About Tyler

Geographer who likes comedy and records and probably you.

Norwich City Hall (1936 / 2020)

The Ben Irving Postcard Project: Norwich, CT

In one of our concluding lecture-discussions of our Spring 2021 semester, my North America class and I talked about ways we can be tourists in our own backyards. Though most of us live in Mount Pleasant, there are several corners of the city which are completely foreign to us. Relatedly, most of my New Yorker friends, including those who’ve lived in the city for their whole lives, have only really seen about 25% of it with their bare eyes. To me, that reality isn’t discouraging at a time when Google Earth and Streetview make (virtual) flânerie unthinkably accessible. Either way, it’s reassuring to know that you don’t need to buy a three- or four-figure plane ticket, gouge yourself on a hotel room, and adorn yourself in the common “HEY! I’M A TOURIST” attire (typically a tie-dye shirt emblazoned with the city’s name) to participate in tourism.

I haven’t lived in Connecticut for almost twenty years, but every time I return, the place feels less familiar. Of course that’s understandable, though, since a lot has changed infrastructurally in two decades given the heightened cost of living, shifting demographics, and the Nutmeg State’s perpetual intermediary orientation between two of North America’s most expensive cities. I can barely remember a time when the Quinnipiac River Bridge (which I thought, for much of my childhood, was literally named “The Q”) wasn’t under construction. Driving over the (decently) completed iteration still feels odd. I can probably rest assured they’ll need to rebuild it again in less than ten years.

Truthfully, though, when you’re young, your local and regional landscapes are highly dependent on your engagement with the world outside your bubble. When my friends and I got our drivers’ licenses, the farthest we would go on a quotidian basis would be the Wendy’s across town lines or maybe, if I had a chunk of change to spend on CD’s, to a record shop two towns over. My high school girlfriend lived three towns east, and that twenty-minute drive to her house felt like the height of rebellion. On rare occasions, we would all venture to farther reaches of the state: perhaps going to support athletic friends in their road games or heading to New Haven or Hartford for a concert. Typically, when friends and I were home on breaks from college, we would venture into the cities, but I don’t remember, save for shows at Toad’s Place or the Tune Inn (RIP), having real directives other than killing time.

One of my best friends in Knoxville, coincidentally, also grew up near New Haven. He was seven years younger than me, and he left Connecticut over a decade after I did, but whenever we talked about “back home,” we always came to the same conclusion: where was all the cool stuff when we were growing up there? Very quickly, though, we also realized that most of the “cool stuff” either didn’t exist yet in the 1990’s/2000’s or it existed in various iterations which were restricted from us (or, we had our heads in the sand, a common conceit for suburban teenagers). That’s no more thoughtful than some rockist old-timer asking “where’s all the good new music?” (It’s all over the place and available to stream, Roy. Get your head out of 1974).

All that being said, one of my favorite perks of the Ben Irving Postcard Project has been how the cities Irving visited during the Depression Era have laid out a series of destinations that I may have entirely passed by without a thought in my childhood. For example, I always remember knowing that the town of Norwich existed. They had a Double-A baseball team called the Norwich Navigators, but they were Yankees affiliate, so we never ventured to one of their games. I imagine my father went there for meetings pretty often, but it was never a destination for us, and until this past Fall, I could never remember gazing upon the sheer majesty of their City Hall Building. I won’t say it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb among the modest, working-class downtown landscape, but unlike literal sore thumbs, it was worth preserving (which they made official in 1983, when the building was 110 years old).

Norwich City Hall depicted on a postcard mailed April 1936 vs. the Building November 25, 2020.

What is apparent, when juxtaposing the 1936 postcard image with the more recent photo, is that not all of the adjacent buildings enjoyed the same amount of preservationist love and affection. It appears that at least one of the multi-family homes on the Union Street side (left, on the image) has been torn down. The United Congregational Church (built in 1857 as the Broadway Congregational Church), whose steeple is visible at the right edge of the postcard picture, doesn’t stand so close in reality. This suggests that the postcard artist may have taken liberties with sliding the Church closer to the town hall, they widened Broadway sometime in the past 85 years, or my angle just wasn’t a good recreation. Even if I had been able to climb up high enough (or rent a cherry-picker, in a perfect world), I don’t imagine I could have nailed the angle of the original picture. 

