Wednesday 30 September 2015

New Beginnings

Almost exactly three months ago today I was striding out of the Senate House in Cambridge, one hard-earned BA Geography degree in my hand.
Fast forward to today and I am already starting a new chapter in my academic life at Queen Mary University in London. My new course, an MA in Cities and Cultures, will consist of effectively everything I’m most interested in within Geography, with a creative scope that will give me the opportunity to satisfy my artistic urges.
I can’t believe how lucky I was to find such an ideal course. I’m genuinely very excited to get to grips with it all.
Getting to this point was a bit of a rollercoaster, though. I had to summon up some post-degree discipline and knuckle down on my application, which was quite a long process. After seemingly waiting ages for a response, and then a laborious back-and-forth with the admissions team, I finally got my unconditional offer – two weeks before the induction week and three before the start of full term!
I had to make an unusually large number of important decisions in these couple of weeks. Accommodation, finances, whether to defer my place for a year. It was a whirlwind of anxiety and stress, and (perhaps foolishly) something I didn’t anticipate. In a strange way my life routinely flashed before my eyes, and this panic kept descending on me that the decisions I was making would affect the rest of my life. I probably should have been more philosophical about it and recognised how even mundane choices that we make every day alter how our lives play out, and life goes on regardless. I guess the short timeframe for the decisions didn’t help, particularly as I haven’t had to make such seemingly big decisions in quite a long time.
I managed to end up on the other side in one piece, though, eventually concluding that I would do the course this year while living at home. When I calculated the costs it made much more sense than living in London, and I wasn’t having much luck in finding places to live there anyway, especially so close to the start of term.
It was a huge relief when everything finally fell into place, meaning that last week I was able to enjoy ‘Welcome Week’ at Queen Mary without worry. I’ve gotten to know the campus and the library well already, both of which are very nice, modern environments that have excellent facilities. It makes Cambridge seem very archaic. I was also really impressed by the Geography Department at their Masters Induction Day, which seems well-organised and particularly supportive. This is in contrast to Cambridge, where I felt that while individual people within the department cared about us, the department as a whole wasn’t invested as much as they should have been in making things work better for the students. After last week’s induction day I left thinking that Cambridge could definitely learn a lot from how things work at Queen Mary.
It was fantastic to meet the other people on my course too. It’s so interesting to hear about the diverse backgrounds that people come from, both in terms of location and previous areas of study. It’ll be great to see the different perspectives they have on the things we cover during the year.
You can read more about the course itself here, but I’ll say a bit about it now, as well as the individual modules I’ll be taking.
The course itself is a combination of urban and cultural geography, with a particular focus on the role of art/creative practices and urban politics in how the city is shaped.
The Cities, Space and Power module looks principally at public space – a key arena in which politics, creative expression and everyday life interact and are underwritten by relationships of power. The module uses the examples of eighteenth-century London, Calcutta and other contemporary cities to explore arguments concerning the regulation and control of public space, the division between public and private spaces, and how public space relates to a broader sphere of public life in Western and colonial/postcolonial settings. I’m especially looking forward to this module due to its relevance for my work on the regulation of busking and the politics of public space, as well as its connections to my favourite paper last year at Cambridge on discipline and social regulation.
Cultural Geography in Practice is a module that really breaks down the boundaries between geography and art. It essentially looks at how geographers both produce and interpret art, and how artists think geographically in their work. This is important because creative practices both represent and are performed within particular types of spaces, which affects the meanings that they consequently produce. Within this module I’m hoping to delve further into my interest in psychogeography, one of my principal interests for study, and how this idea is embodied in artworks such as video games and music. I’m also excited about the fact that one of the assessed pieces of work for this module is an exhibition proposal, which involves planning an exhibition that aims to communicate geographical ideas through the creative presentation of materials such as objects, artworks, archival materials and audio. It’s brilliant that I’ll have the opportunity to bring together my love for art and my academic interests.
This should also be the case for my final optional module, Art, Performance and the City. This module will involve engaging with urban spaces and practices through the eyes of artists and the cultural practices of walking and exploring. It is also rooted in London’s East End – in the locations around Queen Mary – looking at urban cultures and the work of artists in the local area. To me it seems that this module could encompass both of my primary interests in busking and psychogeography, which is exciting. But this module is taught over the second semester (from January), unlike the previous two which are taught in the first, so I’ll have to wait a while for it.
The course also contains one compulsory module, Geographical Thought and Practice, which gives a detailed overview of the key concepts and research methods in geography as a discipline. This is to help us with the dissertation project we must undertake during the final term and over the summer of next year, which counts for one third of the overall mark (each module counts for one sixth).
So this coming year is going to be a busy one for me, but also one where I’m completely satisfied that I’ll be working on things that I am truly passionate about. I’m thrilled that by next year I’ll be one step closer to where I want to be, which is the somewhat vague and idealistic goal of working both in academia as a geographer and making a difference in the world creatively through art. The great thing about this course is that it opens doors both to further PhD study and work in the creative/cultural sectors, so to me it can only be a benefit.
As you will have noticed by now, I’m currently writing on my new blog. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time now, but the all-consuming Cambridge lifestyle never gave me the time to get started. Taking inspiration from friends and others I know, I think it’ll be a great way for me to stay motivated and focused my work, help what I’ve learnt sink in, and allow people to see what I’ve been doing.
The plan is for the blog to be a bit of everything really – potentially something between a portfolio, a scrapbook and a diary. I’m certainly expecting to share what I work on during the Cities and Cultures course, which should be a nice combination of academic-y and creative projects. I’d also like to publish any arty things I do outside the course, which will probably include music-related stuff and more experimental ventures such as psychogeographical walks, experimental travel, and any visual ideas I have. Lastly, I want it to also act as a sort of journal, where I can write about my thoughts on anything and everything. For these types of posts I’m thinking about using the title ‘Some thoughts on…’ followed by the topic, so it’ll be easy to see which posts are updates on my work and which are mental ramblings put into words.
The posts won’t all be this long, too. I really want to try to be concise in my writing because it’s something I’ve always struggled with, and something that will also make the posts more readable. Time limitations due to my academic work should hopefully help with this. It would be good if updating the blog helps my writing and communication skills generally, but we’ll have to see about that!
As for how often I’ll post, I’m sure this will vary and I’m not going to be too strict about it – unlike my previous travel blog which I updated religiously every single day of my Europe trip! I’m aiming for at least a couple of posts a month, accounting for all the reading and coursework my Masters will entail.
I actually already have my next couple of posts finished, and another few in the pipeline. They’re going to be long (I told you I’m not good at being concise), and based on things I did over the summer. So look out for those to appear in the next couple of weeks or so – I’ll make sure to post them on social media.
I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes. It would be great to see you there for future posts.