More Lockdown luggage labels

I is for Inverness. There was a period in time when I was across in Inverness with UHI business almost every week. Fortunately, we mostly use videoconferencing for those meetings these days, and the UHI was WELL ahead of the curve in using this technology for education. It took me a long while to get to like Inverness, mainly because I associate it with cold, early mornings in the railway station travelling between Aberdeen and Lewis. Nowadays, I am looking forward to being able to travel to Inverness again and have a drink in the Castle Tavern with my friends.

I is also for Iceland. My work has taken me to Iceland many times, and I have a great fondness for both the country and the people. I have travelled around lots of locations in Iceland, but one of my favourite places is at Thingvellir, which is both the site of one of the earliest Parliaments in the world, and also the site of the place where the mid-ocean ridge emerged on land. On one side is the European tectonic plate, and on the other side the North American plate, and they are still moving further apart, creating more new land in Iceland.

Lockdown luggage labels – H

H is for the Hagia Sophia, the magnificent mosque in Istanbul. It is indicative of the multiple histories of the region that this building was once also a Christian cathedral, and at the time of my visit it was a secular national monument (although I see discussions online that some people want to re-consecrate this as a mosque again). In any eventuality, it is an awe-inspiring celebration of architecture and culture, and an iconic image of Istanbul.

H is also for Hanoi. I loved my brief visit to Hanoi, and got up early one morning to avoid the heat and high humidity to wander around with my camera. Almost everything seems to take place on the street, including this barber ‘shop’ and, like many oriental cities, the hustle and vivacity of life seems absolutely everywhere. It would love to explore more of this country.

More Lockdown luggage labels

F is for Fiji – one of the highlights (for me) of an academic project meeting on education in Fiji was sharing the kava at the festivities in the evening. Lots of laughs.

and

F is also for Flic en Flac – for several years, I was an External Examiner at the Centre for Innovative Learning at the University of Mauritius. This was the view from my hotel room in the village of Flic en Flac. Don’t let anyone tell you that academic life is always easy. 🙂

E is for Edinburgh and also for ethiopia

E is for Edinburgh. Our own capital is full of history, culture, and culinary delights. I have favourite locations for all of these activities (and more) on my regular visits to Edinburgh, which sadly have been deferred during this current pandemic.

E is for Ethiopia. I only made a brief visit to Addis Ababa to take part in a meeting on supporting educational development in least favoured countries, but it was an interesting visit. We stayed in a gated hotel due to the current social unrest, and all day there were crowds of people waiting hopefully at the gate for any opportunity.

Lockdown Luggage-labels: 5-6. Cesky krumlov to cambodia

C is for Česky Kumlov in the Czech Republic. I have visited Bohemia a couple of times, and the place captures for me the essence of old central Europe. The architecture is stylish, but often heavy, with flights of Ruritanian fancy.

C is for Cambodia and what is more iconic of Cambodian culture than the re-discovered city of Angkor Wat? This archaeological treasure is still being recovered from the encroaching jungle, and it seems incredible that this complex culture could just ‘disappear’ from memory.

Waste not, learn not

 

12empire state

The history of place is the storyline of power. Karl Marx did not get everything right, but he came pretty close. The bi-polarity of inner-cities and small rural places is a long-term struggle of numbers, and this co-proximity is causing new problems due to the pandemic, which will undoubtedly have unexpected knock-on effects. More people mean the ability to apply more influence, by force if need be, and a greater ability to impose your own values and views of the world, but also highlights some of the absurdities of cities. The initial process of ‘settling down’ on the landscape and commoditising agriculture, produced surpluses, and these excess goods not only enabled trade (or barter) but also led to the stratification of society. Numberless divisions of labour evolved, from those who undertook the tasks that nobody else would do, through the massed ranks of the common labourers, to the artisans with specialist skills, to the organisers, at the top of the pyramid, who managed the process of production and took their overhead fees.

Cities accommodated this stratification in different ways, from the establishment of craft guilds to the partition of districts that condensed these various skills and led to fish markets, and grassmarkets, and financial districts or artists quarters, where common interests prevailed. In the rural areas, in contrast, while social stratification was certainly not absent, a different dynamic prevailed. Almost by default, the economic history of rural places has been dominated by exploitation. Whether it is the produce of farmland that is harvested and sent to the greater populations in urban areas, or simply the provision of space, biodiversity, and scenery for urban visitors to appreciate, the rural economy has largely been an extractive economy.

