Sunday, 25 May 2014

'Colouring in between the lines'- Part 1: 'Green' Earth

'All Geographers do is colour in'....'Geographer's love Crayola'...'It's all about the colouring pencils'....
In a five part series, exclusively for Geography with Dan, Daniel discusses how colour should be treated seriously within the subject. Each week, he selects a colour that helps to shape the planet we live on today, and studies that colour from a distinctively geographical perspective.
This week, he focuses on all things Green and argues that this colour is instrumental for a subject such as Geography.
'And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England's pleasant pastures seen!'
[William Blake 'Jerusalem' 1808]
It's fair to say that we've all done it; cruised along England's multitudinous array of urban highways and country tracks, rested our temple against the sunlit pane of the wind-up window, and gazed out to England's 'green and pleasant land'. The landscapes of Britain make up a patchwork quilt of utter diversity. Vista after vista, we as humans are enchanted about this nation's rich variety of eye-appealing panoramas, but seldom do we appreciate just how wonderfully simple they really are. I use 'simple' cautiously; of course, the tapestry of the English landscape is one composed of a range of complex interactions and processes. Just viewing one of Constable's works for half an hour will reveal the density of life occupying our rural landscapes, but I would strongly argue here that there must be something so clear-cut and frank in our countryside which makes us find it so appealing from the start.
After all, just take note of how we fall in love with things; entities, people, environments. To love a film, for instance, we have to travel to our local cinema, queue for a ticket, endure a generation of trailers and adverts before we can claim to fall in love with the actual film. We take time out of our own lives to read, and it may take several chapters to 'get into' it, so to speak. Falling in love with people may take an hour or two worth of coffee-fuelled, lively and engaging chat in the local café.
But when it comes to our rural landscape, our instantaneous love seeps from our hearts; we cruise around a corner and are immediately immersed with an entirely different set of surroundings which, for some reason, we instantly stare at. ‘Love at first sight’, one may say, and arguably less awkward than that 'first date'. (In addition, it’s free of charge and does not consume time).
So what draws us? What aspect of the landscape is that intangible force that revolves our head from our iPad to our car window? What essence of 'England's pleasant pastures' stir the human imagination in such a way that we are emphatically encapsulated within the blessed panorama? Perhaps, the clue is in Blake's poem: quite possibly it is the greenness of our hills and dales, the greenness of our moors and heaths, the greenness of our meadows and pastures that sparks our passion with the landscape.
Anyone that owns a pack of crayons (a useful item for geographers apparently) should ensure that the green crayon is forever sharpened, as there is no doubt that this is a green planet.  A blue hue is evident from space and that is noteworthy, albeit misleading; our life, particularly our flora, however, simply radiates greenness. Take a peek through the catalogue of Google Images at Clipart illustrations of Earth, and then agree with me that land is more often than not coloured in green. Naturally, our bounty of satellite images may tell a different story, especially in an age of hyper-globalisation and intense industrialisation, and in some ways, this makes the fact that 'green' is used to portray terrestrial land all the more interesting. By colouring our land in green, perhaps we are trying to cling on to our heritage; an age prior to human occupation when a squirrel could venture hundreds of miles without making contact with terra firma. Or quite possibly, we are hopeful that in the future, Planet Earth will return once again to inescapable foliage and impenetrable shrubbery. Either way, we as humans- a species that deforests, builds, creatively destructs our landscape, a species that gnaws away at greenness - continue to portray our terrestrial land as monotonously green.
Our compassion and sympathy with nature may re-emerge in the future as we embrace the 'garden city'.  That's not to say we close our high-street shops, stick a pair of gardening gloves on, and unite in an afternoon of weeding and pruning, but that we incorporate greenness into our urban environment. It was an idea championed at the start of the 20th century, and indeed remains a method of urban planning adopted across the world, from New York to São Paulo, from Adelaide to New Delhi. However, it all started in the UK, in a town called Letchworth that finds itself nested within the confines of Hertfordshire. Why do we still create them? Perhaps, there's something about the colour green that softens the marks of our industrial project; something to mask the brick and mortar; something that more profoundly makes us feel that little bit less guilty when we are reminded about the pace of our urbanisation.
What the 'garden city' movement more interestingly highlights is the nature of flux and impermanence in our world today. In less than two centuries, our entire position on nature and its potential has changed in Herculean fashion. Our Industrial Revolution was an era of senseless violence to our rural landscape; a capitalism-fired destruction of all that was green and pleasant in our land. In the aftermath, we now pause and consider our wrongdoings; our uncharitable selfishness with regards to conservation and protection, and in desperation we make space in our towns and cities to reincorporate greenness. Our markets are not the only things growing in the 21st century, and ironically in some cities, the plants are actually prospering more. Maybe we should inject some chlorophyll into our stock exchange?
But of course, this has always been a world of impermanence. I was laying in a meadow not so long ago, on the outskirts of my university campus. It's a place that positively screams tranquillity, and yet I seemed to be the only one here on this particular afternoon. There I found myself examining the meadow's carpet . How elemental it is, but how simply wonderful the clouds are in influencing the tints of green of the meadow. As cloud after cloud passed under our Sun's beam, so that electric bright green seamlessly converts to a darker, more earthy shade and back to its dazzling tint.
I closed my eyes and remembered another time when I found contentment in lounging on the ground; Alaska in the fall of 2012. There I would lay, surveying the magical twilit heavens, and the celestial dance of the Aurora Borealis. A nocturnal spectacle; a display far greater than any staged or theatrical production. And very green.  I would argue, purely on my own experience, that the best representation of greenness- apart from our illustrious countryside- are the Northern Lights. But, once again, a tale of impermanence and unpredictability, for the lights cannot be forecasted. Their ornate shapes or their sumptuous dance cannot be foretold. It's one of life's greatest pleasures; the knowledge that we as humans don't (and never will) control everything.
How multifaceted 'greenness' is for our planet; how diverse its meaning. For many, it symbolises nature and hope. For others, it symbolises death and sickness- anyone who has experienced the tragedy of mouldy bread will know what I mean here. It's a colour of freedom that performs a duty in our everyday lives, whether it's the bottom bulb on a set of traffic lights, or the 'green card'. In some respects recently, green has lost its colour, as the word has become caught up in an environmental and conservation appeals: "go green", "think green", "live green" and so on.
For me, however, it's the impermanence and instability of greenness on our planet that makes it such a substantial issue, and upon consideration, maybe it's the fact that it’s becoming more difficult to find that makes me fall more in love with it when I see it. They say ‘distance makes the heart grow fonder’; indeed, as we are forever distanciated from our 'green and pleasant land', maybe there's renewed hope that we will, at some point, rekindle our love for all things green.