One noteworthy and refreshing contrast between these ca. 1936 and 2020 images is the surprising abundance of green space in the latter. The parking lot in front of the main entrance in 1936 is now a park named after David Ruggles, a local abolitionist who was pivotal to the regional branch of the Underground Railroad. I had grown so accustomed to seeing pre-Interstate Highway Era green spaces disappear under a sea of asphalt, especially in post-Industrial cities. Imagine the placeless example of Hill Valley, CA which Bobs Zemeckis and Gale built out of the Universal backlot, where the 1955 town green had been supplanted with a crowded, loud, parking lot by 1985. The Back to the Future example is even more appropriate here, given how the UCC’s original spire was removed after being stuck by lightning in 1898.  

I hope this is the first of many posts about how something as mundane as old postcards led me to discover fascinating places that were, despite being less than 45 minutes’ drive, completely unfamiliar to me. I would encourage anybody to do the same; I promise that you’ll gain a newfound appreciation of wherever you live(d).

Norwich City Hall, November 2020

The Not-by-Fleetwood Mac Song Challenge!

Happy Saturday and Happy Mayday, everybody! It’s the end of the semester for me, so that means a deluge of grading and then a deluge of new posts (currently gathering dust in the drafts folder) for this site!

Thank you profusely to those of you who enjoyed the #NotbyBlur challenge for April. I regret not posting my full list this time around, but there are so many lists on the way that even I may get sick of them. For now, enjoy the song challenge for May: (NOT BY) FLEETWOOD MAC.

#NotByFleetwoodMac

One of my co-creators, Matt Gever, already claimed the June challenge for his own nefarious purposes, and I will be grateful for the month off. But he and Marissa reached out to me recently, and we realized the May challenge should be a female artist or at least a band with prominent female membership. Of course, the eternally relevant (more than five decades!) and endlessly dramatic Fleetwood Mac fit the bill, so hopefully this strikes a chord across generations of music fans. It sure would for Nathan Apodaca and all the lucky music academics with whom I got to participate in the Rumours livetweet party back in February.

So, I would imagine you all know the drill by this point. Download, share, have fun on whichever platform suits your fancy, and don’t forget to hashtag it #NotByFleetwoodMac.

The GEO 121 Song Assignment (Spring 2021)

Happy Almost-May to anyone who has stumbled back here. The home stretch of the Spring semester has put a whole bunch of entries/essays on hold, unfortunately, but there will be a song challenge for May that I’m sure many of you will appreciate (especially a surprising number of millennials).

Detroit rapper Tee Grizzley

A few weeks ago, students in my two sections of GEO 121 (Intro to Globalization) submitted their third paper, which asked them to do a geographic analysis of a song of their choosing. I know I have done this at least once here, but I wanted to keep up the tradition. Here are, in no particular order, the songs which students chose (an asterisk indicates that I assigned this one, per request) for this semester’s music geography paper.

It’s the Inevitable #NotByBlur Song Challenge for April!

Depending on your age, Britpop acumen, knowledge of my musical preferences, and awareness of Blur’s early, commendable but not quite brilliant debut album Leisure, you may have immediately known what April’s challenge was going to be when you saw the word “bang” in yesterday’s post. Either way, nobody involved in these challenges could possibly have thought they’d make it out of the pandemic year without a tribute to the collective works of Damon, Alex, Dave, and (most of the time) Graham.

Despite how Gorillaz has now technically been a longer-going concern for (genius) Albarn, making goat cheese is a bigger priority for Alex James than plucking the bass strings or hosting BBC documentaries about cocaine, and Graham Coxon has made more solo albums than Blur records, the Essex foursome will always be at the fore for me. So, in the interest of celebrating my birthday in the only obnoxious, ostentatious way I will ever bring myself to, it’s the Not-by-Blur song challenge!

