Sunday, December 17, 2023

A Christmas Carol Advent

My favorite librarian and I planned a bit of a literary pursuit for this December that we are now enjoying -- an Advent countdown based on some of the many versions of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. On most of the 25 days, we are watching a film or television adaptation, with a few special activities also included.

Edward Marin's 1938 Version

We have been planning this for over a year, but at the last minute I decided to write about the experience on our catch-all blog called Perry La Perra. From December 1 to 25 of 2023, I am adding to the same post every day. I include a link here so that we can refer friends to it more easily.

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Geochron at Open Lab Night

Fellow geographer Dr. Amey and I are using these slides and this worksheet for our November 8 presentation about the use of Geochron to understand earth's seasons. This is part of the BSU-CASE Open Lab Night.

Learn more about our geography department and its people and programs!

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Amazônia: Fables to Forests

NOTE to NESTVAL Colleagues: this post is for a short course I am teaching through Bridgewater State University Senior College, beginning October 30. Material related to my presentation at the Portland virtual meeting is at the post entitled Amazon Deforestation in Lula’s Encore

Photo: Cara Reed 2003
I am fortunate to have two very distinct outlets for my current thinking about the region. As I mention in the Lula post, this is the region that turned me into a geographer, and it was my main focus for many years -- before I developed such a strong. affinity for and identity with coffee and coffeelands. 

The Amazon has remained part of my undergraduate teaching all along, but was largely absent from my scholarship and outreach activities for most of two decades. Recent events have brought me back -- both in my thinking and in my travels -- and have led me to the writing project mentioned above and to my first in-person course for BSU Senior College. The intention of both projects, of course, includes improving how I teach about the region in my undergraduate classes. 

See the course main page for the relevant parts of my biography, a full description of the class, and links to all of the materials I will be using. The opening lines of the description introduce this exploration.

The Amazon is a forest, a river, and a fountain of myths. This short course is a six-part exploration of all three, with a focus on one of its most populous but little-recognized parts: Rondônia. 

The outline hints at how we will explore this region in all of its dimensions.

  1. Dinosaurs, Warriors, and a Witch PhD
  2. Aviamento and the Railroad
  3. Missionaries and Linguistics
  4. Tributaries and Confluences
  5. Trajectory of Illusion
  6. Soy and Fire, Beef and Politics 

Música Rondônia on the Planet Sings

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Amazon Deforestation in Lula’s Encore

Deforestation in the Amazon of Brazil is the problem that drew me to the study of geography when I was an undergraduate and led me to do dissertation research in the region in 1996. I did some follow-up work in 2000 and 2003 and have included the region in my teaching ever since. 

It was not until the rise of Jair Bolsonaro that I returned to the region in October 2019 -- at the urging of colleagues in Rondônia who were particularly concerned about both his rhetoric and his policies toward the rain forest. 

The Amazon figured prominently in his political demise, leading me to a series of questions about whether his electoral defeat would improve conditions there. This was made even more interesting by the fact that he was defeated by none other than Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva -- a man known simply as "Squid" who had served two terms as president and some time in prison.

I am exploring all of this in "Amazon Deforestation in Lula's Encore," which I am presenting at the 101st Annual Meeting of the New England & St. Lawrence Valley Geographical Society in Portland, Maine on October 28, 2023. This presentation is a stepping stone toward an article I hope to submit for publication later this year.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

F/B Viera VI

The F/B Vieira VI is a vessel that transports many goods and a few passengers between Porto Velho and Manaus, descending the Madeira River -- the longest of the Amazon River's 1,300 tributaries -- and then ascending the main channel of the Amazon to Manaus, where the famous river is formed from the confluence of the Solimões and Negro Rivers. I spent four days on this ship with my friend Miguel, about a dozen passengers, a worthy crew, and perhaps more garlic, plantains, and watermelons than I had seen in my whole life.

