#AAG2017 Recap Part II: Boston, 1935-1952

I have a bad habit of over-planning, making grand plans that would be inconceivable to complete in whatever short time span I’m presented. Of course, this results in me spreading myself too thin on occasion when on the road. I mentioned in the first Part that my AAG Boston experience was somewhat truncated, so if I was going to pursue a couple of re-photography sites, I would need to act strategically.

This meant that I needed to sacrifice at least one morning of the conference, which is never an easy decision to make. I also needed to take weather into consideration, since pouring rain and 50-degree weather (which would encapsulate the entire day and night Thursday) would not lend themselves to a hypothermia-free walkabout. Because it appeared that the rain would hold off for most of Wednesday and I had not committed to any sessions until that afternoon, I decided to start off my conference in side-project territory.

After visiting registration early, buying an AAG hoodie on the way for a fantastic deal (I forgot, somehow, to pack something suitably insulated or warm for early April in Boston), I set out eastbound on Boylston Street toward the Common. Though I would normally take a detour through the park, the lagoons were drained and half of the paths were covered in mud. Some would still probably be interested in this “anti-tourist-gaze” dynamic, but because my time was somewhat limited and I needed to make it to Cambridge by lunch time, I kept walking. My first site, conveniently, sat right at the far corner of the Common at the corner of Boylston and Tremont Streets.

The Hotel Touraine / 62 Boylston

My great-grandfather Ben Irving sent this Hotel Touraine postcard home from Boston on December 1, 1943. The information on the back of the card indicates this building was “erected on the site where John Quincy Adams, sixth President of the United States, lived, and his son Charles Francis Adams, Minister to Great Britain during the Civil War, was born. Opposite Boston Common.” It does not provide any dates, but according to the National Register of Historic Places, it went up in 1897 and operated as a hotel until 1966, when it closed down to become an apartment building. Its early-20th century charms included an impressive little hotel library.

The farthest I got into the building was the security desk, as you’d expect with any private residence. I spoke for a few minutes with the desk clerk Mike, who took my card and told me he would pass it along to anybody in the leasing office with a historical interest in the building (nobody was there at the time). He also told me about one elderly resident named Elaine who he understood had been a resident of 62 Boylston (as it is currently known) since 1967, the building’s first full year zoned residential.

As one should be able to make out from my picture, the street level entrance of the building on the SE corner of Boylston and Tremont is now a Starbucks.

J.W. McCormick Post Office & Courthouse Building

Here was where my day got interesting. This postcard, which has been damaged since I inherited it a few years ago, was mailed home from Boston on September 24, 1935. The caption on the back reads “NEW FEDERAL BUILDING AND POST-OFFICE. Boston Postal district is the fourth largest in the United States. Postal receipts of this district aggregate more than $13,000,000 a year.” According to the US Inflation Calculator, that amount inflates to $231,344,014 in today’s currency (cumulative inflation 1,679.6%), which is impressive either way, given how much more communication was done via the Post back then (and how much more efficient the system was).

At the end of my PechaKucha talk about the Ben Irving postcard collection, I implored my audience to “always, always, always” ask (I think I used “always” three times for Marge Simpson-style/’part of us all’ repetition/emphasis). After snapping that surprisingly challenging photo of the building from the far corner of the intersection, I wandered into the main entrance, which is probably impossible to discern with the construction scaffolding wrapped around the first level of the building, but it’s there in the center. The security guards were hardly warm and cuddly, but the first couple of whom I spoke to near the metal checkpoints offered suggestions for who to seek out upstairs.

Immediately after the checkpoint, a set of steps leads you up to the second floor, where I took that photo of the sign that they never bothered to junk when the news stand shut down (date unknown). Today, the EPA’s Boston offices sit in that space, and a couple EPA employees with connections throughout the (somewhat vacant) building were happy to show me around.

One EPA employee (whose name I forgot to write down) brought me up to the third floor and introduced me to Jim Sheehan of the GSA. We chatted for a few minutes, and he told me that, contrary to what I had assumed, the McCormick building actually pre-dated the WPA era. I had only assumed it was a WPA building since a 1935 postcard was showing the building off, but he told me it was an easy mistake to make. I would later find the GSA’s broadsheet about the building, which had more information that I should have probably looked up before going there.

The EPA employee brought me by the old post office window bay, which had long fallen out of use, but were virtually untouched for decades. He also brought me upstairs to a beautiful old courtroom that had also fallen out of use since the era of the Anderson vs. Cryovac, Inc. battle in 1986 (which would inspire the Jonathan Harr book A Civil Action, which inspired the 1998 John Travolta movie of the same name, which was filmed on site in said courtroom). Most of the legal texts had been removed from the shelves, but enough remained to lend the room a slightly creepy semi-used aura. The Depression-era brass/steel doors that led to the original judges’ chambers were also among the coolest I had ever seen; nobody really knew the last time half of them had been opened. In retrospect, it’s probably better that I forgot the EPA employee’s name since me saying any of this may get him into trouble.

So, yeah, if you’re curious about a place, always ask. The next destination was a bit more confusing to find and a bit less security-heavy.

Boston’s Old City Hall

Because I care about my readers, I’m not going to subject you to any images of the brutalist atrocity that the city government moved into post-redevelopment. Nope. None at all. Let’s focus our gaze instead on this 19th century building, tucked away around the corner from the Old South Meeting house. The Meeting House, by the way, was the first building the the U.S. designated for historical preservation, and remains today a key reference point. I actually bumped into my colleague Jordan Brasher across the street from it, as he was headed to meet an old friend for coffee nearby. I wasn’t expecting to run into any geographers that far away from Hynes that early in the conference week, but I clearly wasn’t the only one taking advantage of the window to wander.

