February 27, 2018, by lzzeb
New York field trip 2017
A blog by Dr Andy Greenhalgh-Cook
Fieldwork is an essential part of geography as a discipline and in the School of Geography at Nottingham we recognise that field learning is one of the most effective ways of encouraging students to critically engage with the world around them. My colleagues and I see ourselves as being part of a rich tradition in field teaching and have recently developed a number of new field courses to enrich and enliven our students’ experiences.
In 2017 I led a Final Year field course to New York City with Prof. Andrew Leyshon, aiming to provide final year students with practical experience of engaging with a truly global city. The idea from the outset was to guide students through the historical, cultural and economic geographies of a city, the shape and form of which that many will feel they know, if only through vicarious means, but relatively few engaged with it in a critical fashion.
Despite the early start (we checked in for our flights at ten to six in the morning!) the teaching staff and 15 students hit the ground running shortly after arrival in New York. We were based in the Midtown area Manhattan which was a superb location for what we had planned.
The theme of the first day in the city – which began immediately after checking in to our accommodation – was that of New York being a site or centre of power. Our walking tour, led by Andrew, explored a number of key sites relating to this theme, notably, Trump Tower, Grand Central Station, Ground Zero and the new Google Headquarters. What became apparent was how different themes of powerfulness and powerlessness were written into the very fabric of the city.
Over the next couple of days, we visited Ellis Island in order for students to develop an understanding of the integral role of mass immigration, as well as visiting the City’s Tenement Museum, an attraction designed to recreate life in the Lower East Side during the late 19th century. I then led a walking tour of Little Italy, SoHo and Greenwich Village, reflecting on themes of social change and gentrification, the tourist economy and the role played by Greenwich Village in the emergence of the gay rights movement.
Throughout the trip, students were working on projects based around specific themes, so they were provided with a couple of days to do any fieldwork they needed to, collect information and explore the city with the projects in mind. This process demonstrates the important of field enquiry very well, as whilst it is important for students to be guided through the key themes, debates and places of interest by experts, it is just as important to be able to explore and develop independent thinking and ideas about the place that they are studying.
We were pleased with how much our students enjoyed the course, and the quality of the creative projects they produced as a result were extraordinary. Finally, we are delighted to say that given the success of the trip, it will be running again in 2018!