Per usual, there’s only one rule (Gorillaz and other Albarn material are fair game). Make sure to share, have fun, and hashtag it with #NotbyBlur. Also, on the 9th, don’t hesitate to message or tweet at me with your pick! Or, any other day I suppose, but especially on that day. The mind gets short-y as you get closer to forty.

My #NotbytheMisfits Song Challenge Results

I haven’t kept up with these for the most part, but March was a special month. Not only did it mark the one-year Anniversary of (most of us) being in ostensible lockdown, but it also featured the first three-way collaboration on one of these song challenges. I’m grateful that the pandemic brought me together with Matt Gever and back together with Marissa Tisch. Both have been fun bouncing songs off each morning, and they’ve also been great about reminding me of when Jewish holidays have come around. Happy belated Passover, by the way. I hope those of you celebrating found that afikoman.

Below you can find my selections for 30 songs this month that were not written by Glenn Danzig or the Caiafa brothers (though let’s be honest, the number of great Misfits songs that Danzig had nothing to do with number in the single digits).

  1. Mean Jeans – “Life on Mars”
  2. Converge – “Eagles Become Vultures”
  3. The Putz – “She’s a Brat”
  4. The Rezillos – “No”
  5. The Offspring – “Want You Bad”
  6. The Libertines – “Horror Show”
  7. Indochine – “Marilyn”
  8. The Gaslight Anthem – “’45′”
  9. Chixdiggit – “323”
  10. The McRackins – “Candy”
  11. Los Nikis – “El Imperio Contraataca”
  12. Nothing – “Blue Line Baby”
  13. Sweet – “Ballroom Blitz”
  14. Klaus Nomi – “Total Eclipse”
  15. Frustration – “Assassination”
  16. Schlitz – “Destroy Babylon”
  17. Fastway – “Trick or Treat”
  18. Oasis – “Digsy’s Dinner” (seriously; that band was not meant to outlive Tony McCarroll)
  19. Against Me! – “Scream Until You’re Coughing Up Blood”
  20. Choking Victim – “Infested (the Lindane Conspiracy Vol. 1)”
  21. Tyler Childers – “Born Again”
  22. Tom Waits – “Dirt in the Ground”
  23. Ween – “Push th’ Little Daisies”
  24. Jerry Reed – “Eastbound and Down”
  25. The Muffs – “Lucky Guy”
  26. Green Day – “Brain Stew”
  27. Randy – “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Punk Rock Flu”
  28. Aerosmith – “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing”
  29. Def Leppard – “Rock of Ages”
  30. Jimi Hendrix Experience – “Manic Depression”

Now that we are coming up on the one-year anniversary of these song challenges, I may retire them (or at least pass the torch) for a bit. HOWEVER, since April is my birthday month, I couldn’t resist the urge to hijack the thing to go out with a bang. That’s all you’re getting until it goes live tomorrow morning at 8am ET.

Connecticut Youth Jazz in New Orleans (1998)

My first visit to New Orleans, which I’ve mentioned before in light of the 2018 AAG Meeting, came on the coattails of my talented younger sister. She played sax for a couple of bands in the Connecticut Youth Jazz Workshop. The director, Reid Gerritt (who passed away in 2014), collaborated with some CTYJ parents to coordinate large-scale performance trips in 1998 and 1999, the former being to perform at various stages around New Orleans, including the Parade Day of the French Quarter Festival.

At the time, most of us teenagers who either played in one of the bands or operated as a documenter treated the trips as vacations and opportunities to socialize with our friends in faraway cities, even chances to grow up a little bit. We certainly didn’t realize what an inconceivable amount of work must have gone into planning this out in a mostly DIY setting, which Mr. Gerritt did when the internet was only running at 52k. I would love if he were still around so I could ask him about that process. The influence he had on me, even as a non-musician, was unparalleled by most of my secondary school teachers (except perhaps by Reid’s wife Christine, a star Spanish teacher who coordinated a similar group trip to Spain in 2000 that likely steered me down the path culminating in you reading this blog right now. But that’s another story).

