Did YOU Have to Explain ‘Blossom’ to Your Students Today?

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In case any of you were wondering, yes my PhD is hard at work, discussing the dated early-career arc of Joey Lawrence to a group of confused students in my Population Geography class. Let me backtrack and explain how it came to this.

The University of Tennessee opened a 1906 time capsule left entombed somewhere in the Estabrook Building, one of my favorites on campus (and slated for demolition). I watched it on their Facebook Live video feed with my Population Geography students before they took their final exam this morning. I also paid attention the livestream of comments, which were a heady mixture of demands they stop blabbing and open it already, self-deprecating “jokes” about Tennessee Football, and (after they opened it and found… desiccated nothing) righteous anger and Geraldo Rivera references.

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They historians on hand, including my colleague Bob Hutton (who would no doubt appreciate that last link), did a great job recovering from the disappointment. They had a comprehensive catalog of the items the 1906 crew left in the buried box, most of which had been preserved lovingly in the UT Archives behind them. They also took this opportunity to reiterate the value of well-maintained and funded archives, a sentiment upon which I’ve doubled down on multiple occasions.

Another curious byproduct of this experience was the seemingly inevitable reminscing about the Nickelodeon time capsule, which Mike O’Malley and Joey Lawrence buried in Orlando, on live television, on April 30, 1992. It was moved when Nickelodeon studios moved in 2005, but it is still slated to be opened on April 30, 2042 – fifty years to the day after it was buried.

The first epiphany I had was that 1992 was 26 years ago. 2042 is in 24 years. Society is more than halfway to the finish line of waiting to unearth this sealed box of early 90’s ephemera, most of which is readily available in thrift stores and vintage shops. Popular movies on VHS. An Orlando-distributed issue of TV Guide with Burt Reynolds on the cover. A hat embroidered with “WHOA! ’92” in honor of Joey Lawrence, then at the height of his teenybopper fame.

The latter item made me and an older student in my class (three years my junior) laugh out loud. When I saw the younger students looking on in confusion, I informed them that once upon a time, there was a show called Blossom that helped catapult their teenage cast to fame. I never watched the show, so I forgot that it starred Mayim Bialik , who is still incredibly famous as a star on The Big Bang Theory, perhaps the worst and most culturally caustic show ever produced (not a personal knock on Bialik by any means).

gi_153511_green20gak20lo20resIt’s impossible to predict these things, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the video camera they put into the capsule (after being unable to eject the tape) wound up being the most valuable thing upon unearthing in 2042. That, or the Barbie Doll in it’s original packaging. Or, maybe even the tube of Gak, a sticky slime compound cross-promoted with Nickelodeon shows whose name, somehow, functions as a stand-in for cocaine. You can’t make this stuff up.

So, in conclusion, time is like sands through the hourglass; I fear I may blink and it may be time for Mike O’Malley’s great-grandson to crack open that thing LIVE on YouComvrizoncasTube Mentalscreen Googlevision. There are more important lessons here, though, which can be applied to our experience from today. First, keep your archives funded and well-maintained by enthusiastic historians and lovers of material culture. Second, whenever your university gives you the opportunity, pull up a local Livestream to watch with your students. It may pull everyone on board, even temporarily, with campus civic life, and you never know what cultural revelation you may find, even if the capsule is empty.

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GeoSym 2018 Call for Papers!

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I’m very excited to pass along the Call for Papers for the third installment of this great little conference. I’m biased because I was the chair for the second installment in 2016, but this time around it’s in great hands with my good friends and colleagues Savannah Collins-Key, Emma Walcott-Wilson, and others from the GeoGrads. Savannah was an outstanding co-chair in 2016, too; I’ve gone on record before about all the work she did organizing the paper sessions and basically ensuring that I didn’t burn the whole thing down.

Also, this year’s keynote speaker, Dr. Marshall Shepherd, is one of the biggest authorities on climate and landscape in the Southeast. His name has been getting bigger on a near-monthly basis in the meteorology and Weather Channel world, so you really don’t want to miss the chance to see him speak in this smaller-scale setting.

At any rate, it’s free to submit and participate (a rarity among any kind of academic conference), and you have the rest of December to get your papers ready. Paper deadline is January 1st, 2018, and the Poster deadline is January 15th. More information can be found at the departmental website here or on the Facebook Page here.

GEO 320: Core Concepts in Cultural Geography (Fall 2016)

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I’m excited to announce here that I’ll be teaching Geography 320, our department’s core upper-level cultural geography course, this coming fall. This class has no prerequisite, though general proficiency in global geography (GEO 101, for example) is recommended. I’d be happy to have students from other disciplines, including anthropology, sociology, and ethnomusicology, especially those who haven’t been able to take a geography course yet while at UT-Knoxville.

