Supporting geography educators everywhere with current digital resources.


Cultural Patterns and Processes

Mongolia’s nomads

Through his Vanishing Cultures Project photographer Taylor Weidman documents threatened ways of life.  About his work in Mongolia, he states: “Mongolian pastoral herders make up one of the world’s largest remaining nomadic cultures. For millennia they have lived on the steppes, grazing their livestock on the lush grasslands. But today, their traditional way of life is at risk on multiple fronts. Alongside a rapidly changing economic landscape, climate change and desertification are also threatening nomadic life, killing both herds and grazing land.”

In times of ecological hardships and global economic restructuring, many children of nomadic herders are seeking employment out of the rural areas and in the urban environment.  The cultural change that this represents is for Mongolia enormous and is captured wonderfully in this photo gallery.  Pictured above are the ger (yurt) camps that ring the capital city Ulaanbaatar.  Ulaanbaatar houses a permanent population of displaced nomads. During the winter, Ulaanbaatar is the second most air-polluted capital in the world due largely to coal burning.

Tags: Mongolia, images, indigenous, culture, globalization.  

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The Italians who want to be Austrian

It is Italy’s richest province, and has been part of the country for almost 100 years – but some in South Tyrol just do not feel fully Italian.

Seth Dixon, Ph.D.‘s insight:

While the idea of everyone of the same nationality belonging to the same country might be considered an ideal situation, the world’s ethnic geography is too jumbled to create perfect nation-states.  South Tyrol is a part of Italy that is one of those places with mixed a ethnic, linguistic and political heritage.  By different criteria, many of the residents could be considered German, Austrian or Italian or a combination of the them.  Since the Euro Zone fiscal crisis, the push for political autonomy in South Tyrol has intensified, in part because this region has avoided the crisis and is economically fairing better than the rest of Italy.  

Questions to Ponder: How do political borders reveal and conceal “the truth” about places on either side of the line?  What elements are a part of a regions heritage?  Can regions have multiple, overlapping heritages?  How does devolution impact the whole country?  

Tags: Italy, states, autonomy, ethnic, language, devolution.

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The Cultural Geography of a Viral Sensation

The Gangnam Style! sensation is all over the internet, complete with parodies that both honor and mock the original.  This first video is the original, which in a few short months received well ove…

The following link has the video, parodies and infographics to help student explore the meaning behind the cultural phenomenon.


Questions to Ponder: Considering the concept of cultural diffusion, what do we make of this phenomenon? What cultural combinations are seen in this? How has the technological innovations changed how cultures interact, spread and are replicated?

Tags: popular culture, video, diffusion, globalization, culture, place, technology, unit 3 culture.

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Burning Man

This annual arts festival with a strong counter-cultural ethos literally is an experiment in producing alternative urban and cultural geographies that reject normative regulations embedded within societies.  These geographies created last only about a week, as an escape from the regular strictures of society and the ephemeral alternative geographies fade back into the desert.  The images of the event are quite striking.

I’ll let the producer of the video explain: “It is an 8-day event which takes place annually in late August in the temporary city of Black Rock City located in a dry lakebed in northwestern Nevada, USA.  The radial streets are laid out like a clock face, from 2:00 to 10:00. I have marked some of these streets as well as some of the prominent and favorite theme camps and villages.  The attendees are all participants in a sense and are themselves the attraction. There is no corporate sponsorship or presence of any sort. Only ice and coffee are sold. Everything else is brought in under the concept of ‘radical self-reliance’ or gifted by others. Most ‘burners’ participate by finding the creative or artistic thing that they enjoy most and do best, do it to the fullest extent, and share it as much as possible.”

Tags: art, culture, unit 3 culture, popular culture.

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La Tomatina 2012

La Tomatina is a festival that is held in the Valencian town of Bunol, located inland from the Mediterranean Sea, that brings together thousands of people for one big tomato fight – purely for fun!

La Tomatina is a cultural festival in Spain that is world renowned for it’s exuberance and playfulness.  This gallery of 26 images shows some of the dynamism and appeal to this extraordinary event where more than 40,000 people engage in the world’s largest foof fight using upwards of 100 tons of tomatoes in the yearly food fight known as ‘La Tomatina.’