Of course, the surplus usually produces waste, but not all waste is useless. I am continuing my journey through the wonderful series of podcasts on ‘A history of the world in 100 objects’, (and its accompanying book) and some of the tangential speculations on ancient history that it suggests to me are quite revealing. A few hundred metres from my house is the remains of an Iron Age midden- a prehistoric rubbish dump. There are some adjacent graves and dwelling structures, and lots of broken pottery shards. The earliest pieces, perhaps 3-4 thousand years old, are more elaborately decorated than the later pieces. I have shards with an eloquently simple vvvvvvv motif, and others with even simpler marks caused by a ring pressed into wet clay, or more basically, by a trail of fingernail indentations around the lip of a bowl. Some pieces have perfectly preserved the finger marks of the potter, and I picture a young girl (for the pottery makers were usually female) learning the skills of this new technology from the older women in her extended family. Were these finger marks a proud proprietorial stamp or an accident by an inexperienced learner? What is the hidden story behind this remnant of place?

From the same site, I have a couple of hand axes. Beautiful, simple, and immensely practical, they both fit comfortably into a modern hand with an ergonomic dexterity that Apple would be proud of. In the sand at this midden, layers of shells define the ancient soil surface where used shells were cast after the seafood had been eaten. We still occasionally see people gathering Winkles on the shore here, perpetuating a harvest that spans more than four millennia. The waste at this place tells a fascinating and complex story. This was not a city, but neither was it an unstructured, unsophisticated society, struggling in a wilderness.  I try to imagine the excitement of experimenting with this new technology, novel in both its artistic and functional merits. The social media of its time, as groups clustered together to share ideas, and to create a story of this place that I would rediscover, and wonder about.

Lockdown Luggage-labels 3 & 4: Barcelona to Bangkok

Barcelona

B is for Barcelona, and what is more redolent of exotic Barcelona than the architecture of Gaudi? This ‘light well’ in the centre of the Gaudi house is both beautiful and functional, diffusing light and cool air in the glaring Spanish heat.

Bangkok

B for Bangkok. This enormous statue of the reclining Buddha is always worth a visit. In a long room in the palace complex, not far from the river with its constant water traffic, this modern city retains the exotic appeal of the orient.

Lockdown Lessons (Continuing)

Inconvenience

Surprisingly, among the usual dispiriting news about the efforts to contain COVID19 internationally, there are some snippets of unrelated educational revelations that are quite enlightening. I am working on a new book in my ‘spare time’ and I have made three interesting discoveries over the past month. The first is reassuring and motivational, the second is intriguing and a little disappointing, while the third is innovative and (hopefully) a sign of things to come.

To expand on these in order, I am a person who could be unashamedly described as an ‘early adopter’ of online technologies. I have written about this elsewhere on various occasions, so I don’t need to labour it here, but suffice to say that I am no stranger to a bit of deep digging for useful online educational resources. Nevertheless, in the course of the research for this new book (working from home), the extent to which I can download relevant academic resources has truly astonished me. Normally, I get my research articles in my campus office, without needing to even cross the car park to the college library, but even without this privileged access to the online university library, the sheer amount of relevant ‘stuff’ that is available is amazing. There are things in open access journals, and in Google scholar or jStor, plus direct requests from networked sources such as ResearchGate. I have been able to download PhD dissertations and privately published reports on specialist topics, giving detail that I previously could only dream about. Working from home, and being forced to be extra-flexible, I have discovered a whole new domain of great information.

Secondly, in trawling through those hundreds of academic articles, I am surprised by the frequency of how often certain ‘key quotes’ are repeated. Within the iteration of two or three papers, a possibility or an assumption can become an accepted truth. Whatever happened to the practice of checking the primary sources in research, rather than relying lazily on accepting the easiest or last interpretation of the original study? If nothing else, I have gained a whole host of examples for sharing warnings of dodgy research practice with my future students.

Thirdly, (and I am especially pleased with this one) my investigations seeking an exhaustive coverage of the relevant academic literature have led me to search and download a raft of articles that are written in languages other than English. My own linguistic skills are rather limited to English (better than average) and Gaelic (fair to middling) so the initial thought of ploughing through technical papers in Dutch, German, Czech, Hungarian, Norwegian, Slovenian and so on, was rather daunting, to say the least! Fortunately, I hit upon a useful solution. I have occasionally used the Google translate app on my iPhone to provide clarity for signs when I was abroad. Imagine my delight to realise that the same app can be used to make sense of foreign language articles on the computer screen. I simply pull up the paper onscreen, then select the language to translate, and hover my phone in front of the screen. I admit that it is probably not ideal for translating lengthy texts, but as a way of getting the highlights of the abstract or the conclusions and deciding whether it is worth investing the time to translate more, it seems like the perfect solution. Sometimes, even in a pandemic, a bit of lateral thinking can go a long way! Vive l’internationalisme.

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