Why an expedition?

For contemporary geography, the idea of an expedition seems a remnant from a bygone era. Heroic portrayals of explorers overcoming physical hardships and extreme conditions in search of fame and fortune are now the subject of adventure films rather than scholarship. Moreover, the history of the expedition is closely tied to the history of imperialism, not exactly geography’s proudest moment.

Daily News Abyssinian Expedition, circa 1927.

Not exactly what we’re aiming for. Daily News Abyssinian Expedition, circa 1927.

So why an expedition, and why now?

Despite falling from grace as a serious method of research somewhere in the early-20th century, interesting attempts were made to rethink the expedition and its relevance to more recent geography.

One of the most thought-provoking was the Detroit Geographic Expedition, which ran between 1968 and 1972. It a short-lived but powerful education and research experiment: Rather than seek far, exotic lands, this expedition ‘travelled’ to the urban neighbourhood of Fitzgerald in Detroit. And instead of comprising of experts surveying the field, this was a collaborative venture led by an academic geographer, Dr William Bunge, and Gwendolyn Warren, an 18-year-old black female community leader.


A very different kind of expedition: Bunge holding a block club meeting in his home in Detroit

Their activities included 1) mounting a free university for inner city black students to be trained in geography, urban planning and other subjects and gain college credit, and 2) Together with the students and the community, conducting and publishing research on racial injustice. The Expedition’s main concern was using geography for the social good and, specifically in Detroit, addressing racial injustice.

In planning our own expedition into no-man’s land, we are really inspired by this. First, we believe that the most valuable knowledge about no-man’s lands lies in communities and individuals who live in and around them. Through a series of workshops and conversations, walks and talks, we hope to use these deeper understandings to guide our research. This is also an opportunity to think about the relationship between different no-man’s lands in different historical periods. Too often, these sites are considered to be isolated and deserted, when in fact, they share many challenges- from environmental concerns to security. And finally, the expedition is a public event, an occasion for activities and conversations to take place and positively contribute what are already extremely lively places.

As always, send us questions and suggestions: It’s never too late to plan a detour!

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