Notice the signs for storing backpacks and luggage that are now pastered with tomatoes on the store in the background of the image.  These hastily-composed, informal signs are written in three languages (Spanish, English and Japanese).  What does this tell us about the festival?  Also, notice how the comments section revolves around the concepts of waste, poverty and consumption.

Tags: Europe, foodtourism, seasonal, culture, unit 3 culture, consumption.

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Linguistic Geography: My Fair Lady

This is a most decidedly dated reference for pop culture, but a great movie for making explicit the idea that the way we speak is connected to where we’ve lived (also a good clip to show class differences as well as gender norms). The clip highlights many principles and patterns for understanding the geography of languages.

Tags: Language, class, gender, culture, historical, London, unit 3 culture and place.

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Mass Sacrifice Found Near Aztec Temple

Below street level in Mexico City, archaeologists have found a jumble of bones dating to the 1480s.

In the 1970s, construction workers unearthed numerous archaeological finds as the subway was being constructed.  The Mexican government decided to clear the several block of old colonial buildings to reveal the Templo Mayor, the ancient Aztec religious center.  Not coincidentally, the Spaniards built their religious center in the same place.  During the colonial era, the indigenous residents who spoke Spanish in Mexico City still referred to this portion of the city as la pirámide.  Today more finds such as this one are continuing to help us piece together the past of this immensely rich, multi-layered place filled with symbolic value.

Tags: Mexico, LatinAmerica, historical, images, National Geographic, colonialism, place and culture.

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The Joe Paterno Statue on Penn State campus

I never imagined that this picture would be awkward or evoke such ambivalent feelings within me.  This picture was taken while I was working on my Ph.D. in geography at the Pennsylvania State University.  Ironically enough, my dissertation focused on statues, their impact on the cultural landscape and how they are used to shape or contest historical narratives about communal identity.  I feel intellectually and emotionally compelled to publicly voice my opinion in the aftermath of the Freeh report being published.  I’m still digesting the report but having listened to the full press conference, I understand the implications of the evidence against many key authorities that were on the Penn State campus while I was a graduate student.

I’m writing this on the assumption that the Freeh Report is completely accurate, which I understand that many within the Penn State community are disputing.  I dearly wish that these were not facts.  When the charges against Sandusky were filed, I wanted to believe that he was one horrible individual who could not tarnish the Penn State reputation.  Now I’m forced to admit that many high-ranking PSU officials knew about Sandusky and did nothing.  Even worse than doing nothing, they actively sought to conceal information in hopes of avoiding bad publicity.  Their collective lack of integrity has created the worst public relations nightmare that the school could have ever imagined.  I do not wish to go over the legalities, evidence, accusations and reports at this time—you can read for yourself since it is all publicly accessible.  I want to focus on my specialty and what I am qualified to talk about: monuments and their meaning in highly visible places.  The iconography of symbolic landscapes is not just a passive reflection of cultural values, nor is it simply a controlled message for authority figures to manipulate that the community will blindly accept.  These are sites where cultural messages and historical narratives are both created and contested.  It is in this interplay between the molders of the landscape and those that use these public places that intrigues me.

This all brings me to the statue of Joseph Vincent Paterno on the Penn State Campus outside of Beaver Stadium.  This was once a revered statue that embodied the values, aspirations and identity of Penn State football, but also the institution as a whole.  JoePa, leading his team to victory; all eyes looking to his leadership and moral authority, the campus galvanized under one banner, so to speak.  I loved my 4 years at Penn State; I was a season ticket holder and enjoyed going to Beaver Stadium tailgates, white-outs and feeling like I was a part of the larger community.  I don’t want to forget those times.  All of that was WHY I took a picture next to the statue—to feel a part of the cultural ethos that embodied Penn State; academic excellence, integrity and hard work.

I still believe in those values and I still believe that Penn Staters aspire to those values; but how we symbolically demonstrate our commitment to these values in our memorials becomes a critical issue moving forward.  Monuments are not meant to perfectly reflect the human body, but are designed to embody ideals, values and beliefs.  Monuments, when they move from one location to another, are indicative of shifting cultural values, ideas and identities.  If an institution ever needed to show that they are changing the institutional culture that literally made a man larger than life and deified him to the extent that he became as powerful as he was, it’s Penn State.  I’ll admit, when I was at football games, I’d chant with the crowd “Joe Paterno!” Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap. “Joe Paterno!”  In some small way, I was a part of the “football IS our school identity” that empowered Paterno to disregard the law and human decency to protect the program’s image.  And aren’t statues really all about image?  What image is the University community trying to project into the future?  How do current students feel about the past?  How do we reconcile horrific parts of our history?

