NOW AVAILABLE: “Capitals of Punk: DC, Paris, and Circulation in the Urban Underground”

Happy Almost-Summer, everyone! As you may have noticed, I added this to the sidebar widgets here, but I hadn’t taken a moment on this blog to properly announce… [drum-roll, fireworks, and elaborate Busby Berkeley-derived dance sequence] I have a book out!

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It was released earlier this month on Palgrave MacMillan Press. Special thanks to my editor Josh Pitt in Melbourne (who should be no stranger to anybody who’s been on this site over the past month), as well as to Sophie Li in Shanghai for an awesome cover, as well as to Karthiga Ramu and the whole copy editing team in India. I never suspected the academic publication process would be that globetrotting, but that’s the 21st century for you and an added bonus to an already great experience.

Early reviews I’ve read of the book have been humbling and flattering, both in the best way. I’m grateful that this project, which began in earnest ages ago, has finally coalesced and brought so many people together who factored into this story.  As Palgrave enumerates on their website, the book includes exclusive new interviews with music legends like Ian MacKaye (Fugazi, Minor Threat, Dischord Records), Craig Wedren (Shudder to Think), and Cynthia Connolly (Banned in DC) as well as a number of key characters in the growth of French punk. It also features over thirty photos of this slice of punk history, many of which are exclusive, never-before-seen images. 

You or your library (please tell your library!) can purchase Capitals of Punk in hardcover or as an ePub/Annotated PDF from Palgrave at their official marketplace here.  Here is the synopsis via Palgrave’s website:

Capitals of Punk tells the story of Franco-American circulation of punk music, politics, and culture, focusing on the legendary Washington, DC hardcore punk scene and its less-heralded counterpart in Paris. This book tells the story of how the underground music scenes of two major world cities have influenced one another over the past fifty years.  This book compiles exclusive accounts across multiple eras from a long list of iconic punk musicians, promoters, writers, and fans on both sides of the Atlantic. Through understanding how and why punk culture circulated, it tells a greater story of (sub)urban blight, the nature of counterculture, and the street-level dynamics of that centuries-old relationship between France and the United States.

If you would like to review the book or have me as a guest on your radio show or podcast, I’d be happy to do it. Please get in touch at SONICGEOGRAPHY [AT] GMAIL or (+1) 865 974 6033.  You can contact Palgrave via the page linked above.

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AAG DC Punk Walking Tour [Photos]

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Stop One on the Ellington Bridge, 04.06.19 (DC Punk Walking Tour Photo by Macià Blázquez Salom)

Better late than never, as promised, here are some additional photos from AAG DC, taken and shared with me by several generous walking tour participants.


IAN MACKAYE Q&A (FRIDAY 04/05/19)

As I posted about a couple weeks ago, I hosted a Q&A with Ian MacKaye at the Wardman Park Hotel on Friday afternoon. The full audio of that conversation, along with some photos taken by Josh Pitt of Palgrave and Emily Fekete of the AAG, are available on that previous entry.


D.C. Punk Walking Tour (Saturday 04/06/19)

As I mentioned last month in a post leading up to the meeting, the first (and probably only) AAG DC Punk walking tour got a shocking amount of interest. I wound up taking a good handful of folks who registered at the last minute on-site after the inevitable few registrants dropped out. I didn’t get a proper headcount when we set off from the hotel, but the photos below should be a good indication.

STOP ONE: THE DUKE ELLINGTON BRIDGE

I look like I’m proselytizing, and in a way, I am. I took a chance to talk about the role DC’s physical geography played in events that punctuated punk history like the late-80’s percussion protests at the South African Embassy. Standing on the bridge named after the man gave us a chance to give Duke some love, too, being as how he’s easily in the conversation about the most vital American musicians of the 20th century. The way he wrote short, punchy songs so prolifically and so well invariably laid the early groundwork for rock n’ roll, and what was punk rock except a return to rock n’ roll’s roots?

STOP TWO: 1929 CALVERT ST, NW

While I was trying to recall the bands Ian MacKaye told me were on the bill for Minor Threat’s first show in this house, an older gentleman stepped out onto the porch of the house next door. He apologized for interrupting, and I said no worries and asked him how long he’d been living there. “1980,” he said. He verified the story I was relating, citing the great parties his neighbors at 1929 would throw back in the day. He also said the house had sold for $2,000,000, which was more than I recalled reading. Given the turnover in that neighborhood over the past few decades, it was an amazing stroke of luck.

