Our second year Geography BA students spent a busy week in Morocco, exploring urban and rural landscapes as part of their Research and Field Skills core module.
Starting off in Marrakech, students spent the first day undertaking a transect walk that took them on a slice directly through the city. Starting in the ‘New Town’ of colonial Gueliz, students began to investigate post-colonial urbanism, development strategies, water stress and plans for a sustainable Green Morocco as they made their way to the ‘Old City’ of the medina. Here they examined tourist practices in the souks and at the famous Jemaa el Fnaa. In the evening they returned to the famous square to see how this busy nightlife space is created.
The group were joined by local Amazigh/Berber guide Saeed on day three, learning about water and land use in the outskirts of Marrakech from him. Students got a first-hand view of the irrigation techniques used in a rapidly-developing yet water-scarce country, and heard about the politics of who gets access to water, and why.
Moving to rural villages in the Atlas Mountains for the next part of the trip, our students investigated the changing agriculture and landscapes in this beautiful mountainous area. Next they headed, by mule, to some of Africa’s highest settlements to learn how livelihoods are changing with rapid development and a growth in tourism. Students also got to compare water management in Marrakech with the mountains, seeing first-hand the use of traditional irrigation and water-management techniques, and learned about the advantages of intercropping subsistence crops with cash crops. On the last day, Saeed, who is local to this area, kindly invited the group into his friend’s home for a break with sweet mint tea and a lesson about the importance of community networks for life in the mountains.
The week was rounded off by students presenting their 48-hour research projects in groups. The first group explored how spaces created under French colonialism were being used after independence, while the second group investigated society-nature relationships in the medina.
The students returned from a packed week, having learnt new and built on existing, hands-on practical field techniques and research skills. Being out in the field helps to put theory into practice and the skills students gain are not only important for final year studies but also for their careers.