Miguel was a very good sport and agreed to charter a small boat on the Amazon just a few hours after the end of the ride. My photos describing this journey are annotated and include the time we spent in Porto Velho and in Manaus after. Both those photos and a number of videos are collected in the Madeira Voyage post on my Environmental Geography blog.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Coffee & Sustainability

 We welcome visitors from Germany to my class today! This is a link to the slides I am using.

Sunday, July 16, 2023


I very much enjoyed my interview on the Rondoniaovivo (Rondônia Live) program earlier today (Monday, July 16). The discussion with my new friend, Porto Velho-based journalist Ivan Trazão, is now on YouTube (see below). I also recommend visiting the program's Facebook and  web pages.

Ivan is an excellent, real-time translator -- he repeated all of his questions and my answers in both languages. My Portuguese is not fluent enough to have given such complete answers, but it is good enough to know that his translations were quite excellent. 

We talked about the geography of the Amazon, coffee, and much more. 

For my earlier writings on the Amazon in general and Rondônia in particular, please see my early Rondônia Web pages and the many Rondônia posts on my Environmental Geography blog. 

This interview is part of my fifth visit to Porto Velho. The purpose of each visit has been a bit different. In 1996, I was here for three months conducting research for my dissertation on deforestation and urban expansion. In 2000, I returned for three weeks -- this time with my family -- to conduct some follow-up research and to present work on the perception of the Amazon at the Brazilian Studies Association (the only time it met in Brazil). In 2003, I returned with a biology student to assist her with research into plant biodiversity in a recently reforested area of the UNIR campus. 

I was then absent from the region for 16 years (though I made many visits elsewhere in Brazil during that time. I returned in 2019 as fires in the region were sparking very serious concerns worldwide, and local scholars wished to hear my perspectives on the crisis. I have returned in 2023 with some writing projects in progress, but also on a personal journey that I will describe in the interview -- a boat trip from Porto Velho to Manaus with my friend and long-time collaborator Dr. Miguel Nenevé. 

Tangentially related sneak preview: Lula's Encore

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Mansfield Pride

I was honored to play a part as keynote speaker at the recent celebration of Pride Month in the town of Mansfield, Massachusetts. My role was designated as "keynote" but I was just one of about a half-dozen people to offer brief remarks on the occasion. I was moved by all of the speakers and by the performances of the Mansfield High School Choir. I am grateful that Mansfield Cable Access Corp. provides a professional recording.

The event was planned as a raising of the town's Pride flag at Town Hall, but concerns about rain sent us inside. It was good to see so many supporters of human rights at the event. My own remarks start at around 26:45 in the recording above, though I encourage folks to listen to the entire program. I did not depart far from the written version of my comments, which were focused on the role of PFLAG in supporting LGBTQ+ lives. The written version includes links to all of the resources I mentioned.

A great place to learn more is the PFLAG main web site. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

AAG Denver 2023 -- EarthView

My first airline travel since 2020 will be to Denver, Colorado for the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Geographers, where I will give a brief presentation entitled EarthView: Regional Outreach in Geographic Education. I mention it in this space as a convenient way to share my slides and abstract. 

Abstract (a summary of what I planned to hope to say)

As it was taught in mid-twentieth century schools in the United States, geography was so pedantic in its approach and so narrow in its worldview that it was considered progressive to get rid of it. The social studies curricula that emerged as a result have lacked spatial perspectives, and geographic illiteracy has become rampant. Introductory university courses in geography now often include remediation for geographic learning that was once part of K-12 education.

This paper describes educational outreach programs through which geography faculty at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts have worked directly with thousands of students and dozens of teachers each year since 2008. The work has given the faculty members and participating undergraduate assistants deep insights into the diverse communities of our region, while helping middle-school students and their teachers better understand their connections to the wider world.

