Wednesday, 9 April 2014

#GEESonTour - March means fieldtrips...

By Kirstie O'Neill and Rebecca Williams


Part of doing geography (physical or human) at University is the opportunity to get out in the 'field' and explore how geography works first-hand.  The 'field' may not actually be a field, but may be the centre of Rome, the top of a mountain, a farm, or a river bed, for example.  Each year in March @GEESatHull takes second year students to a range of field sites, giving students a chance to get to know each other better and get to learn more about what their lecturers do, and a chance to learn more about 'doing research'.  This year, we used the #GEESonTour (or 'cheese on toast', as our students in Rome named it!) to communicate what we were doing, with our colleagues on the other fieldtrips as well as to a much wider audience.

As GEESologists we're going to write this blogpost collaboratively to tell you a bit about two of the fieldtrips that happened this March.

Rome - Geography, Memory and Monuments in the City, and Rural Development in the Abruzzo
By @KirstieJONeill

The annual fieldtrip to Rome is popular with staff and students - it's a team taught module, led by @DavideAtkinson, drawing on research expertise of the staff on the fieldtrip.  @Davideatkinson gave students an expert tour of the historical sites and sights of Rome, linking geography and history, and exploring how the city has changed (and continues to do so) over the millenia.  This year we had a new day in Rome, looking at food in the city (urban cultures of consumption and growing), which included a tour of foodie district Testaccio with +Katie Parla and in the afternoon we visited +Eataly in Ostiense.  Students got to see two different sides to food consumption in nearby districts in Rome.  Also new this year was having a professional photographer (@andyweekesphoto) in tow to take stunning pictures of our students doing geography!  Being used as models as well as researchers was viewed with suspicion at first, but they soon got into the swing of it with some great photos as a result:

Students at Cocullo wind farm, Abruzzo

As a contrast to the city, we spend one day in the Abruzzo region, where both Lewis Holloway and I have done research on quality local food systems (here).  On this day, students get to see renewable energies helping support local community development projects, visit a multifunctional farm which hosts an Adopt a Sheep scheme, and, finally, taste locally produced, high quality wine at Pientrantonj vineyard in Vittorito:

Wine tasting with Alice Pientrantonj

Students get the opportunity to show us and their fellow students how much they know about aspects of the field trip as they prepare presentations which they then give during the field trip - each year there is a different approach to the same subject, with different interpretations and presentation styles.  This year, we had well-researched and confidently delivered presentations on national parks, the informal economy, and the Italian North-South divide, amongst others. Students also undertake their own research, making ethnographic observations of a particular space within Rome - we had 5 groups covering Trastevere, Piazza Navona, Campo dei Fiori, Montecitorio and the Spanish Steps.  Our final day was spent with Dr Nick Dines of Middlesex University, who lives in Rome, visiting working class districts with strong political identities, out of the tourist gaze.  It was my final fieldtrip to Rome as I'm about to start a new job at Lancaster University, and I will very much miss the annual fieldtrip.

Tenerife - understanding the evolution of an ocean island
By @volcanologist

One of the physical geography trips goes to Tenerife - a classic fieldtrip location for many subjects including geography, geology, ecology, zoology... I could carry on with that list. Tenerife is an ocean island which means it has a unique landscape and biology. It also has some fascinating volcanology. As a physical geography trip, we take a look at all these different aspects and how they relate to each other. The trip also changes and adapts its content based on the research expertise of the trip leaders. This year the trip was run by @StuartMcLelland, @Tom_Coulthard, myself and Brendan Murphy.
Montagne Negra, Tenerife. Students map the tephra dispersal around the vent - based on a sampling strategy they devised the night before. This allows them to plan, undertake and then assess a field research technique

For me, the trip is an excellent opportunity to break my semester routine of wake, teach, eat, mark, sleep. A bit of winter sunshine and some hikes in beautiful places does wonders to blow away the cobwebs. It's an opportunity to see some amazing volcanic rocks and to learn a thing or two from my geography-trained colleagues (river terraces, soils, laurel forests...). What I mostly relish though, is the opportunity to pass on some of my expertise to the students.
Students trying to understand how the explosive eruptive history is recorded in deposits at Tajao. Ooh, look a those pumice fall layers and ignimbrites. Is that a soil?
The fieldtrip investigates the evolution of Tenerife. So we take a look at how it was formed, through volcanic eruptions, and how those eruptions may have changed through time. We take a look at evidence for what the source of the volcanism is, and what the magma chamber might look like. We also investigate how the island is being eroded, both catastrophically through huge landslides, but also through river processes. Each day is centred around the students collecting their own data in groups, whether that's through mapping the grainsize distribution of tephra around a volcano, mapping in terraces along a river system, or conducting analogue experiments they have designed to understand a particular volcanic process. Each evening, they present the results of their research as a poster. I enjoy seeing the students undertaking real research techniques and then synthesising that data to answer a research question. And wow, do they come up with some great results!
New location discovered! Playa de las Roques - not much is know about the deposit here, so it was new for us as well as the students! The deposit it thought to be related to a large landslide. 
For a GEESologist, the trip is also an opportunity to poke around in a place and inspire new research. I know many a scientist who has developed a research project from a discovery made when leading a fieldtrip. The trip to Tenerife is no different. There are always new locations to discover and features as yet unexplained. Research doesn't always inspire teaching, sometimes teaching inspires research!

Both of these trips are one of a number of trips that run simultaneously through March.  We both love getting out and about with our students and seeing them make geography their own, as well as enjoying a break from the normal routine.  Let us know what you did for your geography fieldtrips and what was the best aspect for you:)

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