Here are a few moments from that New Orleans trip, pulled from my original VHS-C tapes filmed in April 1998. Please ignore anything that came out of my teenage mouth. I knew so little about the world then.


“Just Another Closer Walk with Thee” (April 17, 1998)


The group rushes inside to avoid a downpour and plays in the bar, and then performs Stan Kenton’s “The Peanut Vendor” back outside (April 17, 1998)


The Intermediate Band performing on the Natchez Steamboat (April, 1998)


The French Quarter Festival Parade (April 17, 1998)
Keep an eye out for then-Mayor Marc Morial (now the President of the National Urban League) around 30 seconds in.

On the off chance that you were there, or recognize anybody in these videos, feel free to comment and/or get in touch. Have a great week.

Presenting (Virtually) at UTK Geography Symposium ’21 this Friday

Time to shake off the dust and clear off the cobwebs! After a year bereft of conferencing, I’m excited to announce that I will be presenting my research on using music videos to teach Geography this Friday morning at 11:30 AM ET. Anyone interested can access the Zoom Link here, and the password is “geosym2021.”

My presentation is entitled ‘Dreaming of Distant Pleasures: Teaching Geography with Music Videos,’ and I’ll paste the abstract below. I’m looking forward to seeing some old friends/colleagues and finally getting a long-in-the-works piece of pedagogy work out there. Hopefully this will see the light of day in some journal before too long.

“See” you on Friday morning if you want to check it out! The rest of the 2-day schedule is available here, with links.

Music videos are unmistakably geographic. Academics have been preoccupied with them since long before MTV, culminating in what cultural critic Simon Frith said, by 1988, had
“generated more scholarly nonsense than anything since punk.” Despite videos’ potential for communicating and understanding sense of place, however representative, geography research on the cultural constant has been limited. Even more limited has been any approach to using music videos to teach geography. In my time teaching undergraduate courses on World Regional Geography, the Geography of Popular Culture, and related cultural topics, music videos have consistently provided valuable perspective into how artists represent and reproduce place. Additionally, the reoriented access to music videos in the streaming video era, especially those previously propelled by heavy rotation on MTV, MuchMusic, and an array of upstart cable networks in the late-20th century, has given life to countless forums of (often highly personal) open-access ethnographic content. This paper seeks to build off of Smiley and Posts’ (2014) foundation on the valuable role that popular music plays in geography pedagogy. Using multiple examples of videos and video-related assignments, I argue that music videos provide an excellent foundation for communicating and understanding the relationship(s) between music, memory, and place.

Sources Cited:
Frith, Simon. Music for Pleasure: Essays in the Sociology of Pop. New York: Routledge, 1988.
Smiley, Sarah L, and Chris W Post. “Using Popular Music to Teach the Geography of the United States and Canada.” Journal of Geography 113, no. 6 (2014): 238-46.

Beware the #NotByTheMisfits Song Challenge for March!

If you wanna scream, SCREAM WITH ME. In honor of Glenn, Jerry, Doyle, Bobby, and the various other players who composed New Jersey’s greatest horror-punk export (Michale Graves excepted), this month’s challenge issues 30 days of pure, uncut horror business with a side of brains (which can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or brunch).

I should probably explain where I’ve been.

Living, mainly. As I mentioned last month, I got somewhat burned out and decided to let some other maniacs take the wheel. In my stead, my internet-friend Matt (who I met through a Facebook group of DC-diaspora friends who really took to these song-a-day challenges) stepped in and filled the gap for February with his excellent Not-by-ABBA challenge. Like a man after my own heart, Matt turned right around from one of the glitziest, poppiest pop groups in history and suggested “Misfits March.” The result is what you see up there.

I’m excited to have a new song-a-day challenge up here of my own co-creation. Per usual, download it, share it, tell a friend (or foe), and remember there’s only one rule. Don’t forget to hashtag it #NotByTheMisfits!