Saturday, 24 May 2014




There is a contested argument swarming around British Geography departments these days, that geographers simply 'colour in' maps of the world, or draw 'pretty pictures' of rivers and mountains. For many years, geographers have retaliated back and argued strongly that the discipline is more than just maps and diagrams; it's about complex inter-relationships between different locales.

Well, that maybe true, but it doesn't necessarily prevent the derogatory claims about the 'softness' of the subject; it doesn't stop Jim the physicist or Martha the chemist from likening geography to an afternoon of colouring.

Over the next five weeks, starting tomorrow (25th May), I will be launching a new series of articles for Geography with Dan. Five articles which highlight the importance of 'colour' in a subject like Geography; after all, this is one of the most colourful planets in our solar system.

I will be taking one colour each week and exploring just how that colour plays a vital part in our everyday lives. Now I'm not saying that every geographer should now go out and purchase a set of Crayola crayons, but I want to express an unprecedented argument that those who associate 'Geography' with 'Colour' may have a point.  

Sunday, 18 May 2014

TvGeog- From online web channel to national TV!

TvGeog is Geography with Dan's online documentary channel, and since it's evolution, has amassed nearly 100,000 views and over 300 subscribers. Applying a unique personal touch, here you will find documentaries filmed around the country and beyond, including a three part series on the Greek island of Kos.

The most popular series, tweeted by Radio One's Greg James and Made in Chelsea's Francis Boulle, was the 2012 homage to the 'Best of Norfolk'. Last week, internet superstar Jim Chapman featured the Best of Norfolk on the ITV2 Entertainment Show Viral Tap. Watch Jim present the videos below:

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Welcome back to a new-look Geography with Dan

It's a common school of thought that we, as a species, have come a long way since our 'cave-man' times; that we have developed into a generation that might seem unrecognisable to our ancestors. To some extent I would agree. We live in a world with a quest for knowledge, the genetic code and the silicon chip. We live in a time of space exploration and keyhole surgery; 3D cinema and polymers. But there's something that, fundamentally, hasn't changed: our undeniable yearning for communication. We may not travel for months to exchange messages, but our success undoubtedly is due to our ability- and willingness- to correspond with one another. Our mission to understand our planet's complexities is an international one, with specialists scattered around the globe, sharing real-time information.

The basis of any website is to communicate with the world too and if you're reading my message here, this new-look Geography with Dan has at least lived up to that criterion.  But the very best websites strive to be unique. Geography with Dan pulls together all the assets of modern technology to bring you YouTube videos, photo slideshows and interesting bite-size chunks of geographical news. But why don't you find all this out for yourself?