Sustained outreach of this kind requires significant effort, but brings significant rewards to a department, a university, and the surrounding region. The visits to schools often attract positive attention from parents, media and political leaders. This work leads to conversations about a modern geography that no longer promotes rote memorization and a colonial worldview, but rather serves as a positive force for equity, inclusion, diversity, and justice.

L'esprits d'escalier 

After this presentation -- in which I thought I conveyed both the need for and value of our outreach programs with some panache --  I found myself in the position of the philosopher Diderot, who coined this term, meaning "wit of the staircase." I originally learned it as "angel of the staircase," which I still prefer.

As with Diderot in the original story, I was caught off-guard by a question that I have heard before but do not consider central to the spirit of the presentation itself, and like Diderot, right after the session I thought of a better answer. To be honest, Diderot thought of one perfect answer (hence his use of "wit" rather than "spirit"), whereas I thought of one and then another and another as I brooded over this a bit.

The question was a bit surprising because it came from a fellow professor with decades of teaching experience who has used many of the same resources I described, in many of the same ways. He said, however, that the National Geographic's use of "entertaining and educational" for such giant-map programs was not supported by evidence, and he asked whether I had set up pre- and post-program surveys to document the educational benefit in terms of student learning on specific learning standards.

My reply was to sputter a bit and eventually to mention a few ways in which we had done some of this kind of "assessment," but not to make clear why this is exactly the wrong question. So here are a few stairway replies:

1. Like the questioner, I am a tenured full professor of geography. That is all the validation my lessons need. This does not mean everything I teach is equally successful, but it does mean that I have been thoroughly vetted by my peers and I am able to discern what is working and what is not. We need to have more faith in the educational process. In fact, such standards are themselves only valid to the extent that qualified scholars have developed them. 

2. Teachers -- excellent teachers -- keep requesting this program. As recently as the day before my presentation, they were explaining exactly why it was effective and what kinds of lessons their students were drawing from it.

3. As I mentioned in the program, the program has led several students who participated in their K12 career to choose our geography department for their undergraduate careers. Clearly they learned something substantial, and in many cases our program was deepening the impact of what they were learning form our excellent colleagues in middle schools. The entertainment value of our 20-minute programs could not possibly have been exciting enough to drive their choices of university and major -- something more substantial was happening.

4. I do the EarthView program on top of a 4-4 teaching load and many other responsibilities. Any "spare" time I have is for looking forward, not backward. As I mentioned, our support team does do some very general surveying, but nothing tied to the standards.

5. The NCLB-era notions of educational value are demonstrably flawed, but the accountability movement is not yet being held accountable, as I have discussed at length in a number of accountability posts on my main blog. I do not see any need to invest in false measures of effectiveness.

6. As I mentioned in the presentation, our program is mentioned on PAGE 1 of the national standards. The people who published the standards -- from AAG, NCGE, and NatGeo -- asked us for that photograph as part of the introduction of the 17 national standards in geography.

7. And finally (I promise): the people who insist on reducing the art of education to the ticking of boxes on lists do not care about geography standards. That is exactly the problem we face: it is illegal to become a high-school geography teacher in Massachusetts and many other states. Showing that we are good at it is pointless, unless we make the case in other ways. 

And we are doing just that in Project EarthView and its related endeavors! We encourage my colleagues in geography to be bold and to find creative ways to show that we have something important to offer in teaching and learning about climate change, global connections, and much more!


A little treat for those who are still reading: photos from the applied geography (human and physical) I explored while in the Denver area for the meeting. I took the unusual (for me) step of annotating a full set of images (but not too many) in my AAG Denver 2023 folder on Flickr. Enjoy! 

Orixás, Orishas, y Más

On March 21, 2023, I am offering a special session of my Latin American geography class as part of BSU's celebration of Carnival Week in the Latin American and Carribean Studies program I helped to establish -- and that continues to thrive under esteemed new leaders.

As always with public presentations, I will be making my slides available immediately after the presentation. Everything that looks like a link IS a link, for further exploration!