and college, and purchasing two record albums, one audio cassette, two video tapes, and two DVDs of it to keep the music going over the years. "Bali Hai" called me. "Some Enchanted Evening" was a hope and dream.

While all this is available on the smart phone and computer/tablet, it is that personal communication that drives these. I have witnessed class after class of people ignoring what is in their best interest to answer a text. To ignore the person in front of you talking to you at your cost in favor of a text message is answered by the statement it is rude not to text back right away. The importance attached to these communications is understandable in young people, but the real world is slowly shifted to a secondary status in life. The implications of that could be staggering. Just in depression medications and other costs. If I had a nickel for every student who used depression as an excuse over my career, I could own one of those South Pacific islands. They isolate themselves then wonder why they are depressed.

If you couple all this with a general isolation of so many from the larger national life of the country, and a growing disrespect for that life, you begin to pile factors deeper and deeper in a heap that marks alienation from the real world, isolation from it, disrespect for it, and a collapsing civic community. If that text is more important than me, why should I care about you? You bought isolation from those around you for the engagement of the text message.

In terms of geography, the world of these folk is on the screen. While you can watch the whole nature and history of the world on a screen, that is hardly what is being watched. Geography in your life is a disjointed map of online contacts, without the benefit of personal touch. The touch is to be dissed, while the tech is god.

We should engage in a field wide discussion of how to romanticize places to where they were. How to make those places relevant parts of the student's life. This is an uphill trek because those concepts have to break into the socially enforced world of isolation from such things the smart phone brings. Another problem is that this interest is so personalized. In a room of 30 there are 30 times, places, events, feelings, needs that must come together to spark that interest. The world geography course can search for that combination, but does the work of a course get in the way. If memorizing those countries or mountains is required for various reasons, does this inhibit the generation of interest in a place or places?

Monday, September 30, 2013

Northern Ireland Map Issue

One question Northern Ireland's geography raises, is why those parts of Ireland were kept when Ireland was given its independence in 1921 [see earlier post]?
The simple fact is Northern Ireland was separated from Ireland because of its Scot-English majority. The basic rule of thumb was to get majority Scot-English areas in the United Kingdom and majority Irish areas in Ireland. On the map the majority Protestant areas give a basic outline of the territory.
Factors involved in the green areas on the map, where Irish Catholics are in the majority, are several. 1. Islands of Ireland within Northern Ireland would not be strategically acceptable. 2. The big sort of thumb up the center would also raise strategic problems. 3. The areas along the southern border have near Scot-English Protestant majorities and have significant ownership of land and business by that group. 4. Urban areas, like Derry/Londonderry were too valued to cede.
We should note that getting ethnic peoples in their proper area, nation, country was a major theme in post World War I Europe. Making sure the Germans were in Germany and Italians in Italy, etc., was part of the peace process. committees in the process went down to the farmstead level to ensure people were in the right nation. That this cannot be done perfectly is one of the issues leading to World War II. Hitler saw Germans in ethnic areas outside Germany as deprived and bringing them into the German state was a major goal. The Sudetenland is a prime example of this concept being used. Especially islands of another group, or minorities of another group, became a battle cry.

Lawrence of Arabia and Deserts


David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia [1962] is the top movie for capturing the nature of the desert. While desert varies, the dry desert that people take to mind upon hearing "desert" s found in scenes from this film. Shot on location, Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) has just met Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif) in the desert of Western Arabia (Saudi Arabia now). In this scene we see the dryness of the desert and the vast sands that the dry desert will tend to have. David Lean (Director) captures these feature in this single scene.

Do play it to the largest screen you can show it on. That vastness just stands out.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Ireland and Northern Ireland


When one looks at Ireland, one notices that the Northeast corner is not a part of Ireland. It is in fact part of the United Kingdom (as are England, Scotland, Wales and several islands). This separation has a long history going back to 1169 when Henry II of England became involved in a battle between two Irish tribal groups. After receiving some right to claim land, the English lightly settled the area around Dublin in an area known as The Pale. In 1541 Henry VIII proclaimed himself King of Ireland as the Irish were rather disorganized tribes at the time. Just into the 1600s Elizabeth I began settlement programs moving Scots and English into Ireland. The Catholic Irish could not be trusted during a time when catholic versus Protestant was the rule of battle in Europe. Much of this program displaced the Irish farm from his/her land.

irelandThe building of a sense of being Irish and Irish unity begins to build over the next century. This is a bitter period for the Irish as they are Britain's first colony. The Irish basically lose ownership of their own land to the English and Scots. They are subjected to hardships including the Potato famine in the 1840s which leads many to flee to England or the United States. One issue in this is that the British insist that the Irish become Protestant. In refusing to convert this takes on a religious tone of Protestant versus Catholic.

The Irish gain freedom for the currently Ireland part of the island in 1921 after a rising against the British. The British kept the Northeast part known as Ulster because they had settle an English and Scot majority in that area over the years, and had major investments in industries around Belfast.

Attempts to get a revolt going in the late 1950s fail, but a civil rights movement organizes in the North in 1969. The Catholic Irish in the North are subject to discrimination as groups are/were in the United States and other places. They push for rights, but this breaks down into a several decade struggle involving significant acts of terrorism from both sides and many injuries and deaths. Starting in 1995 and 1998 peace agreements have brought basic peace to Northern Ireland, but it remains a part of the United Kingdom. Given the Protestant (English, Scot) majority, it is likely to remain for years to come.

A Very Select Bibliography

Aalen, F. H. A. 1978. Man and the Landscape in Ireland.  London, England, UK: Academic Press. A discussion of Irish history.

Bailly, Derek. 1990. Frontiers. The Footsteps of Man. Videotape. London, England, UK

Baol. F. W. 1980. Two nations in Ireland. Antipode 11: 38- 40.

Munn, Brain. 1989. A History of Ireland. PBS Video Series. Washington. DC: Public Broadcasting Service.

Police History. 2002. Map: Ireland. Internet.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013



Media Studies people are now beginning to use the word “trope” to refer to those items TV and other media people use to call upon elements the audience already generally knows to bring them into the story. As the site TVtropes says: “Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members' minds and expectations. On the whole, tropes are not clichés. The word clichéd means "stereotyped and trite." In other words, dull and uninteresting. We are not looking for dull and uninteresting entries. We are here to recognize tropes and play with them, not to make fun of them.” [Source: TV Tropes] Or, Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency defines a troupe as “A troupe is a common pattern in a story or recognizable attribute in a character that conveys information to the audience.”

For geographers the term would include the place elements used by media people. How is a story of California or New York City told among media presentations. Heavy crime in New York city would be a trope used by many shows to create believability among the viewers.  The image part of the standards would relate to tropes.  The South Pacific as paradise is a trope.