Cultural Geography, like culture itself, is incredibly fluid. But with this course, I’m aiming to focus on how the relationship between people and place is interpreted through media, popular culture, religion, and public memory. By the end of this course, students should be able to understand and describe the effects of nature of culture, and vice versa.

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East TN music historian Shane Rhyne delivering a guest lecture in my GEO 101 class, October 23, 2014.

Similar to how I connected with the East Tennessee History Center’s “Made in Tennessee” exhibit in my GEO 101 curriculum last year, I’d like to continue that collaboration with their new “Come to Make Records” exhibit. This is one of a handful of interactive projects I’m looking forward to pursuing with this course, in addition to some great guest speakers and elements that students will be pleasantly surprised to find in a geography course. I’m grateful for the opportunity to teach it while working on my dissertation.

The syllabus will be a work in progress over the summer, but if you’d like a preview of a some material I look forward to incorporating, check out (1) Duncan Light’s entertaining and informative 2014 piece on place names and (2) this article about Steven Lee Beeber’s research on punk rock’s manifestation of Jewish New York. Hopefully you enjoy this tip of the iceberg; if not, there is plenty more well outside of both those subjects. If you’re a UTK undergraduate student and interested in attending the course, don’t hesitate to write me and ask any questions at SonicGeography[at]gmail[dot]com.

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A Message from Kurt about the TN State of Geography Education

[I’m working on a couple of new entries today and tomorrow, but once again I’d like to cede my blog to my friend and colleague Kurt Butefish of the TN Geographic Alliance, who sent this around my department this morning. If you’re in TN and care about geography (at least the latter part should apply to 99.9% of you reading this), take a few moments, read this, and help out where you can! Thanks, talk to you all soon – Ty]

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FROM THE DESK OF KURT BUTEFISH

I’ve got a big favor to ask, but it is very important.

I apologize for the length of this email, but there is a great deal of information I need to covey to you.

Continue reading

GeoSym2016: A Look Back

I’m excited to report here that my first foray into academic conference production was a success! The 2nd biennial University of Tennessee Geography Research Symposium (or GeoSym2016, thanks to colleague Alisa Hass for the truncated and easily hashtaggable nickname) took place earlier this month on February 5th and 6th at the University of Tennessee. We are currently working on putting updates and links to all of these on our official departmental page, but I figured I would use my personal site to dig into the event a bit more.

In many ways, this event built on our debut Symposium in 2014. The committee, headed by me and my good friend/colleague Savannah Collins, chose to hold the Symposium a bit earlier in 2016 than they did in 2014, for a couple of reasons. We wanted to make sure that it happened early enough in the semester to avoid any of the stresses that build up toward spring break. We also wanted to make sure to give our participants a good breather in between this and AAG (which will be held earlier than usual this year, the final week in March, in San Francisco), all while providing a window during which to edit and improve their paper talks where needed beforehand.

One of GeoSym’s greatest strengths, as a small conference, is to provide a platform for more embryonic and ambitious research, where researchers can share their ideas in a lower-pressure environment, not subject to perceived pillorying from a room full (depending upon your time slot) of high-pressure academics at one of the biggest conferences in the world. While we were walking to dinner on Friday evening, our keynote guest Dydia DeLyser told me how remarkable and refreshing it was to see so much early-stage research coming from so many early-career researchers, who often wait until completely sewing their projects up before daring to bring it to a paper session. I told her how happy that made me to hear.

Speaking of Dr. DeLyser, she was everything I had spent the past year or two hyping her up to be. From the moment she landed in Knoxville, she was engaging, excited for all of our work, and of course encouraging. Her keynote talk was every bit as groundbreaking (materialities are already beginning to gain steam as a concept in cultural geography) as we had hoped, and the well-attended keynote audience on Saturday afternoon certainly thought so. We made a video of Dydia’s talk, as well as the closing ceremony (of sorts; we were pretty informal about it), now up on the UTK Geography Youtube page for anyone who either missed it or just wants to relive the moment, shaky audio and all.

We were also fortunate to have Matt Cook (our committee’s webmaster) and Dr. Liem Tran, both photography enthusiasts, on hand to capture the proceedings. Their full collaborative photoset is here, but I’ve pulled a few of the highlights to paste below here.

[UPDATE: Deadline Extended!] Submit for the 2016 Tennessee Geography Symposium at UT (Deadline 1/1)

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** UPDATE: DEADLINE EXTENDED TO 1/15 FOR ALL SUBMISSIONS**

Dear colleagues near and far (as well as those I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting yet),

This is just a call and reminder that the deadline for (free!) submissions to present at the second biennial University of Tennessee Interdisciplinary Geography Research Symposium (or GeoSym) is approaching! Please take a few minutes by Friday, January 1st, and visit our page and form to submit your abstract for your paper, your panel, or your poster (Undergrads have until 1/15 to submit for our poster session).