Anyway, the postcard there on the left is one of the later items in the Ben Irving collection; he sent it home from Boston on January 21, 1952. The front caption is visible above, and the rear caption reads “Boston City Hall located on School Street dates back to 1865. A Latin School stood here in colonial times, later the County Court House. Statues of Benjamin Franklin and Josiah Quincy stand at the entrance. At the rear is the City Hall Annex.” The statues are still prominent, but I’m not entirely sure what part of the building constituted the Annex.

As I was taking the photograph(s) recreating the postcard shot from the corner of Province Street, the scrums of tourists wandering around the sidewalk in front of the Hall diverted a bike messenger, who crashed into a pillar and flipped over his handlebars onto School Street. I was looking away when I happened, but I heard it as it happened, and walked over to check on him as he slowly got up and got back on his bike.

As one should be able to make out from my picture, the street level entrance of the building next door is now a Starbucks. The restaurant with the red awning that used to occupy that space was called Purcell’s (difficult to make out on the postcard, perhaps intentional, though Thompson’s Spa is prominently labeled in the background). Sean McCullough, who worked in the Old City Hall’s management office downstairs, told me that the Starbucks kept the original Purcell’s tiles at its corner entrance, but I couldn’t find them. Also, there was not much room to wander into the coffee shop and inspect the floor without having to order something out of guilt.

Seriously, I could probably compile an entire photo collection dedicated to Starbucks that currently occupy spaces in historic city scenery, but I’m not doing that without serious kickbacks from the Starbucks Corporation. They already have enough free advertising from the customers on Instagram (and I suppose writers who complain about them).

Hopping on the Red Line and moving into Cambridge…

Harvard Square with Lehman Hall in Background

Ben sent this one home down to Brooklyn late in the afternoon of November 15, 1943 (two weeks before the one of the Hotel Touraine). Due to the historic status of Harvard’s buildings and the clearly demarcated and still existent (unlike some squares in Boston) landmark, the site was very easy to identify. I tried to recreate this angle; I really did. But timing and fate prevented it from happening. The best I could do was that shot from the opposite side of the T station entrance from the Harvard gates. I deduced almost immediately that the postcard image was taken from atop the Abbot building, a flatiron-type structure located at 5 JFK Street. Given my longstanding inability to let sleeping dogs lie, I wandered into the Curious George shop to ask the employee if she knew who had access to the roof. Of course they didn’t. I found the entrance on the side nearby and wandered up the stairs (the lift was broken, which was fine since it did not look like anybody used it anyway). The window with the “Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe” (get it?) decal on the third floor would have been a great spot to recreate the superior angle on the Square, but of course Car Talk staff office had nobody home when I knocked on the door.

I wandered up to the fourth floor, where I found a very intimate Dentist’s office (the office was intimate, not the dentist… I never met them so the jury is out on the latter). I spoke with the two receptionists, including one girl with a thick Boston accent who told me I could, in spite of hand-written signs that said otherwise, could go out on the lower level of the roof. Every moment I spent outside, though, I felt like someone on a different floor or in a neighboring building would see me and call the cops. The level they had access to was a flight below the main roof and on the opposite side of the building from Harvard Square. I walked over to the ledge, leaned around, and snapped this photo (right) around the side aiming toward Lehman Hall. It wasn’t great, but it was the best I could do in the circumstances. The entrance to the top roof was padlocked.

Completely Insane Post-Script

As I mentioned in Part I, my parents came up to meet me, my cousin, and her husband on Saturday. I told my father, who worked for FEMA through the early 1980s, about my visit to the McCormick building. He told me he used to work there. I didn’t believe him, since the GSA and EPA guys told me that FEMA had been located at 99 High Street since the 1980s. ‘No,’ he said, ‘FEMA’s offices were in the McCormick Building when I worked there. They moved to 99 High Street after I left.’ What made this seem crazy was that I have clear memories of going downtown with my mom to visit my dad in his office when I was 2 or 3 years old. This means that I had been in the building before, about thirty years earlier. The only part I can still remember was the cluttered FEMA office (FEMA? Disorganized? Unbelievable, I know), but apparently the building had not changed a whole lot since then. Discovering this all, post-facto, from a short conversation with my father blew my mind.

Hope you have enjoyed reading this! Tune in on Friday for the third part of this AAG/April recap with a bonus re-Photography excursion in the Sunshine State.

#AAG2017 Recap Part I: Boston, 2017

If post-internet culture has taught us anything (and as I’ve joked about on here before), the best way to gain interested readers is to wait until the subject at hand is far enough in their rear-view mirror so that their fatigue over it has dissipated. That is the complete fabrication I’m going to lean on as to why I’m posting about the 2017 American Association of Geographers Meeting more than six weeks after it ended. But, like AAG meetings prior, I had a great time, learned a lot, and met many great people whose contributions I’d like to share here.

The simple truth (which many of you who know me may have already guessed) was that I came back to Knoxville and had my hands full with some very time-sensitive academic proceedings. After a brief sojourn in Florida (which will have its own entry in Part III… yes there will be three parts to this) to attend the wedding of friends whom I introduced to one another back in the halcyon days of 2014, I flew back to Knoxville despite the best efforts of Allegiant Airlines to keep us in the St. Petersburg airport indefinitely. As soon as I was physically and mentally able, I launched straight into preparation for my dissertation defense, slated to happen the following Monday morning. I’m grateful to say that I passed, and with great assistance and motivation from my committee, completed my revisions in time to complete my formatting work with the UTK Thesis Office by the drop-deadline of that Wednesday. So, I write here for the first time as Dr. Tyler Sonnichsen, and I couldn’t be more honored.

