University Scholars 202: Human Geography

See syllabus.html for updated syllabus

(this is the version of 28 May 2001, which continues

Course description:

Human Geography seeks to develop factual background and information skills to enable students to understand the numbers and distribution of humans, past and present. Case studies at global, continental, national, regional and local scales address ecological settings, resource allocation decisions, temporal trajectories, and landscape transformations. Students will develop information literacy skills across a broad range of disciplines and media, and will use the Web to develop and present their own syntheses of data in projects defined by their own interests. Basic training in the use of Geographic Information Systems software will support data analysis and presentation.
The AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment (University of California Press, 2000) will serve as a basic text resource for the course, augmented by assigned materials from library holdings and Internet resources. The course will be conducted as a seminar in an electronic classroom, and is therefore limited to 15 students.

University Scholars:
Offering Human Geography as a University Scholars course will afford us a laboratory for the development of one of the core courses of the Global Stewardship Program. The curiosity and commitment to exploratory learning that typifies University Scholars will assist us in a number of ways:

  • University Scholars bring especially diverse interests and knowledge to the classroom
  • case studies flourish when students are active participants, and Scholars are generally lively discussants
  • the complexities and demands of the electronic classroom and of interdisciplinary collaborative teaching are largely unknown, and Scholars can be enlisted as willing assistants in experimental pedagogy
  • the Scholars can be expected to produce exemplary projects, which will define the expectations for subsequent Global Stewardship participants
  • Background:
    Liberal arts education aspires to supply the groundwork that enables the citizen to understand the expert, and that inspires the student to broad lifelong learning. We mean to develop in students both the necessary skills to, and the confidence that they can, gather information and analyze data on emergent real-world issues. Most of these issues call upon knowledge that crosses traditional disciplinary lines: an aspiring environmental lawyer must be able to understand scientific argument, a journalist often needs to comprehend an economist's or ecologist's models, and an ethicist may need to employ the tools of demography or epidemiology. Case studies will be designed to encourage bold interdisciplinarity, and will draw upon developing issues where possible. We will seek to interest faculty colleagues with relevant expertise in helping us with development and presentation, and hope to recruit collaborators for successive iterations of the course.

    Broadly, Human Geography is concerned with anthropogenic change: environmental history in which man is the primary actor. Analysis centers on the explanation of patterns in multidimensional landscapes. Data drawn from epidemiology, demography, economics, politics, ecology, technology, social history, and many other specialties may be applicable to the elucidation of observed spatial distributions and processes, and we anticipate that students will enlarge their perspectives and understanding --whatever their background or career interests-- by work with such data.

    Case Studies:
    Issues which can be developed into Cases for Human Geography include these (and the list will certainly grow):

    deforestation, and reforestation
    invasive plants (see )
    poverty --and its correlates
    herbicide use
    biodiversity loss
    environmental costs of development
    ...and regional landscape units for which cases might be developed include another growing list:
    James River Watershed
    Colorado Plateau (nice example from Land Use History of North America)
    Information Resources:
    The course will include a substantial component of information fluency: finding and using relevant text and data resources, using the array of access tools available at W&L and (in principle) applicable to all courses and disciplines. Electronic resources (mostly via the Web) will often be the court of first resort, but our monographic and serial holdings will be used as well. We expect that student projects will contribute to the building of a broad bibliographic guide (making use of the Alsos Project model) that will be of use at W&L and elsewhere. I'm going to start accumulating items for eventual inclusion, so as to have a single place to hunt for them. The Guide will include books, journal articles, Web sites...

    Collection development is another facet of Human Geography: we expect to gather, use, and build electronic atlases reflecting the evolving interests of student and faculty participants in the course.

    Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software (ArcView, ArcGIS) is the core analytical and presentation tool for spatial data. Participants will learn the basics in the first week of the course, and develop skills through guided exercises.

    Log File:
    I'll keep a log file of developments, in the usual way