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Issue 1 | Summer 2011 | Geography and Environment

Altitude Welcome to the Geography and Environment newsletter. In this issue, learn more about how our academics are advising the government on revitalising Britain’s high streets, the processes that create sand dunes and read about a former student’s success in America.

Lessons from the sands helps win top teaching award | Page 2 High Streets in Crisis? Retail research examines the issues | Page 3 Traditional orchards, do they have a future? | Page 4


Lessons from the sands helps win top teaching award

An innovative module examining how wind creates sand dunes has won Dr Jo Nield a top teaching award within Geography. The third year option Aeolian Processes and Geomorphic Modelling introduces students to complex systems and modelling. She invites them to choose a sand dune field somewhere in the world to investigate for an individual project; an assignment that encourages them to develop problem solving and research skills. The Mike Clark Award recognises and rewards inspirational teaching. Jo was nominated by two third year undergraduates as well as a current postgraduate, who said the quality of teaching on the unit helped him decide to take a higher degree at Southampton.

Learning vital skills for a career in the USA Graduate Ben Lord now works as a signal processing engineer for an oil and gas exploration company in the USA. His joint honours degree covered both geography and geology: “The fact that I could do 50 per cent of my modules at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton widened the scope of the programme, giving me experience in oil and gas exploration and mining as well as organisational and geographical information system (GIS) skills,” he says. Ben liked the chance to get hands-on during his degree: “Academically, I really enjoyed the practical sessions in which we used real data to solve real life problems. That gave us key skills for later use in our future careers. I also learned to work efficiently within teams and understand team dynamics, which is invaluable in any industry. “Overall my University of Southampton experience was highly enjoyable and really allowed me to hone my skills. It definitely helped me land my current job in California,” he says.

From South Asia to Southampton Geography teamed up with colleagues across Southampton’s Faculties of Social and Human Sciences and Humanities to host the twenty fifth conference of the British Association for South Asian Studies (BASAS). It attracted 150 delegates from the UK and overseas. Senior Lecturer in Developmental Geography Dr Kanchana N Ruwanpura hosted the three day event with Dr Stephanie Jones from English and Professor Ian Talbot from History. Keynote speaker Shireen Huq of Naripokkho in Bangladesh spoke about 40 years of Bangladesh’s independence and what this has meant for feminist activism during the birth of a nation. Other topics discussed included the role of elites in Pakistan’s development, Sri Lanka’s recent development after the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, environmental matters in Nepal and theatre work in West Bengal in India. Outside the conference hall, delegates enjoyed their opportunity to see an exhibition on the papers of the late Louis, Earl Mountbatten of Burma, and his wife Edwina at the University’s Hartley Library.

Keynote speaker Shireen Huq spoke about Bangladesh’s history of feminist activism

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Altitude | Summer 2011


High Streets in New perspective from Google Earth wins award for geographer Crisis? Retail

research examines the issues Neil Wrigley, Professor of Human Geography, is assisting the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) on the Government’s Revitalising the High Street initiative led by television’s ‘Queen of Shops’ Mary Portas. He was one of just two academics to be invited to the launch in London, alongside leading figures from the retail and property industries and policy makers The launch of the initiative in May 2011 coincided with the release of key findings of his research with PhD student Les Dolega regarding how well 267 UK town centres and high streets have coped with the effects of the global economic crisis.

Google Earth is helping students at Southampton to understand how modern mapping techniques can be used in innovative ways. In a collaboration between Geography and Environment and Ocean and Earth Sciences, Richard Treves invited students to engage in ‘map crowd sourcing’ – each person contributing data which was then combined and used as a whole. This is similar to the way information is provided to Wikipedia. The students uploaded small maps produced in Google Earth, which were then used to create a larger map.

Teaching Award for Geography for 2011. The awards recognise innovative teaching by academics across the University. “Students find assignments like this fascinating as they deal with real life problems,” he says. “The technique has tremendous potential for gathering information in disaster situations like the 2010 Haiti earthquake. In that case, all the computers holding street map data were lost in a collapsed building and people around the world used map crowd sourcing to produce new maps.”