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Dr. Van Riemsdijk, Dr. Bell, Dr. Alderman, sleep-deprived almost-Dr. Sonnichsen, and Dr. Gay.  Those of you who know Dr. Alderman would not be surprised to know he made fun of me for wanting to take this group photo.

Of course, once I met the graduation deadline with my manuscript approval and form submission, I had a plethora of piñatas other items to cover which I had relegated to the back-burner after getting back from AAG, and that bled into end-of-semester duties, finals week, [insert excuse here], [insert excuse here], and commencement.

But, I’m currently in the zone of the job market, completing my teaching portfolio, and helping my own students as they round out their spring semesters and begin their summers. That’s all to say I am finally here and writing about the amazing, somewhat truncated, and extremely soggy conference week in my native city…

Boston

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This gorgeous photo above is from The Fiscal Times. It vaguely resembles the amazing panoramic view we had from the second level of the Hynes Convention Center, which I regret not photographing while walking by. Given the nature of this conference, I was either late for a session nearby or interrupted for a chat with someone I had not seen in some time. I love this picture, but there’s something not right about  it… something a bit… off…

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THAT’S more like it! Here’s a better visual representation of Boston in 2017. Luxury condos practically sprouting from the ground like beanstalks in the South End, the construction towers blocking once-nice views of the city. The silhouette you see there is my father, who came up for the day on Saturday to meet me and see an old friend, whose living room we see pictured here. For as long as I can remember, Boston has been maligned as one of the country’s most expensive cities, and for a complex list of predictable reasons.

Many of the Baby Boomers who moved out to the suburbs in the 1980s during the so-called ‘Massachusetts Miracle’ are taking advantage of the downsizing and accessibility that comes with moving back into the core of a very small city. My parents, though they are not in the class of urban returners, have completely engaged with Uber and Lyft whenever visiting friends in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, or wherever they go. It’s pretty gratifying, actually. I cannot even attempt to quantify how much suffering we prevented and money we saved by taking a Lyft into the North End for lunch. It also did not help that we chose to do so on (1) a Saturday, and (2) a game day for the Boston Bruins nearby at TD Banknorth Garden (in which of course they were soundly defeated by my beloved Washington Capitals). We did discuss going to see the game, but again, we were in Boston, and even the nosebleed seats were out of our price range.

In all of my visits to the city, I had never been to the South End, which considering how it was mainly an industrial neighborhood centered around the old Boston Herald office, is not surprising. More recently, though, the city has overseen the neighborhood’s redevelopment into a block of luxury condos and all the predictable accouterments: Whole Foods, yoga studios, and high-security parking garages. The neighborhood’s title (Ink Block) and building names (e.g. Sepia) recall the area’s pre-gentrification history.

As harrowing and impressive as this new development is, nothing about this trip changed my longstanding general opinion of Boston: it’s cold, rainy, indifferent, expensive, an absolute nightmare to get around, and one of my favorite places on the planet. I’ve said it before: no matter how long its been since I’ve lived there, I just can’t scrub it from my veins. Folks who lob indiscriminate hatred towards the city, both questionable (usually regarding sports or weather) and understandable (usually race-related) simply lack this “insight.” Or, maybe they just sincerely hate it. But, every person’s experience of urban place is different. Speaking of experiencing urban places, on to…

The Conference

As I alluded above, this year’s AAG was somewhat abbreviated for me. I arrived on Tuesday night, having traveled with a new friend from the UTK Anthropology department on her way up to present a poster.  Somehow, I had not anticipated how bleak the weather would be; even in the transit station (mostly indoors) it was freezing, and after my friend and I parted ways after emerging in the Back Bay, I walked through hypothermia-inducing drizzle and wind for what felt like a mile (it was three blocks) to locate the Copley Marriott.

The core of this year’s conference was held in and around the Hynes Convention Center, the Copley Marriott, and the Sheraton Boston, all of which were connected through a tunnel-and-mall system. Considering how miserable the weather was for approximately half of the conference week, it was convenient not to need to go outside to attend any official part of AAG. Here is a visual of the 3-block span.

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Though made somewhat necessary by the nasty weather, this was a quintessential case study of the postmodernist urban design that Angelenos like Michael Dear wrote about as they started seeing it crystallize around Los Angeles thirty years ago. It took deceptively long to get from a session in the Marriott to a session in Hynes or the Sheraton, as I had to do several times. Also, there was an island of walled-off construction in the Prudential Center mall at the receiving end of the Huntington Avenue footbridge, which did not ruin anything but was slightly cumbersome. The mall included one of everything, notably, consistently-slammed Dunkin’ Donuts and Sweetgreen franchises, both of which would play prominently into my conference week. The Cultural Geography Specialty Group decided to hold their annual breakfast at the Dunkin on Thursday Morning, despite a rapidly accumulating hell-crowd of Geographers and mall employees trying to get their wake-up wraps and Dunkaccinos. That being said, Dunkin’ Donuts is a New England institution and this one was particularly overcrowded – both dynamics as Bostonian as anything. Ironically, we could not have been a more authentic cultural experience in the most inauthentic of settings.

As for Sweetgreen, I finally found an excuse to get lunch there on Friday with a good friend and former colleague. I had not eaten at Sweetgreen since going to one of the original locations in DC. The burgeoning chain had actually been founded by a group of Georgetown kids shortly after I moved there, and every time I’ve seen one of these locally sprouted chains show up in a (somewhat) far-flung city I tend to get excited for the founders. I had the same reaction seeing a Jeni’s Ice Cream stand in Atlanta. Entrepreneurship is worth the pain and struggle when you’ve got something fantastic you’re selling.