This February 5&6, we’ll be welcoming keynote speaker Dr. Dydia DeLyser of Cal State-Fullerton to our event. Her presentations have been a highlight of every event I’ve seen her speak at, and her research in the field of cultural geography continues to be groundbreaking. In short, she is not to be missed. Here is some more background on Dr. DeLyser:

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Also, if you haven’t yet, please RSVP to our Facebook event and invite anybody on campus or in the region who may be interested. The more interdisciplinary we get, the better the program.
I’ve kept relatively mum about it on this site thus far, but I’m honored to be one of the chairs of the coordinating committee for GeoSym this year. Anyone who was at the event in 2014 knows and I can’t emphasize enough, this is our event as an organization of Geography graduate students and in representing our discipline on the UT Campus and in the Southeastern Region. It also provides an excellent opportunity to run your research in preparation for AAG or any other conference you may have coming up this Spring. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me or co-chair Savannah Collins (scolli15@vols.utk.edu).
On behalf of the GeoSym coordinating committee, I hope you’re all having a great Holiday season and have a happy and healthy New Year!
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Dr. William Moseley (Macalester College) delivers his keynote speech at the inaugural UT Geography Symposium in 2014. (Matt Cook Photo)

Regional Music (and) Geography 101

Now that it’s the summertime (academically, at least), I have a little bit of time to clean house and post some material that I’ve been gathering for the past few months. Thank you to those of you who’ve been following these postings for any longer than that. I wouldn’t have chosen geography if I wasn’t highly passionate about it outside of school in the first place, and this site gives me a chance to explain just why I am, in however many words. Occasionally (actually, surprisingly often, which I love) I get opportunities to dig into subjects like music, film, and the pale of popular culture to highlight geography’s relevance within the context of teaching it. Other than the fantastic ‘Back to the Future’ panel we had on Saturday, one of the highlights to this year’s AAG meeting was the first annual GeoSlam, an open-ended session where geographers of all stripes were invited and encouraged to share just what it was that drove them into the field. This came as a much-expected breath of fresh air in an environment that discourages us from injecting the subjective into our work. Until a certain point that our elders easily remember, the mere inclusion of an “I” would subject an article to rejection (this may still apply to some journals; thankfully, I couldn’t name them off the top of my head).

For my first two semesters teaching Geography 101, I assigned a paper about regionalism in music. My instructions are rather thorough; students are to select any song, from anywhere, that pick apart the geographic references inherent. What does the song teach us about that region? What about the songwriter influenced the regionalism in the song?Today, some argue that music is losing its sense of place. I argue that sense of place in music is more important than ever precisely because it’s perpetually easier for music to be placeless if it wants to be. I don’t begrudge bands for “Brooklynizing” (or, if we’re going to be blunt, watering down) their sound if they can still make a decent record.

This was hardly the first time music had been used to teach entry-level geography, and not even the first time a paper of this nature had been assigned (see Sarah Smiley and Chris Post’s excellent pedagogy article on “Using Popular Music to Teach the Geography of the United States and Canada” in Journal of Geography 113: 238–246). But I wanted to pose this question to students in Knoxville for a variety of reasons. Primarily, I wanted to give my students the opportunity to explore the geography of their own tastes through  a relatively open-ended, laid back assignment to counterpoint the excessive stress of the end of the semester. Geography can be everywhere, even in ostensibly mindless lyrics to your favorite song on the radio. The only restriction was (initially) no “Rocky Top” and no “Wagon Wheel.” I understand that these songs are overloaded with localisms pertinent to where we all sit, but I want students to step out of their comfort zone a bit. Also, the TA’s and I don’t want to have to read 100 papers about the same songs. I invited students to use other songs by Dolly Parton or the Oak Ridge Boys (whose name is a very literal regionalism in itself) if they would prefer. My mistake here, though, did not consider just how many students would turn in papers on Marc Cohen’s 1991 aural cardboard “Walking in Memphis.” That song did become a fun running joke among my staff and I, but I did add it to the ‘banned’ list for the spring semester, mainly because it’s a terrible song, but also because it misrepresents Memphis in all sorts of ways I need not go into here. A few other songs made their way onto multiple papers (e.g. “Copperhead Road” by Steve Earle, “Crazy Town” by Kenny Chesney, and various Alabama songs), but none quite offensive enough to warrant any restriction.

What I did do in the spring semester was provide a list of optional songs (several of which I’d be surprised if your typical college-age student today knew terribly well) that are packed with enough blatant regionalisms to become veritable rabbit-holes of material to pry open. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting a song every Monday, Wednesday and Friday with a bit of its geographic context. I’ll include in this series of posts the song I used in class to extract and demonstrate regionalisms: “Science Fiction” by Radon (the band I spoke about at GeoSlam) sometime in the following couple weeks.