A Sense of My Place Assignment
AP Human Geography, Dr. Carol Ann Gillespie
One of the first assignments students are asked to complete in AP Human Geography is called “A Sense of My Place.” Human geographers talk a great deal about what constitutes a sense of place, or a collection of a place’s smells, sounds, visual images, and other sensory imagery that evokes a particular place. Students are asked to describe their “place.” Here is the assignment as it appears in the syllabus.
Assignment: A Sense of My Place Fieldtrip
AP Human Geography
We are all from a “place.” This “place” serves to give us an identity. A formal definition of place might be "the combination of natural and man-made attributes that give meaning to a location. " Place refers to a location’s characteristics. These characteristics include the features of the location that make it unique and different from other locations. Places are like belly buttons – no two are exactly alike. The human activities and physical processes of each place make that place special – give it a “sense of place” or a soul!
In this self-directed field trip, you will examine your own “place” – your neighborhood. As you tour your own neighborhood on foot, you will learn to look at it with the eyes of a geographer. No field trip is complete without a field journal. You may not be plunging into the depths of darkest Africa or discovering rare, but useful, medicinal herbs in the Amazon, but you still need to observe and record your observations in a field journal.
Include the following items in this field journal:
1. Create a hand-drawn map of your neighborhood. Include the following elements that are always the usual suspects when creating a map: scale, direction, symbols (key), date, and title. If possible, scan this map into a file on your computer.
2. Take some photos (3- 4) of your neighborhood. If possible, scan or upload these photos onto your computer. Include various components of the neighborhood such as houses, community facilities, and retail stores, (called the built environment) as well as natural features such as lakes, streams, meadows, etc. Include a caption or brief description with each photo.
3. Note observations like the following briefly in your field journal:
a. Absolute and relative locations of the neighborhood
b. Neighborhood amenities
c. Types of houses
d. Locations of houses on lots and any distinguishing features such as protective hedges, fences or lack of them,
e. Cultural and recreational activities nearby
f. Economic activities – what are they and how close are they to the neighborhood?
g. Public transportation access?
h. Walking and biking paths, sidewalks, etc.
i. General age of neighbors – young families, retired couples, etc.
j. Any general or specific observations about the physical or cultural landscape
k. Any sensory impressions – smells, sounds, etc. that evoke your sense of place.
If we were in the Yucatan or the Serengeti, we would also include sketches or “rubs” of stone carvings. Since we aren’t, you may not have much to sketch or rub (a tombstone or inscription in a monument would be great!), but feel free to do so if tempted. Place these items in a computer file, too.
4. Write a short (1-2 page) paper describing what your field journal notes, photos, and map say about your neighborhood. What conclusions can you draw about the settlement, structures, human interactions with the environment, and economy of your “place?” Use geographic vocabulary and proof-read for grammar, spelling, etc. before turning it in. Your end product will reveal a “sense of your place!”
EXAMPLE - a sample page from my field journal when I was doing field research in the Yucatan in 2002. This gives you an idea of the type of notes you should record as you take your field trip.
“ May 11, 2002 – Sabado- Scenic route from Cancun to Vallodolid (2 ½ hr. by bus). Passed by Maya houses and milpas on a narrow, but well-paved highway (not tollroad). All along road was an enormous amount of broken glass, glass bottles, and litter on either side of the highway. Occasional small casas or tiendas made an attempt to draw tourist trade but I would have to be very desperate to stop at one. A sign advertising Coca Cola reminded me that globalization is happening rapidly! Even a dusty little Maya village far off the beaten path for most tourists can offer a thirsty traveler a Coca! Maya women sat in small groups with their small children selling chiles, vegetables, or fruits. Thin, mangy dogs lay sleeping or walking with their tongues hanging out. Barefoot children stared at our bus as we zoomed past. The casas had no windows or doors and most had palm-thatched roofs - the best kind in this climate where tropical storms wreak devastation on a regular basis. Speed bumps slowed our bus as we passed through the villages. Corn, vegetables, and medicinal herbs as well as fruit trees were planted in seemingly random clumps in the yards. No orderly rows or neatly staked-off gardens here. Previous reading in Dr. Bruce Love’s book prepared me for this by informing me that Maya are very efficient in their land use and grow almost everything they need to survive. Chickens and pigs wandered in and out of some of the casas and almost everyone raised turkeys. The tantalizing smells of pok pibil drifted on the air from cook fires and I remembered that lunch had been long ago and far away. Naked toddlers wandered around the front yards and thin, barefoot little girls in long ragged dresses played in the dirt.
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