Wednesday

Wednesday morning presented me with my only free stretch in which I could go looking for a few specific landmarks (to be detailed in Part II), so I said hello to some colleagues in the morning and quickly slipped out in the general direction of Downtown Crossing and Cambridge. I made it back in time to catch a paper presentation by Sarah Gelbard, who had reached out to me a couple months prior because our abstracts were the only two out of the (virtually) millions at AAG to feature the term “punk.” Sarah’s paper on ownership of punk venues in Ottawa was part of one of Simon Springer’s anarchist geography sessions. That session turned out to be a prototypical AAG moment where I met numerous people in person finally with whom I’d been corresponding for some time. Sarah’s paper opened with a controversy that erupted last year around a performance by The Queers in Ottawa (which I caught wind of through social media channels)  and expanded into a discussion of scene identity and spatial dynamics in Canada’s capital city. Stay tuned for more appearances from her in this recap.

Wednesday evening gave me the opportunity to spend quality time with some old CSULB friends. Because Long Beach State is a two-year program, nobody with whom I studied there (2011-2013) is still actively enrolled, so every year at AAG I get to meet a handful of excited new grad students. Many of the faculty, some of whom I’ve been fortunate to keep in contact, have remained, obviously, and I couldn’t imagine a more fun and eclectic mix of people to get reintroduced to every couple of years.

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Crashing the UCLA party with the Long Beach cohort. Boyston Street.

This year, my friend Anna, whose final semester of undergrad overlapped with my first semester of grad school, began her Master’s there. She introduced me to several new members of their department; I was proud to see such expansive involvement from the CSU grad students, considering how few of us even made it to AAG in 2013 (when it was in Los Angeles). Seeing the level of dedication the new group had, considering how far they traveled in order to get there, spoke loudly of the growth of that program since I left. In fact, several of them were not even presenting papers or posters and were there primarily on their own dime. I had already been impressed with the handful of Long Beach geographers I had met by Thursday morning, but I ran into Anna, Dr. Paul Laris (longtime department head), and a new congregation of them on Boylston Street on my way back from Cambridge on Friday Night. We wound up talking about music, eating tator tots, and closing out the Bukowski Tavern (perhaps the most appropriately named bar I’ve ever visited).

Thursday(s) with Noam

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via The AAG.

Predictably, the biggest-ticket event of AAG 2017 was the conversation with and presentation of the Atlas Award to Noam Chomsky. The crowd was unlike anything I had seen at an AAG meeting previously, even if other Atlas Award winners like Julian Bond (Tampa 2014) deserved just as big of a crowd (and had a ballroom equipped for as many attendees). AAG Executive Director Doug Richardson, who first interviewed Chomsky for an anarchist newspaper in 1976, hosted. A few key moments within the interview stood out.

My friend got to the ballroom fairly early and saved me a seat near the front. From there, we got to watch at least a dozen attendees stand and take photos of Richardson as he prepared his notes. He would, toward the end of the talk, address his resemblance to Chomsky, but he did nothing to stop these adoring fans from taking his photograph, clearly thinking he was Chomsky. Anyone could Google Chomsky and find his age (he is 88 this year), which would mean Richardson would have been an incredibly well-preserved 88. Also, it seemed strange that the guest of honor would have just been sitting on the stage by himself before the main event.

Second, throughout the interview, Chomsky and Richardson discussed the neoliberal model, which came to irrevocably harm cities like Detroit, which was near and dear to Richardson, a Michigan native. Richardson mentioned offhandedly that he supported the idea of the AAG holding an annual meeting in Detroit, which I happily applauded, which trickled out into a smattering of other applause from isolated points within the crowd. I was happy to see someone on the AAG Executive board voicing support for holding the meeting in a city that (1) has deeply suffered for the past few decades and (2) is relatively cheap. I know it is a topic of contention; I got into heated conversations about how AAG Tampa may have been my favorite so far with people who hated it that year.

The third noteworthy moment actually occurred after I had to leave, but I heard about it via twitter from a pair of reliable sources. They set up mics on stands in the rows next to the stage for audience Q & A. Despite how many men rushed to line up, the hosts gave special privilege to one of the few women in line and told her to move to the front. A nice gesture that proved both self-awareness from Chomsky and Richardson, as well as a general acknowledgment of gray-haired white men in the Academy. And I say that as a graying white male: no panel discussion or paper session ever lost out from a multiplicity of perspectives and voices.

Friday, I’m In Too Many Sessions at Once

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Ruth Trumble, a good friend and former colleague, opens up the slow violence paper session on Friday Morning, April 7.

One remarkable dynamic within academia is the forging of great friendships with people whose research you never get to see on display. Ruth Trumble (Wisconsin), who is doing great work on “slow violence” over the past two decades in the Balkans, is one example. From what I recall, the last time I saw Ruth actually present was at the 2014 UTK Geography Research Symposium (before it was even called GeoSym) while completing her MA at Tennessee. I was glad to finally change that this year.

After Ruth’s paper, I got to walk directly across the hall to see my adviser Derek Alderman receive the Ethnic Geography Specialty Group teaching award. c80yrkiwsaqzn6vEven more rewarding was getting there in time to watch my friend and also-former-colleague Matt Cook delivering a sentimental speech about his work and friendship with Derek. I was grateful to be able to represent his current body of advisees as we all had a chance to say a few words about what Alderman has done for us. I shared my anecdote about how Derek went out of his way to meet with me at AAG 2013 when he had such limited time to do so, and why that (more than anything) was why I chose to get my PhD at Tennessee.  I would need to go back to 2013 on these entries to see whether I mentioned this, but I committed to UT without ever having even visited Knoxville. I have no idea how often grad students make decisions in that order, but I’m pretty pleased I did. My example can also serve as a reminder to answer emails from students quickly, especially prospective ones, and make time for them.

Though I have my issues (as many people do) with the algorithms that churn out the schedule, it worked out very well for me on Friday morning. Friday afternoon, however, was another story.

