Thursday, December 27, 2012

Maps, Literature and Culture Shock

(Source: Verso Books web site)

Maps and literature will be two touchstones in the new year.

One of the best gifts I received this year was a mini-atlas including maps of the Egham area.  It's part of the same series in which London A-Z is published.

A storm of light powdery snow is whipping by outside and a big clearing machine rumbles around clearing things.  I'm in here plotting things about London, planning excursions near (Staines, Windsor and Bath) and far (Leeds, Ireland and Scotland), all places that will help give a sense of context once I'm back, ensconced in life 'across the pond.'

I'm dreaming about the wider world around London, places I've not yet been.

Another way of dreaming is through literature, through the novels of Emily Bronte and Thomas Hardy.

(source: Wikipedia)

These are all distant things that in the new year will become much much nearer (to me) and in the process and in almost a therapeutic way (like art-therapy) help ease the culture shock.

I plan to devote a goodly portion of this blog in the new year to documenting what exactly this culture shock is all about, why it is so deceptively difficult (it should be easy, but it's not), and what steps are being taken to alleviate it whether through art, literature or just writing about it, by creating in response to the stress of the unfamiliar.

There are some books on walking, like Rebecca Solnit's Wanderlust, and some books on London to look at too.  The Beach Beneath the Street looks interesting as does London: Bread and Circuses (all three published by Verso Books).

While all of this might seem a far cry from teaching GIS, I would argue that it is not and that, on the contrary, it is precisely the type of grounding-work that is necessary in bringing together qualitative and locally informed geographic information systems practices with the people to whom the technologies are often uncritically applied.

Psychogeography, flanerie, creative appropriation of ennui, ethnography, fiction, science, quantity, art, these are just some of the many categories of thinking I plan to bring to geospatial thinking at the root of GIS.  They might not all pan out, at least not in the way I might be expecting, but that is, I think, the whole point.

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