STOP THREE: THE ORIGINAL MADAM’S ORGAN (2318 18TH ST NW)

Once a Yippie watering hole for Corcoran Art students and more recently the home of Crooked Beat Records (when I moved to DC in 2005), the building that built harDCore currently houses an Insomnia Cookie shop upstairs and a grow shop downstairs (keeping in the spirit of DIY, I suppose). Neither business could withstand a crush of almost 30 people and the grow shop, per DC law, needed to check every entrant’s ID, so I stood on the staircase to Insomnia to deliver my spiel.

STOP FOUR: SMASH! RECORDS (2314 18TH ST NW)

Immediately after our stop at the original Madam’s Organ house, we crammed into Smash! Records next door. I introduced the group to my old friend Matt Moffatt, who gave the group a brief history of the shop, which started in Georgetown in a different era and moved to Adams-Morgan in the mid-2000’s.

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Matt Moffatt talks with the AAG DC Punk Walking Tour at Smash! Records, Washington, DC 04.06.19 (Tyler Sonnichsen Photo)

STOP FIVE: DAHLAK (RIP; 1771 U St. NW)

After Smash!, we took a break to get empanadas and shop, reconvening to head down to the star-intersection at 18th and Florida and U to discuss the role of immigrants in the growth of underground music in DC. Two sites of interest there were the (now closed) Eritrean restaurant Dahlak, where I saw friends perform a number of times in the late 2000’s, as well as the neighboring building, now a young-professionals’ gym, which regularly hosted Go Go shows in the 80’s as an African-owned club. Two very pleasant English women on the tour, who admitted to me in the end they went in knowing very little about punk, told me how much they liked how I incorporated migration into the tour. It was one of the best compliments I received all day. DC Punk, just like so many pieces of any city’s “real” culture, owes so much to immigrants who opened up their restaurants for live entertainment. The city’s punk scene has included so many sons and daughters of immigrants, as well.

The next stretch was the longest walk of the tour, a haul up Ontario Street back to Columbia Road. The sun was so powerful and the heat was so strong, I worried that half of the tour would drop off, but everyone who was with us at the bottom of the hill was in great spirits when we reached the top for:

STOP SIX: ONTARIO THEATER (1700 COLUMBIA RD NW)

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The AAG DC Punk Walking Tour stops by the site of the Ontario Theater, now the Banfield Pet Hospital. (Photo by Marton Berki)

Unlike anywhere else we stopped, the building that once housed the Ontario Theater (the predecessor, at least in the Seth Hurwitz sense, to the 9:30 Club) actually had a historical marker of sorts. As this photo by Martón Berki details, U2 once played there in 1981, right on the cusp of breaking. Prior to it’s period as a music club, the Ontario had been a movie theater kept open through the 1970’s by the local Central American population. Further history of the building is available on Cinema Treasures and Streets of Washington

 

THE FINAL STOP: MT. DESERT ISLAND ICE CREAM (3110 MT. PLEASANT ST NW

The end of the tour was a real treat, literally and figuratively. Josh Pitt, my good friend and editor at Palgrave, treated the whole tour to ice cream. Given the heat, this generosity could not have come at a better time. It just so happened that Mt. Desert Island was not only a couple blocks away from the site of the legendary Wilson Center, but it’s also owned and operated by Melissa Quinley and Brian Lowit, a pair of great Dischord Records vets. Brian’s own label, Lovitt, released some solid gold by the likes of Frodus, Engine Down, Sleepytime Trio, and many more. Melissa and Brian came outside to talk about the finer points of underground music, ice cream, and how community ties those two together.

As my delicious ice cream was melting and running down my hand, I spoke for a couple more minutes to the group outside, thanked them, and we headed back to the hotel. It seemed like everybody enjoyed themselves and learned a lot. I’m grateful it all went off catastrophe-free.


Thanks again to everyone who took part in the DC Punk Walking Tour, and special thanks to everyone who shared the above pictures. You may notice that a bulk of them were taken by the multi-talented and immensely supportive Steven Donnelly, from Belfast. Keep tabs on him and his work via Instagram at mralligator7.