Paper Session: Qualitative Methods in Human Geography, A

Friday afternoon arrived, and it was time to meet a new group of co-presenters and present my methods chapter. At the same time (3:40 – 5:00 PM), the AAG scheduled both the cultural geographies Annual Lecture, as well as a paper session on music geographies which Severin Guillard and Joseph Palis (both of whom have made cameos on this site before) invited me to be discussant. I had to miss both, regrettably turning down the latter offer. It was all just bad luck from where I sat, but at least my paper session went incredibly well.

Andrew McCartan and Heather Maguire (Brock University) put two qualitative methodologies sessions together, the first of which included two papers on queer methodologies and drew a big crowd of LGBT geographers. Our chair Catherine Nash (Brock) opened the session with a quick announcement that she would be keeping us all well within time and “running a tight ship.” This made me smile; my two biggest pet peeves are (1) paper sessions diverting from the published schedule and (2) presenters going over their time (often because session chairs do not hold them to it). It follows that one usually leads to the other.

The session was tight in more ways that one; the room in the Marriott Hotel to which we were assigned was incredibly small. My event-production impulses kicked in as the first paper began and more people kept quietly entering. Rae Rosenberg and I were pinned behind a conference table next to the projection screen, so I had to (using mainly gestures and lip-reading) ask the fourth presenter, Jeff Rose, to transfer an empty chair next to the projector to the back of the room for the women sitting on the floor against the wall. Fortunately, he knew exactly what I meant. We may have had one or two spectators sitting on the floor, but we managed to get most of the presenters behind the tables and the available spots opened up. It’s always gratifying to watch geographers pull together as a group and suss out a potentially chaotic spatial situation; either way, there was no way this session could have surpassed the crunch of our Back to the Future panel in 2015.

The session opened with a video submission from Beyhan Farhadi, who chose to remain in Toronto, citing an alternative AAG gathering for Canadian/international geographers. Her presentation talked about virtual research methods, e-learners, and included an adorable video of her and her son (playing in the snow) imploring her students to sign up for her study. I was disappointed to not get the chance to meet her in person, but I was grateful for her statement, which echoed many concerns from AAG members who felt unwelcome in the United States given anti-Muslim/Arab/Persian/Levantine/et al. sentiments coming from many in power. One silver lining, I realized, may be a greater motivation for the AAG to finally go to Toronto one of these years (after 2022, at least, through which they announced the next 5 meeting locations). Add that to a list of cities where the AAG should go, but probably won’t.

Rae Rosenberg then presented work on homelessness among LGBT youth in Toronto, which focused mainly on reflexivity. Heather Maguire followed with covert research into anti-LGBT groups, which I found fascinating for multiple reasons. First, it subverted (or, at least professionally sidestepped) the IRB superstructure, and second, it was ruthlessly important to qualitatively understanding the antiquated thought processes of those who are still anti-gay in 2017. Both Rosenberg and Maguire called forth the concept of queerness-as-political position. Rosenberg also reminded me of how inherently politicized geography is. For example, prisoner-correspondence programs (a component of Rosenberg’s work) inherently chip away at the Prison-Industrial complex. Rose’s presentation, focusing on participant observation within a homesteader community in Utah (and its inherent contradictions), was also great and at times hilarious.

You could have probably guessed it was a good session because I did not pause to take any photos. I’m sure that some exist, though, and I’ll re-post them if I do find any.

Alternative AAG Excursions in Boston

Here is the exciting part where we leave the conference grounds and discover the true geography in the city. Mid-day on Thursday, Sarah Gelbard and I headed over to Newbury Street to grab pho, talk about our respective towns, and figure out where we stand in (a term that seems less funny every time I use it) punkademia.  Later that day while I was in a conference whirlwind, Sarah sent me a message with a link to an event for a show that night. I filed it away and I forgot to look at it until later on, when I happened to be at a pub in Allston to meet up with some local friends. I realized, through pure happenstance, that this show happened to be about a 5 minute walk away! I said my goodbyes and headed down to O’Brien’s Pub, where I found Sarah, UK-via-France anarcho-geographer Martin Locret-Collet, and their colleague Filipa Pajevic.

O’Briens felt like the quintessential corner bar filled with good people and modestly priced (for Boston, anyway) drinks. Rather than go to one of the dozen delicious Korean or Middle Eastern spots within walking distance, I made the mistake of scarfing down bar hot dogs. Sometimes, convenience is a bad influence. Still, it was fun getting to know Martin and Filipa, and the show itself was ear-splitting fun (Sarah actually had earplugs, to her responsible credit). Local favorites Rebuilder and Charlotte’s Dollar Signs rounding out a bill headlined by Devon Kay and the Solutions. I say “apparently” because hints were dropping that another band were going to show up and play a surprise set. I did not remember who Devon Kay was, which made it all the more shocking when his main band, Direct Hit!, showed up to close out the show (and the bar).

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SAYYYY WHATEVER YOU WANT TOOOOO….

Sarah and I could barely believe this turn of events. Direct Hit! may not be a household name like NOFX, Rise Against, or Bowling for Soup, but they have toured with all of them (the latter, actually, were why DH! were in Boston that night in the first place), and they’re currently one of the biggest draws among independent pop-punk bands. This was all going through my mind as I sent jealousy-inducing texts to a select few friends that would have loved to have been there in my place.