Karen Till is a geographer who has written extensively on the geography of memory specifically within the German context.  I applaud the German people for erecting monuments that tell a painful story to remember that it wasn’t just one evil man responsible for World War II; it was also a people that enabled him and kept quiet when they saw atrocities being committed.  These memorials act not to dredge up bad memories about a generation that has passed on, but to put into perspective the nationalistic fervor that unwittingly empowered evil to persist.  The magnitude of the Sandusky trial does not compare to the Holocaust, but for the dozens (if we know of approximately 10 victims, that’s likely just the tip of the iceberg) of abuse victims it is a personal tragedy that I can’t fathom.

I wish it were the crimes of one villain acting alone—that is a neat and simple historical narrative.  But the world isn’t divided into good guys and bad guys, despite what the monumental landscape would have us believe.  My dissertation on monuments sits in the Pattee-Paterno Library—and I personally hope that name stays.  He built that library, something that is unheard of for a football coach, and his mark on the campus was palpable.  He should not be completely erased from campus as though he did not exist—but I think it is far past time to stop the full deification of the man.  Penn State culture has been ruled by the cult of JoePa, and the new evidence shows that we were wrong to make one man a symbol of all that was good.  There is not a statue for Graham Spanier or Tim Curley, but if there were I’d call for their removal.  If the Paterno family wants to remember him in the light that the statue casts Joe in, I understand that; I still am greatly impressed by the vast majority of his life.  But as long as Penn State has that statue on campus they have not acknowledged the depth of the institutionalized cover-up on child rape that they allowed to continue and turned a blind eye on.  The cover-up happened BECAUSE Joe Paterno was made larger than life and was cast in bronze as our infallible, dauntless leader.

The importance of that image, and the image of Penn State to senior officials was more important than living up to that image.  That’s why I think the embodiment of that mindset, the Joe Paterno statue, should be removed from the University Park campus.  That may not be a popular opinion, but symbols matter and neglecting to change this particular symbol would indicate that not much has really changed, showing a “we wouldn’t want to upset the boosters or former players” attitude.  True leadership does not mean taking a popularity poll on every issue but taking hard stands on critical issues that might be unpopular.  I would encourage Penn State to step forward and make the hard choice…something that the (now deposed) Penn State leadership has failed to do.  It won’t undo the damage, but it’s a symbolic fresh start.

Ironically, I would take no joy in seeing the statue come down.  In fact, when I look at that 2009 picture of myself it gives a complex mix of emotions.  That picture reminds me of some great times that I had at Penn State and being a part of campus life.  I remember friends, fellow grad students, and  part of me still cherishes that photo…it represents a time of innocence when the moral virtue of being a Nittany Lion was uncompromised and uncomplicated.  I love that photo because it represents all that I wish were still true.

When statues move, it’s because culture and identity have shifted, but it’s also an indicator that how people view ‘the truth.’  The historical narrative of moral virtue of the Penn State football program under Joe Paterno has changed and will never be the same.  The PSU campus’ symbolic landscape should reflect a new narrative, one that looks at the facts and doesn’t try to make excuses.

UPDATE: As the statue has since been moved, here is a gallery of images from the Centre Daily Times.

Sex and World Peace

Via Scoop.itGeography Education

Sex and World Peace (9780231131827): Valerie M. Hudson, Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill, Mary Caprioli, Chad F. Emmett

I have not yet had the opportunity to read this book but feel that it touches on some of the core issues in geography today: gender, culture and political stability (plus, it’s just a great title).  The authors of Sex and World Peace explore the relationships between cultural norms regarding gender and political stability and war.  They show that security for women translates to security for the state. According to the authors, they “compare micro-level gender violence and macro-level state peacefulness in global settings…[and] mount a solid campaign against women’s systemic insecurity, which effectively unravels the security of all.”

Written by professors in geography, political science and psychology, Sex and World Peace is the synthesis of years of research produced by the WomanStats project.  For more about this ongoing project and the great database which they have produced (loaded with potential for student projects) see:


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