Richard’s use of a crowd sourcing tool in his teaching has won him the Vice Chancellor’s

National recognition for health geographer Professor Graham Moon has been elected as an Academician of the Academy of Social Sciences. He is best known as a geographer of health whose work on smoking and alcohol use in both the UK and New Zealand has won international renown.

Revitalising the High Street forms part of the government’s wider growth review, which is looking at how barriers to success can be removed so that strong, sustainable and balanced growth can be achieved and more evenly shared across the country. “British high streets have adjusted in complex and as yet not fully understood ways to the global economic crisis,” says Neil “A gathering storm of rising vacancy rates, hard-hit ‘comparison retailers’ and the disappearance of iconic chains, has fuelled a popular image which tends towards the cataclysmic. Our research reveals a more balanced picture – with some high streets performing strongly and against the trend, and it analyses the key factors driving both strong and weak performance. It argues that the focus should be placed on the adaptive capacity and resilience of high streets, and suggests that policy measures which work ‘with the grain’ of evolutionary trends evident prior to the shock of economic crisis are likely to have greatest leverage.” Neil is acknowledged to be one of the global research leaders on the retail sector. The project is one of a series of major empirical studies of retail competition and planning issues in the UK which Neil and his team of research assistants and PhD students have conducted since 2005 – studies which have made significant contributions to policy debate.

“This will be a valuable opportunity to get the voice of Geography heard more widely within the social sciences,” he says. “I will also appreciate the chance to meet colleagues from other disciplines as these encounters may spark interdisciplinary research.” Graham combines theoretical insight with methodological rigour to examine geographical issues such as mental health care, public health and health policy. Altitude | Summer 2011

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New spaces for research Postgraduate researchers in Geography can now use state of the art facilities in the new Geography and Environment Graduate Research Hub. Up to 60 PhD students can work in the airy purpose-built unit. The Hub was opened by Prof. Vanessa Lawrence, Director General and Chief Executive of Ordnance Survey. Prof. Lawrence is a Visiting Professor in Geography and Environment, and recently served as a member of the University of Southampton’s Council.

The new hub provides extra work space for PhD students

Embarking on fieldtrips Field trips are an important part of studying geography. Our students carry out research in places as diverse as Paris and the Picos de Europa mountains in northern Spain. “The tours allowed us to see the features for ourselves. The fact that we were encouraged to come up with our own project ideas was amazing. It really allowed us to get into a geography research mindset.” The University pays for these compulsory trips in the first and second years, so, apart from incidental expenses in the field, they are free of charge to students. Human Geography students at the Senate Department for Urban Development, Berlin

Traditional orchards, do they have a future? Researcher Dan Keech is examining how traditional orchards in the west of England and southern Germany may be run as social enterprises. His PhD studies have been supported by one of this year’s Frederick Soddy Awards, which were set up from the estate of the former Nobel prizewinning scientist to support social, economic and cultural research. “An old-fashioned cider orchard is good for the environment. They can be home to endangered species; farm animals often graze under the trees,” says Dan. “Yet there are only 16,000 hectares of traditional orchards left in Britain. Some people want to protect them by

establishing social enterprises and I want to compare this activity in the UK with what is already happening in Germany.” In the UK, the National Trust is already establishing a business as part of the charity to make and sell apple juice, an initiative which is attracting much attention. “Social enterprises are interesting structures, juggling multiple aims. They exist to make a profit, as conventional companies do, but also have social or environmental reasons to be in business,” he adds.

For more information or to discuss our courses contact: gg-admissions@southampton.ac.uk +44(0)23 8059 3760 www.southampton.ac.uk/geography

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Altitude | Summer 2011

© M. Büchele & M. Degenbeck


University of Southampton's Geography and Environment summer newsletter 2011