BONUS CHALLENGE
My friend Marissa, who has been running similar photo challenges on her pandemic Facebook group, has once again collaborated with the Not-By theme for this month. It is the Misfits-based photo challenge! No photos of any of the Misfits necessary.

Ben Irving at the Carlouel Yacht Club (Clearwater Beach, FL)

In early 1938, Ben Irving took his third (documented) trip through Florida, stopping around the Tampa Bay region on the 16th-19th of January. It’s unclear what his specific business was in Clearwater, but he wrote on the reverse of this postcard (above) that he was on his way across to Tampa, likely around Safety Harbor on route 17.

Shortly after the Great 2020 “Lockdown” began, my partner and I took a drive across to check out Clearwater and seek out a pair of postcard sites from Irving’s collection. We spent half the day there without realizing that Clearwater is basically to Scientologists what Salt Lake is to the Latter-Day Saints. We should have noticed it when we saw the intense glow-up on the Hotel Fort Harrison, which Irving had visited previously in 1936 (and will likely earn its own entry sometime). If you want a harrowing gaze into the Scientologists’ relationship with Clearwater, check out these documents from the Seventies.

Anyway, this entry is about Clearwater Beach, which is a municipality of Clearwater on a long, skinny offshore archipelago across the causeway into the Gulf. It has a more distinct beach-tourism orientation with a major aquarium and, apparently, 100% more Hulk Hogans. On the northern isthmus of the island, right before it tapers off and becomes Caladesi Island State Park, lies the Carlouel Yacht Club, established in 1934.

The Carlouel Yacht Club (Clearwater Beach, FL), June 2020. [SonicGeography.com]

It would be interesting to see an analysis on the discourse of the term “yacht club” during the Depression versus now (whether the emphases on privatization and exclusivity were different at the time), but either way, Clearwater Beach used a photograph of a Cabana scene there to advertise itself in the pre-Disney era. There were enough families in the area by this point two decades past the city’s incorporation who could afford the $100 membership (roughly $1,950 in 2021), and the Cabanas, facing out into the Dunedin Channel (a smart move, given storm surges off the Gulf), were a good image to sell the area to snow-bound Northerners. It must have worked, since the club operated exclusively in the winter months prior to 1954, when I assume Clearwater’s permanent resident population ironed out. An official 1950 count put the population around 15,000; today it is well over 115,000.

On that initial visit to scope out the Yacht Club, for reasons of privacy and COVID, we were not able to talk our way in. However, I met the club’s General Manager Kelley Williams outside, and we exchanged info. A little over a month later, I was able to line up an appointment to wander the grounds with the above postcard. Kelley took great interest in my postcard, and it occurred to her that they had the original reference photograph somewhere. After some searching, she found it on the wall of a small bathroom upstairs from the central Palmer Room. I was dumbfounded:

Kelley was unaware of who framed the image and ascribed the “ca. 1940’s” caption on the plaque or when they did it, but the postmark on Irving’s postcard proved that the photo was taken sometime in the 1930’s. I have no way to prove my suspicion that the photo was completely staged, but that’s still my suspicion, along with how the picture was probably taken shortly after the cabana housing was completed. Why wouldn’t they have wanted to show it off, along with the mile-plus of sandy beach on their doorsteps?

As much as I hate photos of printed photos (especially those with frame glare), I couldn’t find a scanned version. Here’s the original with a special overlay of the postcard:

I also didn’t realize, even as I was searching for the original depicted site to re-photograph it, that the image captured a profoundly physically different era for the club. In the mid-1950’s, around when the club switched to year-round operation, a fire destroyed most of the original structure. From the history page on the Carlouel website:

During the reconstruction, the decor changed from casual to a more formal appearance. Later improvements included enclosing the bay front terrace, adding the Palmer Room, building a sea wall, roque court, swimming pool, tennis courts, and additional cabanas. The short-course Olympic pool was added in 1962.

