Coastal Meanderings and The Geography Textbooks Collection

I am often full of admiration for the single-minded focus of research students – many of whom I had the pleasure of meeting yesterday at the Doctoral School Induction. But just as often, I am delighted, impressed by a more serendipitous kind of research approach which makes lateral connections, some productive, some less so, but nearly always interesting.

I enjoyed something of a free association of ideas this week that led me to a very interesting IOE archive collection. Over coffee last Monday, I began discussing with a colleague an article that had appeared in The Guardian about the enormous challenges faced by coastal communities in the present economic climate. Liz Sidwell, the Education Commissioner for England, talked about the situation in Plymouth, highlighting the lack of training opportunities and facilities, as well as the lack of cultural diversity. Sidwell is quoted as saying the plight of coastal communities poses “one of the greatest challenges to the government’s education reforms”. The article also highlights how students from white working class communities at a school just two miles away from the historic landmark, Plymouth Hoe – associated with Sir Francis Drake and the Spanish Armada – do not consider it as a place for them to visit and identify with.

Yet this morning’s coffee conversation had started much more brightly with reference to a piece of installation art work that I came across by chance on my way to work.  If you walk on Euston Road to get to the IOE, do stop and have a listen to the sound of the waves crashing against the pebbled shore at Chesil Beach outside the Wellcome Collection.  In case you don’t know, Chesil Beach is a strange 18-mile spit of pebble beach in Dorset reaching out into the English Channel. The sound installation called White Sound:  an Urban Seascape by American composer/sound artist, Bill Fontana is a live audio feed from Chesil Beach. Venture inside the Wellcome Institute and you will also find live film footage playing continuously. The composer is well known for isolating sounds he finds interesting and repurposing the sounds in different contexts. Amazingly, Fontana’s work really brings the rhythms of the sea to the Euston Road.

You have till October 16th to visit the seashore ten minutes from the IOE.

My coastal experience was revisited the other day when, as part of my familiarisation with the IOE special collections, I burrowed down into the Geography Text Book Collection. This is a wonderful resource for those interested in the history of British education, the evolution of Geography as a subject taught in the classroom and the evolution of the textbook itself as a cornerstone of teaching and learning. I could so easily have become distracted by a book on Dorset (by Arthur L. Salmon) which was part of the Cambridge University Press county geography series and published in 1910, written for upper primary/secondary school students.

And of course outside of the special collections there are plenty of library resources on coasts and coastlines, including books, pictures, maps, videos/DVDs, including the two-part TV series by the Open University/BBC ‘Coast’.

Writing this blog on such a beautiful Indian Summer’s day I definitely am pining for the sea.

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