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Steven Donnelly Self-Portrait in Smash! Records, Washington, DC 04.06.19

The Ben Irving Postcard Project: West Tennessee

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Lazy Sunday in Humboldt, TN, March 31, 2019. This and all images below belong to SonicGeography.com (All Rights Reserved).

Tennessee’s insane width (against its North-South length) presents a weird conundrum for anyone representing the state. Shortly after I moved to East Tennessee in 2013, a friend from Los Angeles surprised me with tickets to see FIDLAR at Exit/In in Nashville. I gave him a call on the long, winding, hour-losing ride home after the show to thank him, and he and I made vague plans should he ever come to Tennessee.

“If I ever get out there,” he said excitedly, “we’ve have to go to Graceland. I can’t miss that!”

I told him, in terms that wouldn’t put a huge damper on our conversation, that a trip to Graceland would require plastering at least three additional days onto his visit. For the amount of time we would spend in the car driving to Memphis (assuming some delays on I-40), drive to Tybee Island and jump in the Atlantic Ocean.

Largely for these reasons, my visit to Memphis for the wonderful Balancing the Mix conference at the end of March formulated my first trip to the Birthplace of Rock n’ Roll since 2011. For those doing the math, that was two years prior to my relocation to Knoxville. I’ve been a Tennessee resident for almost six years without one visit further West than Nashville. It’s disappointing, since I’ve met several visitors from Memphis, and I’ve been looking for a reason to get back out there. My 2011 visit, as brief as it was, clearly inspired me early in my geography career. One of the header images I use on this website is a photo of me standing outside of Sun Studios, after all.


Downtown Memphis (1935 / 2019)

Downtown Memphis, like I noted in my recent entry about re-tracing Ben Irving’s postcards in Nashville, reinforced a blanket notion about how increasingly privatized American cities have grown over the past few decades. Compared to when Ben mailed his postcards from Memphis (1935 and 1940), even the landmarks depicted have become surrounded by locked down landscapes.

MEMPHIS PARK

Before I made the (questionable) decision to check out Beale Street on that very cold and windy Saturday night, I stopped by Memphis Park, formerly Confederate Park, as seen in this postcard, mailed at midnight on March 16, 1935.

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Obviously, the park is still there. I stood at the corner of Front St. and Jefferson Ave. and snapped this, the only shot anywhere close to recreating the postcard image.

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Yeah, I’m fairly disappointed, too. The wind and cold were unbearable that night, which made even holding my phone-camera still enough to get the streetlights into focus nearly impossible. You can see the building in the background of both images. Today, it’s listed as the Cecil Humphreys School of Law (University of Memphis). In 1935, it was the Front Street Station US Post Office. The Court Square area was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in the early 1980’s.

In an attempt to subject myself to even more bitter winds at a slightly higher altitude, I looked around the intersection to see if I might get a superior angle. The first thing I noticed was a prominent parking garage opposite the intersection. Here’s a photo, which is actually ten times better than the above photo I took of the park. Figures.

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‘Ooh!’ I thought. That upper level appears to be wide open, maybe I can just walk up the steps if it’s a public gara-NOPE, SORRY, TYLER, EVERY BLOCK OF EVERYTHING WITHIN 20 MILES OF ANY AMERICAN CITY’S CBD IS PRIVATIZED AND GUARDED 24/7 BY (probably underpaid) ON-SITE SECURITY CONTRACTORS. HERE’S A GATE IN YOUR FACE NOW PLEASE LEAVE WITHOUT A FUSS, SIR:

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I’m sure my reaction wouldn’t have been so visceral had it not been miserably cold, but I would not have been any less disappointed. I was grateful that the twenty-first century had at least dumped the ‘Confederate’ from the park’s name in 2013. You win some, you lose some. Moving onto the much sunnier and less windy Sunday afternoon…

HOTEL CHISCA

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Thankfully, this one was a cinch.

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Hotel Chisca, considering how MLK’s assassination occurred a few blocks down the street, had been in a decades-long decline before it was restored earlier this decade into the modern apartments that opened in 2015. The building itself first opened in 1913 and was in full operation as such when Ben mailed this postcard on March 16,  1935. Historic Memphis has a good overview (with a great catalog of artifacts preserved) on their website, including this tidbit about the hotel’s role, like so many places around the city, in Rock n’ Roll history.

