I did relatively poorly at Geography at school, despite the best efforts of the teachers (splendid fellows like ‘Hot-Dog’ Hitchman, with his rollermaps, and ‘Tony’ Balsdon, with his memorable impression of a glacier depositing a terminal moraine comprising armfuls of textbooks he grabbed from our desks as he progressed down the classroom.) I got a C at O-level, and my A-level result was… another O-level. So why am I reading a book ‘written principally for teachers of Geography’, one of the roles I am least likely to fulfil in this lifetime?
Several things drew me to Reading Our Landscapes: Understanding Changing Geographies by Charles Rawding.
On one level, I was simply curious as to what Geography, as a school subject, consists of 30 years after I was studying it. I was also thinking that this journey involves ‘reading landscapes’ and experiencing ‘changing geographies’, at least from an art/autobiography/bricoleur-pilgrim perspective: how might serious professionals approach such things?
Rawding suggests that pupils make transects through areas and consider the range and variety of ‘landscape character areas’ encountered. A transect seems to be a straight line, compared to which my journey seems convoluted and wilful. Nevertheless, I am passing through ‘wide variations in scenery’: the Sefton and Wirral coasts, urban fringes, a World Heritage site or two, country parks, some ‘undulating lowland farmland’. The landscapes I encounter sometimes have other dimensions too: memory, emotion, allusion – random floating detritus of the noosphere.
I’m not sure that I would have done any better if taught on the social-constructivist principles of this book – but I expect I would have left school with a keener sense of the scope and importance of geography, and perhaps with the exhilerating realisation that ‘our constructions of the world are being continually modified by new things and new ways of thinking.’