This amazing turn of events kept a most bizarre streak alive of me catching great punk shows almost by accident during AAG:

  • 2014, Tampa. I discovered, upon picking up the local alternative weekly paper that the Dead Milkmen were playing at a local metal bar that Saturday night. Because it was so close to the event (and this place was tiny) tickets were extremely sold out, and my friends and I had to watch and listen from outside (it still counts, though!).
  • 2015, Chicago. A friend of mine living and working as a lawyer in Chicago invited me to the Beat Kitchen to check out Pile, a mercilessly creative/proggy metal band from Boston. Later in the week, I returned to the Beat Kitchen to see Joie de Vivre, a quintessential emo-revival group. I tried selling it to some colleagues as a “classic Chicago emo excursion,” but unfortunately Alt_AAG hadn’t coalesced by that point. Anyway, Joie de Vivre were great to see, if out of practice. While they were tuning up, I bumped into the drummer from Annabel, one of my favorite newer emo bands, who I hadn’t seen in a while. I had no idea he lived in Chicago. I’m just rambling now.
  • 2016, San Francisco. A British participant at Geo-Slam started chatting with me about the Ergs! after the session, and mentioned that California (a newer band featuring Adam Pfahler of Jawbreaker and Green Day’s touring guitarist Jason White) were playing a small gig around the corner with All Dogs (a Columbus/Philly group I knew in the slightest).  We had no idea, however, that Billie Joe Armstrong would be there, filling in on bass for California. Really. I also got to meet Gaz Coombes within 24 hours of this, but I’d been planning to see him play for months and he’s not a punk band, so I won’t count that here. I’m rambling again.

The Direct Hit! incident made this the second straight year in which I had been invited to such a show by an international colleague which ended with an amazing surprise (keep this in mind when wondering how I’ve developed such severe FOMO). I’m fully aware that by cataloging these here I’ll probably jinx myself out of such an occurrence in New Orleans next year. I suppose that’s just as well, since New Orleans isn’t really much of a party town, is it?

Ah, who am I fooling… there are already plans stirring for at least two different special events with me either at the helm or in a collaborative position. I’m very excited, but I’ll refrain from teasing the specifics here because (1) both just came from speculative conversations with colleagues and (2) I want to allow myself to not think about conferences for a few minutes. For now, I should probably take a break writing to get my presentation together for EmoGeo…. d’oh.

Thanks for being a blast as always, Boston, and thanks to all those who came to see my paper on Friday as well as to those who put this academic and professional mega-event on year after year.

Check back in this Wednesday for Part II of my AAG 2017 Recap, where I venture out into Boston for my latest adventures (if you could call them that) in Re-Photography.

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I’m Wand’ring Round in Boston Town #AAG2017

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It’s that time again… AAG 2017! Italian food in the North End, strolling through the Common, record shopping in Cambridge, comedy in Allston, and more crammed around the whirlwind of academia, mapping, and GIS happening over five fun-filled days at the Hynes Convention Center.

For anyone who wants to come see me give my paper, I’ll be presenting in Session 3566: QUALITATIVE METHODS IN HUMAN GEOGRAPHY, SESSION A on Friday 4/7 at 3:20pm in Columbus 1, Marriott, First Floor. I’ll be presenting along with Beyhan Farhadi (University of Toronto), Rae Rosenberg, Heather Maguire (Brock University), and Jeff Rose (University of Utah), none of whom I’ve met before.

I was also invited by my colleagues Joseph Palis, Severin Guillard, and Ola Johanssen to be discussant for a paper session about Spatializing Music Performance. Regretfully, the AAG algorithms-at-large scheduled these two sessions concurrently, so I won’t be able to attend or make my debut as a discussant, both of which I had been seriously looking forward to.

This will actually be my second conference in Boston; I went up in early 2015 to attend the Harvard ‘Hearing Landscape Critically’ conference and do some research about Frank Hatch, which I’ve chronicled on here before. I learned a lot about what sound semioticians (for lack of a better term, though I’m sure there are dozens) from all over the world have been doing then. This time, I’ll be grateful to be back in the city of my birth alongside at least nine thousand fellow geographers and well-wishers.

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Downtown crossing at sunset. Photo by Tyler.

Per usual, I’m looking forward to a bunch of great panels, speakers, and delivering my dissertation chapter about oral histories in underground music. It’s going to be a great time. Outside the conference, I’m going to attempt to follow up on some of the Hatch research, do some postcard re-photography, and I may even find another excuse to tweet at Damon Krukowski. (While I’m on the subject, I guess he’s got a new book coming out that looks really cool. If being in Galaxie 500 and rooming with Conan O’Brien at Harvard doesn’t give you all the cred in the world, I don’t know what would).

Can’t wait to see you again, Boston. You’re ridiculously expensive, cold, unfriendly, and absolutely the greatest. Don’t ever change, especially before I get there tomorrow night. By the way, if you can’t make it by the conference and want to say hello, get in touch with me. I’m around until Saturday and don’t plan on sleeping that much.


A note on “You Can Easily Find Your Way in Boston”: My great-grandfather sent this postcard to my great-grandmother and family in Brooklyn late on September 26, 1935: “Dearest – Will be here all week and maybe next week also. Will send you money Sat. Love you dearly & how. Hope you’re O.K. & my daughter the dear. Regards to all. Irv.” For anyone interested in his story, I’ll post my Pecha Kucha talk soon. 

AAG Short Films, Boston 2017

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via the Onion A/V Club. The Lord helps those that help themselves, man.

I recently discovered that the 2017 AAG Meeting in Boston will be hosting the first annual geographic film session, called AAG Shorts. That is so cool. I’m glad to see that filmmakers have the opportunity to screen that work in an academic setting, particularly as someone who uses film, music, and even film-music to illustrate the importance of cultural geography in my classes. One of my few major regrets in life was letting film making slip out of my set of hobbies at the end of the 2000’s. At the time (before I was actively pursuing Geography as a career), some friends and I produced a handful of short films and sketches, which I’ll be going through to see if I have anything that may be relevant or appropriate for submission here. Or, if you have the time and resources to whip something together now, you have 6 weeks.