I guessed that they would stage the photo right inside the club’s entrance, but I did not suspect how the original waterfront was basically extinct. Kelley did not have access to any old maps or other documentation about the reconstruction, and I suspect few, if any, members from that time are still around to recall it. All I could really do was take a guess based on how the main entrance and banquet hall sit on the club’s classic acreage. I am prepared to be told I am way off, but here are two of my guesses:

I’m partial to the latter, since it also worked with the current setup of the cabana housing, which is now formed of connected units, unlike the individual houses seen in the pre-1938 photo. The landscaping is so radically different from the original photo that I also took the horizon into consideration, as well as how much space the beachfront sand originally occupied.

I also looked up the satellite imagery of the Yacht Club (above), which only served to add to my confusion. If the Club has not acquired or last any land since the 1930’s (which is perfectly unlikely), then those Tennis courts are directly on top of what was once the voluminous beach. Interestingly enough, you can see on this satellite image where the public Mandalay Point Road ends and a private drive of mansions with boats (some appear to be yachts) docked across the street.

The Cabana Colony (site) at the Carlouel Yacht Club, Clearwater Beach, FL (1930’s vs. June 2020)

Per usual, cracking a little into the mystery behind a landscape depicted on one of Ben Irving’s postcards has generated a bevy of new questions. Maybe I’ll have to go back there sometime. Maybe someone who was there and then will see this and reach out to me. Either way, it was a privilege to do this. Special thanks to Kelley J. Williams and all the Carlouel members and staff on board that day. Until next time…

UTK GeoSym 2021: Call for Abstracts!

Through February 26th, the GeoSym committee (Geography Grad Students Research Symposium) at the University of Tennessee are accepting abstracts for their 2021 meeting (online), rescheduled from 2020. I’ll share their CFA below, with contact information for the co-chairs, Danny and Lindy. I had the privilege of chairing this biennial event in its second occurrence in 2016, and I echo their remarks that it’s a wonderful, congenial place to present new research, especially for first-timers.

Donghee Koh tells Matt Miller to talk to the hand as Brooke Pearson helps check people in (2016).

CALL FOR ABSTRACTS: GEOSYM 2021

We are pleased to welcome you to GeoSym 2021, the student-led conference for geography at the University of Tennessee. This year, GeoSym will be held on Zoom from Thursday, March 18th to Friday, March 19th.

If you are looking for a place to share your research in a relaxed, genial environment, this is a great option. Opportunities exist for undergrads, grad students, and faculty to present their research in a series of panels and presentations. We also welcome professionals employed in geography and related disciplines to present their research.

EVENT KEYNOTE SPEAKERS

Dr. Latoya Eaves is an assistant professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Dr. Eaves’ research focuses on critical approaches to race, gender, and queer geographies with a regional focus on the U.S. South. She is a member of the Governing Council of the American Association of Geographers and is a co-founder of the AAG Black Geographies Specialty Group. Dr. Eaves earned her PhD in Global and Sociocultural Studies at Florida International University (Miami, FL) and previously served as assistant professor at Middle Tennessee State University (Murfreesboro, TN) before joining us at UT.

Dr. Stephanie Shepherd is an assistant professor in the Department of Geosciences at Auburn University. Her research is focused on fluvial geomorphology, anthropogenic impacts on riverine systems, and GIS applications to these topics. Dr. Shepherd earned her PhD in Environmental Dynamics from the University of Arkansas (Fayetteville, AR) and previously served as assistant professor at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania (Bloomsburg, PA) and as visiting assistant professor at Franklin and Marshall College (Lancaster, PA).

REGISTRATION INFORMATION

Registration for GeoSym 2021 is free. Sign up at this link between now and February 26, 2021. Abstracts and scheduling information are submitted at this same link.

We look forward to having everyone join us and please do not hesitate to contact us with questions.

Danny Burow (dburow@vols.utk.edu)

Lindy Westenhoff (lwestenh@vols.utk.edu)

GeoSym 2021 co-chairs

Helen Rosko presents her SEDAAG-award (TM)- winning research on the Moonshine industry (2016).