The hotel’s historic significance comes mainly from its connection to Elvis Presley.  From 1949-56, its mezzanine was the broadcast base for WHBQ radio’s “Red, Hot, and Blue” program.  It was from there that Dewey Phillips broadcast Elvis’ first record July 7, 1954.  And Elvis’ first radio interview was also conducted in the hotel by Phillips.  

While the streetcar lines seem to function mostly to carry tourists up and down Main Street, I was glad to see they were in operation, unlike the Desire line, which had been long since ripped out of Royal Street in New Orleans. Here are some pictures I took of the current iteration of the Chisca building on different sides.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. Well, Sage Francis said it a while back, but I’ll borrow it from him in light of my experiences recreating these images of urban spaces in the United States: “the only thing that stays the same is change.”


Downtown Humboldt (1935/2019)

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One of the more obscure locations from which Ben sent a postcard was Humboldt, Tennessee, a small down located on State Road 79, about 20 miles North of where I-40 runs today. As is my bad habit when leaving anywhere, I pushed the beginning of my (very long) drive home well beyond the time I originally planned. I’d say it was well worth it after finding an old, dusty copy of Booker T. and the MG’s’ Green Onions (Stereo press from 1968, not the original 1962 Mono… I’m not a millionaire). Still, the sun was quickly caving into the horizon on my back when I rolled into downtown Humboldt.

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From what I understand (and according to the Humboldt Historical Society), the town was on the L&N Railroad line. I think that Ben drove on most of his Depression journeys, but the railway still influenced his decision to pass through. I can only imagine how much Humboldt suffered following the demise of that line.

Since 1935, at least Main Street installed signal lights to handle the “onslaught” of traffic, and street parking had been sectioned off. Some of the buildings depicted in the gray-scale black and white postcard had also been knocked down and replaced. I walked up and down E. Main Street trying to figure out where, exactly, this original image had been taken. Thankfully, Sunday afternoon was relatively slow so I could stand in the middle of the street and not get run down. I made it all the way to the point where you can see those trees on the horizon of the postcard, where I found a small, public green space at the corner of Central Ave.

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The Humboldt Plaza 3 cinema didn’t appear to be doing heavy business, but it was open and people were wandering in and out of it. According to the best website on the internet Cinema Treasures, the theater opened with 800 seats in 1942, seven years after Ben passed through and mailed the postcard. It was triplex’d in the early 1980’s, I imagine because it was the eighties.

I thought it would be fairly straightforward since the postcard clearly indicated the street and vantage orientation. I had gotten a bit too far ahead of myself. After walking up and down both sides of the street, trying to match a scratchy black and white image from the 1930s with the small town’s current formation, I finally found my architectural Rosetta Stone:

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The building on the NW corner of Main and S. 13th Avenue still has its gorgeous sculpted awning, albeit in two different colors. The left side was painted black to foil the whitewashing, as was the ornamentation over the windows. Whomever duplexed and renovated this building really had to commit; just look at the window decoration in the middle. To one person, it may be tacky, but to me… well, it’s tacky, but I love it. They bricked over the middle window with, it appears, slightly different, newer bricks. I can’t stop looking at it. It’s so distracting.

So, here was my conclusion. I took the first photo at an angle from the south side of the street, and I took the second about ten yards too far back, but you get the idea:

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From what I can tell, the entire block opposite of the duplex building was torn down, eventually filled (sort of) with a newer Regions bank building. For a Sunday evening, there were a good handful of people wandering in and out of the Mexican restaurant and the movie theater. Strawberries featured prominently in the downtown corridor to signify the town’s annual Strawberry Festival, which appears to be Humboldt’s biggest tourist draw. I’m glad Ben Irving’s postcard drew me through here, the place seems to be a quintessential slice of West Tennessee that disappears under Memphis’ increasing weight.

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Alright – thanks to you (reader) for following this long long-term project on Sonic Geography, and thanks to the Ben Irving Postcard Collection for continuously providing a worthwhile distraction. Back to grading finals. Here are a couple more photos I took that don’t necessarily connect directly to the postcard sites, but I still love:

A Conversation with Ian MacKaye at AAG DC [AUDIO]

“[Geographers] are good people. They’re really f–kin’ good people.”