Regardless, I’ll copy and paste the call for films below the line in case anybody in the Boston area or anyone planning on attending AAG are looking for a new alternative outlet for your project.  Good luck!



New for 2017 in Boston!

Call for submissions of short films for AAG Shorts

Are you a geographer who has produced a short film – or are you thinking of using film in your research? If so then submit your film to AAG shorts launching at next years AAG meeting in Boston. Successful applicants will be invited onto a panel for a special Q&A session. A selection of the films will also be uploaded to the AAG website.

Deadline for submission 30 September 2016

How to apply:

  1. Send your film via a file transfer service such as wetransfer or myairbridge to j.jacobs@qmul.ac.uk or if a DVD by date-stamped post to: Jessica Jacobs Queen Mary University of London Mile End E1 4NS London UK
  2. Submit your film details here http://goo.gl/forms/TZ05aXxjyw1vny6p1

Sponsored by Media and Communication Geography

Terms and Conditions

  1. Films can be made specifically for AAG Shorts – or already have been produced for other reasons.
  2. Because this is the first year any year of production and length will be accepted. However the preferred length is 20 minutes or less.
  3. Preview Format DVD or online secure screener (.eg. Vimeo). You can also submit your film (H.264, mp4, avi etc) via file transfer (e.g. myairbridge) Trailers will not be accepted.
  4. Applicants need to say whether they will be registering to attend the meeting.
  5. No film may be withdrawn from the programme once it has been selected
  6. A copy of each selected film will be kept by the AAG Shorts Panel as part of the archive and for internal purposes.

In Search of Frank Hatch (Part One)

If you’ve visited this site before, I owe you an apology. If this is your first time here, welcome to my Geography research and musical fun-times yet completely professional website that I update all the time!! If you’ve been to this site before, I know I have no good excuse to not have updated this page in over six weeks. Honestly, the first few weeks of this semester have been characteristically busy, and I haven’t had enough time to write and report on what I’ve been up to lately to a standard which I’m comfortable putting out there. If this is your first time here… forget everything you’ve just read…and.. that you.. know about Geography! Because I’m about to blow your mind? (That works). Visited before? I also despise over-sharing, which may be helpful if you’re preoccupied with validation on social media, but it can be harmful on Planet Academia. First time here? Then let me tell you a little bit about what I’ve been up to since my last transmission.

Due in large part to the gracious support of the McCroskey Fund, I took a hybrid conference/research trip (not so sure if I’d do that again; it’s so difficult to make enough time for both when you’re only in a city for less than a week) to Boston. I’ve always loved Boston, and because I was born there, it’s always felt like home to me. This, among other reasons, was why it was so exciting and rewarding to peel back all sorts of layers to the Boston that I never knew, nor did my family before we left 28 years ago. Honestly, I don’t have deep roots in the city; my parents both grew up in Connecticut and my father just happened to ride out the “Massachusetts miracle” working for FEMA more than two decades prior to them accruing wide-scale public hatred (he got out years ago, and was fairly relieved that he did). Whenever I’m riding the Green Line T, I still think about my Dad’s stories of riding to work in the dead of summer before any of those cars were air-conditioned. Perhaps even more remarkable, at least according to him, you could – get this – decide at a moment’s notice to stop by Fenway Park on the way home from work and enjoy a game from the cheap bleacher seats. These were not these Red Sox you’re thinking of who you need to arrange months in advance a mortgage your home to see, person reading in 2015; these were those Red Sox – the lovable losers who barely tasted greatness before Mookie Wilson, Rick Aguilera, and an upstanding young man named Darryl Strawberry swiped it from their mouths in ’86.

Anyway, whether or not you’re a first-time visitor or returner, you probably didn’t come here to read my family history or rants about baseball, as much fun as I have digging into either from time to time. I was in Boston for two purposes. One was to attend the Harvard Hearing Landscape Critically conference. A joint cross-pond production between our most prestigious university and the Brits’ most prestigious (Oxford) that focuses on the interaction between music, sound, and the ether which surrounds us, for lack of a better term. While I don’t have nearly enough of a music theory background to claim I could incorporate quite every paper presented there into my research, I did find numerous relevant overlaps (one, in particular, circulating the Baudelarian conceit of Flânerie and Maurice Ravel’s urbanized works). In fact, the scholars I met there, while few were geographers per se, had a lot to contribute to the realms of Urban Geography and theory, even if they do not consider what they do geography. More on that sometime soon.

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Monocle and top hat not pictured. (Apologies to my Harvard friends).

While I was attending sessions and meeting interesting theoreticians from all over the world (well, North America, Europe, South Africa, and Oceania, at least), I was doing double-duty as an researcher for the University of Tennessee. As some of you may recall, I presented a paper on the process of place-memorialization through song at last year’s AAG meeting (see my Work page). It focused mainly on the works of Francis Whiting “Frank” Hatch, Sr, a classic Bostonian who made his living working for a major advertising company after graduating from Harvard in 1919 while writing poems, songs, and plays on the side. I approached the trip with relatively few leads, but those I did have, like Duane Lucia at the West End Museum and author Dave Kruh, were incredibly helpful and led me in several potentially fascinating directions. On Friday the 16th, I paid a visit to the Harvard Archive, where Hatch’s student and alumni files are kept. I’m never going to sleep on visiting any University’s archives again. What a treasure trove, particularly for my research. Special thanks to the enthusiastic and helpful staff there! I would love to be able to share some of the pictures I took, but unfortunately, that will have to wait.

One of the places that Hatch worked tirelessly (and ultimately unsuccessfully) to save was the Old Howard Athenaeum. David Kruh very helpfully led me to a spot that words cannot even quite explain, so I’ll give pictures some breathing room to attempt it.

