Exploring Morocco with our 2nd year geographers

Every year, 2nd year undergraduates on our BA Geography course spend 8 days exploring Morocco as part of their dedicated field work module. This year they were joined by gender and sexuality specialist Dr Nick McGlynn, sustainable energy expert Dr Kirsten Jenkins, and senior geoarchaeology lecturer Dr Chris Carey.

The field trip was split across two locations. For 6 days the students worked and studied in the tourist hotspot and cultural heartland of Marrakech. Through transect walks across the French-planned New Town and the older Medina (the walled centre), students observed the lingering impacts of colonialism in the built environment and culture of the city.

They also investigated ways in which national and transnational policymaking – particularly the ‘Plan Maroc Vert‘ agenda – influence the very rapid development of Morocco, with consequent tension around use of land and water evident in peri-urban Marrakech.

Water usage in particular was studied further as students traveled into the Atlas Mountains for two days, in the village of Imlil. Here the focus was on changing rural livelihoods, traditional forms of agriculture and immigration, and the impacts brought by the growth in tourism. Despite rainy and stormy weather, students managed to spend a lot of time observing these issues first-hand. Local guides pointed out mechanisms and strategies for managing flooding, soil erosion and landslides, and explained the ‘targa’ irrigation system and the social practices used to manage it.

Help was also at hand (or more accurately at hoof) in the form of local mules, which carried staff and students to the lower slopes near Mount Toubkal. Here we could see the still-existing damage caused by a devastating flood and rockslide in 1995, and the differences between tourist-oriented villages like Imlil and more isolated settlements higher in the mountains.

Returning to Marrakech for the final days of the field trip, our budding geographers concluded by developing their own group projects. Data for these was gathered over two days, and subsequent findings were presented to staff and fellow students. This year our groups’ research topics were:

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The Morocco field trip serves as a critical introduction to fieldwork and the research process for students. But we also find that it really brings our students together as a group, and helps them work together and support one another in their vital final year. We can’t wait to see how they progress as we move into 2020!

Human geography field trip to Morocco 2016

Students in Imlil

Students and guide in Imlil

This year our BA Geography students jetted out to Morocco to explore human geography in the field. With teaching support from staffmembers Dr Becky Elmhirst, Dr Jason Lim, Dr Mandy Curtis and Dr Nick McGlynn, and deep local knowledge from expert guide Ibrahim, these 20 students spent five days in the famous tourist hub of Marrakech, and two days high in the Atlas Mountains in the valley of Imlil. Each day our students undertook different exercises in data collection and analysis, from detailed autoethnographic reflections to the Rapid Rural Appraisal techniques used in international development. Unlike last year the weather was hot and sunny – which just goes to show how unpredictable mountain climates can be. In this blog post I’ll be taking you through what our students got up to (in their working hours at least!).

Day 1 (Marrakech): Urban Social Geographies

Becky and Jason help students to understand the Place du 16 Novembre

Dr Becky Elmhirst and Dr Jason Lim help students to understand the Place du 16 Novembre

We left the university at 4.30am to arrive in Marrakech at around 10.30am – so by noon we were ready to survey the field. No rest for geographers! Beginning with observations at the modern-looking Place du 16 Novembre, we then moved on through the city to the quiet Cyber Parc, to the souks of the Medina before we finally ended at the famous Jemaa El Fnaa. Students began to question what kinds of spaces we associate with modernity, and how Orientalist geographies and the concept of ‘The West’ could be critiqued. The word ‘authentic’ was temporarily banned as we considered how geographic imaginaries influence what we take to be ‘authentic’ or ‘fake’.

Day 2 (Marrakech): Social and Economic Landscapes and Nightscapes

Nightscapes of the Jemaa El Fnaa

Nightscapes of the Jemaa El Fnaa

On the second day we returned to the Medina, where students undertook structured observations of key areas around the Jemaa El Fnaa. This time they were looking for signs of economic activity, globalisation and the nature of the built environment. We then returned to the area at night to see how ‘temporality’ can be vital in understanding social and cultural geographies. The square becomes even more active at night, with storytellers, performers and food vendors all clamouring for your attention. Consumption and the night-time economy were our focus here. And unlike Brighton, this was a nightscape without alcohol! Our students reflected on their own sensory experiences – how smell, taste, touch and sound can be as important in our conceptions of space as sight is.

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