First year geographers and environmental sciences students head to Greece

Dr Mary Gearey, Senior Research Fellow in SET, reflects on her first Greek field trip – 6th-10th November 2018 with our first year Geography and Environmental Sciences students.

As the lead University of Brighton researcher on the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) funded WetlandLIFE project (www.wetlandlife.org), I am normally found traversing soggy moors and bogs all over England to interview my research participants about their sense of place within these wonderful landscapes.

“How about a fieldtrip to sunny, dry Greece?” my colleague Dr Paul Gilchrist suggested, after one particularly windy and rainswept visit to North Lincolnshire’s Alkborough Flats. Sunshine? Heat? Lots of Greek salad, honey and yoghurt? How could I say no? So, following Dr Jon Caplin’s explicit instructions, I swapped my welly boots for stout walking shoes and helped shepherd almost forty eager geographers and environmental scientists onto our flight to Athens in early November.

“They’ve drunk us dry…”, I heard one of the cabin crew say mid way through our flight. My heart lurched. Surely not our wonderful first year students hitting the inflight bar? “…we’ve run out of green tea.” That’s more like it. Time for some serious fieldwork.

My first excursion was supporting the human geography element of the Greece trip to the Acropolis with my two aforementioned, and esteemed, colleagues. Together we circumnavigated the Parthenon, Athena Nike’s temple and the Erechtheum, outlining to our budding cultural geographers the ways in which the site is a palimpsest, having been used in myriad ways over several historical and political epochs – from the Ancient Greeks and Persians to the Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans and Venetians. We also reflected on the ways in which we are appropriating the space now for our own contemporary uses – as a site of tourism, national identity formation and the creation of digital identities through Acropolis focused selfies. So enlightening was our alfresco lecture that several random perambulators tagged along with us – including two newlyweds, Janey and Chris from North Carolina, Donald from Inverness and some curious but silent Japanese visitors. They learnt more about the reconstruction of the Caryatids, the amazing decoration on the exterior of the early Parthenon and the troubled history of the ‘Elgin’ marbles. We see our inclusive approach as an important element of the University of Brighton’s public outreach programme of works!

Next day I was supporting Dr Chris Carey and Dr Caplin on the geomorphological fieldwork trip to the Perachora peninsula, some 2 hours out of Athens, close to our base in the town of Loutraki. The day was spent investigating evidence of different glacial and inter-glacial cycles on our planet, demonstrating how varied the Earth’s temperature has been over geological time and the ways in which we can find this evidence in the land formations around us. A brilliant day was had, assessing wave notches and measuring raised beaches in order to determine sea level changes over ‘deep time’. Again – the day was so fascinating even the local goats joined in! Drs Niall Burnside and Matthew Brolly had only Praying Mantis’ to contend with as they lead their Lake Stymphalia Environmental Sciences fieldwork. The goats were definitely more vocal in their praise.

After another return visit to the Acropolis and its accompanying museum for our final group of students, our fieldtrip was successfully wrapped up for another year. With a quick stop to pick up pom-pommed Greek Slippers near to the viewing platform of the magnificent Corinth Canal it was time to head back home to Brighton – this time with my boots filled with sand, not wetlands mud.

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