The Old Howard Fire, 1961. (bambinomusical.com)

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That (approximate) site, January 2015. Photo by Tyler.

Pretty harrowing what a difference five decades can make, right? Actually, massive-scale urban redevelopment that flattened a quarter of the city by the end of the 60’s certainly helped. It took me a while to find it under a thin layer of snow, but the site where the Howard once stood exists as a faint memory in the form of a plaque on a bench on that smoking grotto next to that guard house.

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“On this site once stood the stage of the Howard Athenaeum, known the world over as The Old Howard. Boston’s home of burlesque. Always something doing between 9 A.M. to 11 P.M.”

The rest, they say, is silence. All that’s left of Scollay Square is a patronizing road marker sitting across the street from a Starbucks next to the Government center construction pit. If there’s a better example of a city-as-(constantly injured) living organism than Boston, I would love to see it.

I raced to get here before the sun was completely down. A city's position within its time zone can pose a bigger challenge to visual methods than any weather.

I raced to get here before the sun was completely down. A city’s position within its time zone can pose a bigger challenge to visual methods than any weather.

I’d love to write some more about Scollay Square and the relics I found (or the remaining lack thereof), but it’s late and I need to continue a very busy week tomorrow. I’ll leave you all with a (marginally successful) attempt at re-photography, because what trip of mine would be complete without it? I was strolling around Government Center (which the city’s developers built on top of what used to be Scollay Square in the 1960s) and I spotted a vaguely familiar angle on the (if I may offer a popular opinion, hideous) City Hall building. I pulled out my phone and snapped this picture:

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… because I thought it was roughly where this brutality took place:

(via busingcrisissouthboston.wordpress.com)

From what I can gather at this point, I may have been facing the wrong way and a few hundred feet too far South, but I got the general vicinity and neo-brutalist aesthetic part correct. Also, if you’re unfamiliar with the Boston busing crisis of the mid-1970s, particularly any of you with interest in what’s happened in Ferguson, Staten Island, etc., take a few minutes, click that link above this photo, and please read up on it.

No matter how many imperfections my research exposes and alters my reality of the place, Boston is a fascinating city, and it will never not feel slightly like home.

I’ll speak to you all soon. For those of you who’ve been here before, I hope you keep coming back. For those whose first time it was on here, I hope I’ve interested  you enough for you to make it a habit. Thanks for reading, all of you.

Downtown crossing at sunset. Photo by Tyler.

Downtown crossing at sunset. Photo by Tyler.

Live from Athens, GA (#SEDAAG2014)

Hey, everybody. I’m taking a few minutes away from the proceedings at SEDAAG (that’s the SouthEastern Division of the Association of American Geographers for anyone keeping track) to give a quick update. If you’re at the conference or happen to be in the neighborhood of the UGA campus, I’ll be presenting my preliminary research at a session I’ll also be chairing at 8:20 am. It will be held in the Georgia Conference Center room TU. My presentation will be entitled “Frank Hatch and Memorialization of Pre-war Boston through Song.” It’s pretty straightforward, explaining how music is used to drive romantic narratives of a city’s “olden days” landscape.

The conference has been great so far; it has been my first SEDAAG conference, so it’s neat to see how the regional conferences operate in light of AAG. Prior to this, I had presented at both CGS (California) and APCG (Pacific Coast), but I had no real frame of reference back then. I’ve had the chance to watch great research presentations about everything from GISc students pushing for the creation of bike lanes in central Georgia to “The Walking Dead” to the governmental intervention of domestic work of African-American women in the South in the 1920s and on and on.

The only disappointing part of the trip so far (other than the most brutal near-freezing rain we drove through all of yesterday to get here) has been that I’ve been hanging out at Wuxtry Records for over an hour and Peter Buck hasn’t asked me to start a band! You lied to me, Athens mythology!

On a serious note, if you ARE in Athens, do stop by the Special Collections Library on campus in case you’ve ever wanted to see the closest thing to an R.E.M./Pylon/B-52’s/Oh-OK museum you’ll find. They have Bill Berry’s “Chronic Town”-era drum kit, and a really fancy clear bass that Mike Mills used to play, not to mention all sorts of ephemera from the time before they were one of the biggest bands in the world.

That’s all for now. I hope everyone is having an excellent November. The end of the semester (and arrival of more frequent/substantive updates) is nigh.

Returning to Florida Next Week

I'm not actually staying in this hotel. But I may need to go check it out.

I’m not actually staying in this hotel.  I may need to go check it out, though.

It’s hard to believe that the AAG Conference is almost already here. I’m looking forward to seeing some old friends and making new ones over a backdrop of near-constant happy hours and pontificating.

I’m working on posting some background here about the research I will be presenting in Tampa next week. In case I’m not able to (and you’re in the Tampa Bay area), here’s where you can see me. Copied directly from the AAG Program.

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Geographies of Media 3: Music Geography (Sponsored by Cultural Geography Specialty Group, Communication Geography Specialty Group)
Room: Meeting Room 2, Marriott, Second Floor (Paper Session)
ORGANIZER(S): John Finn, Christopher Newport University; Joseph Palis, North Carolina State University
CHAIR(S): Tyler Sonnichsen, University of Tennessee

2:40 Tyler Sonnichsen*, University of Tennessee,
‘The Boston I Knew is Lying on the Ground’: Reinterpreting Boston Landscapes Through Song.
3:00 Rex Rowley*, Illinois State University,
Evoking Las Vegas Place Particularity and Typicality through Popular Music.
3:20 Ola Johansson*, University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown,
Lost in Translation? The Role of Place in Swedish and American Music Media.
3:40 Deborah J. Thompson, Ph.D.*, Berea College,
Performing Gender in Eastern Kentucky’s Old Time Music Community. .