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Ian MacKaye and Tyler Sonnichsen at ‘A Conversation with Ian MacKaye,’ presented by the AAG Media and Communication Geography Specialty Group. Washington, DC, April 5, 2019. Photo by Emily Fekete.

My Conversation with Ian MacKaye

Audience Questions for Ian

One of the highlights of this year’s AAG meeting came on Friday afternoon, when punk legend Ian MacKaye stopped by the Wardman Park hotel to share some stories about his career as an underground musician and touring artist (Fugazi, Minor Threat, The Evens, and more), as well as Dischord Records captain. As numerous participants reflected afterward, it could easily have gone on for another hour. Though it was not intentional, the bulk of the conversation focused on how much geography can learn from the network and influence of early harDCore, which we realized worked well for the Media and Communication Geography group’s focus.

This was such a privilege. Special thanks to Emily Fekete (Chair of the MACGSG and AAG mainstay) for helping coordinate this event, as well as to Joshua Pitt (Palgrave MacMillan) for recording the session. Joshua, Steven Donnelly, and other participants took some great photos, as well as of the DC Punk walking tour on Saturday, which I’ll post here soon.

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Take GEOG 101 at UTK this May-mester

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Are you an undergraduate student at the University of Tennessee who will be around this May? Are you in need of a quick 3-credits that would satisfy most programs’ core requirements? Would you enjoy taking a fundamentals-class (that normally hosts over 100 students) in a more intimate, laid-back environment?

Well, you’re in luck! I’m going to be teaching GEOG 101: World Regional Geography as a Mini-Semester course this May. The class will meet every morning for three weeks, from May 8th until May 29th. That is likely the most efficient way you’ll ever be able to take this class, and it will open up your summer and fall session schedules for other requirements of your major or your other responsibilities.

Don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions or for a draft of the special 3-week syllabus. I look forward to seeing you in May.


Coming Soon to Sonic Geography

  • An Exclusive Interview (Audio) with Ian MacKaye, recorded live at AAG
  • An Overview and Retrospective on AAG in DC (April 3-7), including the premiere of my DC Punk Walking Tour
  • A Look at the Ben Irving Postcard Series in Memphis & Western Tennessee
  • Announcing my new book Capitals of Punk (Palgrave Macmillan)

 

Zack (Knox Brew Tours) and Jordan (Clinch River Brewery) Visit Popular Culture Class

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Zack Roskop (L) and Jordan Skeen (R) speak to my GEOG 423: American Popular Culture class, 2 April 2019.

A quick post to say a hearty “Thank You!” to Zack Roskop and Jordan Skeen, of Knox Brew Tours and Clinch River Brewing respectively (as well as both leaders in the Knoxville Area Brewers Association) for stopping by to speak with my American Popular Culture class today.

Our conversation provided a perfect launching point for our unit on “Beer, Spirits, and Neolocalism.”  Speaking as someone who’s been around the local craft beer community for several years now, it’s always amazing how much you can learn from talking to folks who are on the ground level about your city/region as well as the relationship between the industry and geography.

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Coming soon (likely when I’m back from AAG): A New Chapter from the Ben Irving Postcard Collection (West Tennessee Edition).

AAG 2019: Ian MacKaye Q&A, DC Punk Walking Tour, and the First Ever Academic Talk on Florida Man

The long wait is almost over: AAG DC starts this week! Because the meeting’s in the AAG’s (and my former, for a while) home base this year, I’ve been working to arrange a few special events that I’ll be announcing here, on twitter, and via the AAG’s social media as well.  It’s going to be a busy but good time. You can find me at one of the following three events (or of course by just hitting me up).

FRIDAY: A CONVERSATION WITH IAN MACKAYE

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Washington 1, Marriott, Exhibition Level
AAG Session Page – Event Page

I’m excited to announce that I’ll be moderating a discussion with Ian MacKaye for the keynote session of the Media and Communication Geography Specialty Group. Thank you to Ian for his interest as well as to my friend Emily Fekete at the AAG for making this happen. We’ll be talking about the relationship between the city and punk history, as well as the history of Dischord Records and his own musical career (Minor Threat, Fugazi, Embrace, The Evens, and more). Get there early to get a good seat!


