This is the fourth edition of the “About this site” page. That’s because over time this site has evolved, changed, and expanded. It’s not even really a blog an more; it is instead a collection of essays and observations that I hope have a longer shelf life than the term ‘blog’ implies. I hope that what appears on this pages can be a resource for anyone trying to understand the parts of the world I write about, and also the issues I focus on.
It is a blog, though, in the sense that I hope what I write here promotes conversation, both on these pages and elsewhere.
What you will find here is a compilation of perspectives on places and events, as I (and occasional guest contributors) see them; I write largely about places I have visited and what I have learned by visiting them.
I am a geographer and an educator by training, by profession, and, I suspect, by instinct. I tend see the world from a geographic perspective. This means that I am particularly interested in the “where” of things: people, cultural phenomena, and just about anything else. It also means that I am interested in the unique combination of physical, human, historic, and economic ingredients that make every place unique.
I also believe, though, that what makes places and people what they are is their connection with other places and people. So I am fascinated by connections, linkages, communications, flows of people, ideas, and information.
At the core of what I write on these pages teach in my classes are two basic assumptions:
- You can’t possibly understand world events if you don’t know (and understand) something about the places where they happen.Haiti was devastated by a magnitude 7 earthquake in January 2010, and hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives. A similarly powerful earthquake a few months later did cause loss of life and property damage in Chile, but on a much smaller scale than the Haiti. And an earthquake hundreds of times more powerful than either of these caused hardly any damage to buildings in Japan, but the resulting tsunami killed thousands and caused immense property and environmental damage (though far less than that caused by the Haiti quake.)
Part of the reasons for the different impacts of these quakes had to to with geology, plate tectonics, and geophysics. But their impacts were also affected by population distribution, topography, and whether the epicenter of the quake was beneath land or ocean. Above all else, though, the effects of the quakes were affected most by wealth and poverty. Everything happens somewhere, and unless you know something about the place where it happens, you can’t possibly make sense of it.
- The world looks different depending on where you look at it from, literally and in other ways. Every person sees the world through a lens shaped and layered by his or her own experiences, culture, background, ideology, and more. Our place in the world affects the way we see the world, and unless we know something about the places where people live and that help shape them, we cannot begin to understand the way they see the world, or the way they see us. (Again, here I use the word place in its literal, geographic sense as well is in its many other connotations.) On this site, based largely on my own travels and observations, I try to explain places as I see them (as an outsider) and try also to find out as much as I can about the way various individuals in those places see themselves and their worlds (the former of these two tasks is infinitely easier than the latter.)
When I started this blog in September 2007, I knew what I wanted it to be. It was to be part of the courses I teach on Regional Geography at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. It was to be a place where I could write about issues related to the subject matter of the course, engage my students in discussion, and perhaps occasionally pursue some interesting digressions.
I quickly discovered that my original objectives were much too confining. I wanted to write about issues that I find interesting, and these didn’t necessarily mesh with the course syllabus. And, to my great surprise, it turned out that there are quite a lot of people out there who want to read what I have written, and these are often people who are neither students nor geographers (and who have so for accessed these pages from over 150 countries.)
And so the blog evolved. It is now best defined, I suppose, as a blog about issues that interest me, written for those who share my interests. I am a geographer, and so much of what intrigues me is related to geography. I am a news junkie, and so much of what I write about is related to what’s going on in the world. I am an avid traveler, so the blog is partly a travel blog. And I am an educator, so I hope that what I write provoke others into thinking about some of the issues I address here.
The changing nature of this blog doesn’t mean that it is no longer intended for my regional geography students. On the contrary, I hope that what I write here might help convince my students that the sorts of issues that we cover in the course are way too interesting and too important to allow themselves to be confined to the pages of a textbook or to classroom discussions. They are the stuff of the real world.
My name is Donald Rallis, and I am an Associate Professor of Geography at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The primary focus of my teaching is regional geography: I teach courses on World Regional Geography, the Geography of Asia, the Geography of Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Geography of Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific. I current lead an annual study abroad program in Cambodia, and have previously taken student groups Australia, New Zealand and in South Africa and Madagascar.
I am an avid traveler, and whenever time, funds, and visas permit, I like to explore the world. I hope you can join me through these pages.