“In the long history of humankind, those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”
– Charles Darwin, Descent of Man
This week, the English trainees joined forces with the geographers to embark on a cross-curricular project entitled ‘Roots and Routes: Finding Place’ where, in groups, we explored a part of the university campus armed with clipboards and paper, mighty pens, instructions, cameras, and a jolly disposition in the face of impending rain.
Each group was instructed to go for a walk together outside, stopping at intervals to look around carefully. Each person in the group was allowed to call “stop!” once before our final destination, which, for our group, was the library.
At each stop every person in the group had to make individual notes on their clipboard, briefly describing their impressions using the five senses. The focus was left completely to individual choice – some focused on a very small object or angle whereas others elected to study a much wider aspect. We were instructed not to discuss what we saw and also not to write a sentence, poem or any kind of “organised” text. Each stop was numbered and we took a photo of the place before moving on to the next stop.
After our unusual-but-jolly jaunt, where we were mistaken for psychology postgraduates, building surveyors, international students, and fruit inspectors (I don’t recommend anything more than a brief eyebrow raise into that stop because it was terribly confusing and my pen blurted “prickly pineapple staring at a friendly teapot-looking man across an airport corridor of liminal doom” onto the page before my common sense overrode my five senses and we decided to move on), we brought our scribblings back to our classroom and shared our responses by writing our impressions of each stop on a separate piece of paper, collating them, and presenting them to the originator of each stop for editing and composition in order to create responses to our route. Then we combined our stops to make a display in the main corridor of the Education Block.
My choice of post title this week is not just parodical, but reflective of my own cognition – my “literary mind map” – of the meaning of a journey and how place and space, routes and roots, the literary and the geographical are inextricably entwined, complimenting and supporting each other. I think that Swift’s shipwrecked castaway Lemuel Gulliver was the first geographer-adventure I knew as a young reader. His accounts of the petty diminutive Lilliputians, the crude, vulgar giants of Brobdingnag, the abstracted scientists of Laputa, the brutish Yahoos, the philosophical Houyhnhnms, and their very strange worlds gave him new insights into human behaviour, filling my head full of ideas and a longing to travel and explore. On the other hand, “głowa” (go-lo-va), is the Polish word for “head” and sounds very much like “gulliver” when pronounced, linking geography with the language of my thoughts and childhood imaginations. Indeed, growing older and reading A Clockwork Orange, I was fascinated with Anthony Burgess’ invention and use of “Nadsat”, the teenage vocabulary of the future, which uses a combination of odd bits of old rhyming slang and Slavic-Russianate vocabulary – not mechanically, but with great ingenuity, as the transformation of głowa/golova into “gulliver”, with its Swiftian associates, illustrates. This particular connective pathway – the combination of geography, language and literature – forms the root of the route of my gulliver’s travels, my “geographical imagination”.
I really enjoyed working with the geographers in our university group and I felt that we all contributed in different ways that complimented and enriched our ideas, compositions, group presentation and the final class project display. When walking together, we respected each other, decided the route together, and gave each other time and space to interpret and represent our perceptions of each stop, forming “geographical imaginations” of the university campus. However, putting up the display as a group – and as a class – became quite chaotic and stressful. There was not enough space on the wall for all work to be presented comfortably. Perhaps, on reflection, if a space for each group was allocated and marked out on the wall beforehand, then we would have understood the space allowance and planned and designed our work to fit. Although the walk was timed well, I felt that the classroom we were using to compose our responses and then to construct our display using the creative resources (including scissors, glue, staples) was too small to fit everyone safely and we felt pressured to finish quickly, which was frustrating.
If this activity were to be repeated at school, then there would be a few changes to consider:
- a bigger room (or several rooms, which might pose supervision issues)
- more time taken to organise and explain the creative composition and construction task to students after returning to the classroom from their walk.
- staple guns issued to specific people (or, in the case of school, allocated to adults only)
- staggering each group so that they would have clear, safe, and creative access to the display boards without feeling stressed or intimidated by a big crowd (this would also decrease noise levels and help to manage behaviour)
- step ladder supervision
It was a worthwhile and fun experience and I’m looking forward to the cross-curricular project with the artists in January!