SATURDAY 4/6: DC PUNK WALKING TOUR [SOLD OUT]

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Marriott 24th St Entrance

I’ll be honest: I wrote a long, fun draft entry to publish closer to the event for a last-minute push in case it didn’t fill up, but it did. I’m grateful and humbled that this tour has generated as much interest as it has. I’m sorry if you missed a chance to register for a spot, but as with any walking tour, there’s a reasonable chance for a few no-shows. If any spots do open up, I’ll make sure to announce it on twitter and contact those registered.

For now, here is the gist of what I wrote originally. I’ll wait to divulge more details until we’re closer to the event, but there will be surprises, some brought to you by our good friends at Palgrave Publishing, and others brought to you by our tour sites.  You’re probably wondering, “AAG members offer plenty of great walking tours every year; why should I, a person of [indeterminate] interest in punk rock, be looking forward to this one?”

  1. You’ll have time built-in to enjoy some of the best Falafel, Empanadas, or food of your choice that DC has to offer. 
    We’ll be walking through a gastronomic epicenter toward the beginning of our tour that includes a couple of places I absolutely cannot miss when I’m in town. I’m building in some free time for eating and shopping, so you don’t need to eat a gigantic brunch beforehand. But if you do, you’ll have more time to focus on…
  2. Shopping for records, clothes, and other merchandise. 
    Get your souvenir shopping out of the way while learning about DC culture. Why spend your money on some Washington Monument snow globe when you could have something from a boutique where locals actually hang out? Grab that Fugazi record for your turntable or that photo book for your coffee table.
  3. You’ll meet luminaries of the DC punk scene. 
    Any stroll through Adams-Morgan and Mount Pleasant on a Saturday afternoon affords you plenty of chances to bump into somebody who played (and still plays) a key role in the DC punk story. For this tour, I’ve been coordinating cameos from some of my favorite people I knew from the scene when I lived there as well as some great folks I met while working on the book.
  4. You’ll get those steps in.
    Many landmark sites in harDCore history are right down the street from the conference hotel in Adams-Morgan and around the corner in Mount Pleasant. In other words, no hopping on and off of a shuttle, dealing with traffic, or battling tourists on the Metro. That being said, if you have a disability and require transport assistance, please notify us in your registration. From what I remember, all of the key sites we’ll be visiting (and most lunch/shopping options) are accessible.
  5. I will be leading it.
    Not that I would be the biggest selling point, but I’d be grateful to have you along for my first AAG walking tour, in a neighborhood that was so important to me when I lived there (and still is).  Over my time there, I heard so many stories and have so many great memories (not included in Capitals of Punk) I look forward to sharing.

Let me know if you have any questions [sonicgeography at gmail]. We will take off from Marriott Wardman Park’s 24th St Entrance on Saturday 4/6 at Noon. See you there!


SUNDAY: LIGHTNING TALK ON FLORIDA MAN

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Contemporary Issues in Human Geography
Washington 6, Marriott, Exhibition Level

You read that right: I’m engaging with some  research on the Florida Man. This is a topic that, as a cultural geographer with a soft spot for Florida (that I catch heat for, no pun intended), I’ve been interested in for some time. It seems that every six months or so, the internet breathes new life into this apocryphal character. Recently, a meme went around imploring people to google “Florida Man” and their birthday. Much of my research focuses on circulation, and internet-mediated phenomena like these work wonders(?) to perpetuate (inter)national perspectives on what makes Florida assume the mantel of “our weirdest state.”

I understand many of you may have skipped town by Sunday afternoon, but this session looks like it will be amazing: talks on Kingston, Cincinnati, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), Climate security, and Uttarakhand.


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Anyway, see you in DC. If you’re not going, you’ll be missed and I’ll be happy to give you all a rundown of the highlights from this year’s meeting on this site sometime after I get back to Knoxville. I’m still reeling as I write this from a great time in Memphis at the Balancing the Mix conference, in fact. Thanks to Mark Duffett and Amanda Nell Edgar for putting it together. If I have time this week (that’s a big ‘if’), I’ll post an update or two about the conference as well as the West Tennessee chapter of the Ben Irving Postcard Project.