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
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
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.