Monday, October 31, 2016

Avast! Happy Halloween

Dr. Hayes-Bohanan, as Captain Ahab, takes a break from a short field trip to look for that white whale!
One of the major themes of geography is the importance of a concept known as "sense of place" -- the ways in which people identify regions and their connections to them. Given the proximity of Bridgewater to the historic whaling city of New Bedford, therefore, Captain Ahab was a natural choice for my Halloween costume this year.

Actually, I do not usually wear a Halloween costume, putting more emphasis on The Day of the Dead for my Geography of Latin America course. But with my increasing interest in whaling (historically and geographically, not in real life!) in general and in New Bedford in particular, I decided to try a Captain Ahab costume. (I left my harpoon at home. Yes, I have a harpoon.)

When Dr. Hellström saw me in the middle of the day, he decided there should be a photograph. I then terrorized his class briefly, as I broke in and shouted "Avast! Avast! Have you seen the white whale?" Dr. Hellström was not surprised at all, but student reactions ran the gamut from amused to puzzled to intrigued to concerrned, maybe a bit scared. Good teaching is all about taking chances, they say.

Later I realized that I would be taking my Honors First-Year Seminar on Climate Justice to have a look at one of our department's several unusually large maps.This one -- located amidst our faculty offices -- is a combination political-physical map that also highlights several dozen of the world's indigenous peoples (out of several thousand that could be shown). Since our seminar topic today was indigenous knowledge, this was a good time to explore the map. And since everyone looks better in front of a map (try it, you'll see!), I asked a student to snap the photo above. Another student helpfully positioned my white whale for the camera.
Following along in my Portuguese edition, between fellow readers State Rep. Cabral and Portuguese Consul Cardeiro.
What does this have to do with geography? Everything. The fictional tale of Moby Dick begins in New Bedford, about 30 miles directly south of Bridgewater (that is, sharing a meridian of longitude). Earlier this year, I had the privilege of participating in the first-ever public reading of a Portuguese version of Moby Dick at the Whaling Museum in New Bedford. The Portuguese version was added to the 20th annual reading of the original English version, taking place at the same time. I was very pleased to be reading a chapter entitled "O Pulpito" -- "The Pulpit" -- describing a fictional structure inside a very real chapel directly across the street from where we were reading. Herman Melville himself attended the Seamen's Bethel, but described a nautical-themed pulpit that did not exist until a century later, for the benefit of fans of the film version of his book.

For the past four years, I have learned a lot about coastal geography simply by spending time on the water in and around New Bedford, as a member of one of the three clubs that regularly row modern repicas of the boats that were used in 18th- and 19th-century whale hunts. I wrote about some of the learning that comes from this hobby in my Harbor Learning blog post when I first started rowing in 2012. Time on the water has also helped me to learn many things about tides, including the fact that I will never really understand them!
Image: Whaling City Rowing
Finally, the Captain Ahab get-up gives me a chance to promote a new course I am offering in the summer 2017 session -- New Bedford Fortnight. Because I have enjoyed teaching Geography of Brockton in the past, I decided to offer this two-week immersion in Whaling City. Each afternoon of the course will begin with a local institution -- such as the Whaling Museum or a community organization -- and then continue with explorations by van, on foot, and on boats. One session will include a visit to my family's "Whaling House" in nearby Fairhaven.

This course will be open to geography majors and non-majors alike. Check the course blog for more information; scheduling details will be posted soon.

~~ Dr. James Hayes-Bohanan, aka Coffee Maven