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WKU department head completes Eastern Europe expedition

Dr. David Keeling

Dr. David Keeling

Dr. David Keeling, Distinguished University Professor of Geography and head of WKU’s Department of Geography and Geology, returned recently from a 19-day expedition to Eastern Europe, representing the American Geographical Society as part of its geographic educational outreach program. The key theme of this journey that explored Eastern Europe was resilience and development in post-Soviet societies for the 21st century.

The educational tour began in East Berlin, Germany, with discussions about urban gentrification and the challenges of reunify East and West Berlin in the 1990s. The lack of infrastructure in East Germany at reunification presented enormous challenges for the German government and led to several mistakes in rebuilding Berlin’s inner city.

Urban redevelopment in Baku, Azerbaijan, with the famous Flame Towers in the new financial district.

Urban redevelopment in Baku, Azerbaijan, with the famous Flame Towers in the new financial district.

In Ljubljana, Slovenia, Dr. Keeling talked about how small European countries (Slovenia has a population of about 2 million) have struggled to integrate into the European Union, despite adopting the Euro currency, and face new challenges from both economic and conflict refugees. In Krakow, Poland, the focus of the visit was on resilience and recovery from the economic and political deprivations of both Nazism and Communism, with a visit to Auschwitz to put in historical context the suffering of European Jewry before, during, and after the Holocaust.

In Moscow, Russia, Dr. Keeling lectured on the role of the city as the “Jewel” in the Russian nationalist crown, with a deeper examination of President Putin’s geopolitical strategies in the Ukraine and in Syria. In Baku, Azerbaijan, the expedition focused on Caspian Sea oil geopolitics and experienced firsthand the profound physical restructuring of the city as oil revenues drive speculative urban development. On the flight to Riga, Latvia, Dr. Keeling lectured on the similarities and differences between the geopolitics of the Caspian and Baltic Seas, with a specific focus on environmental planning in Riga to promote a greener transportation system, including a new bicycle network.

The expedition made a lunch stop in the fjord of Kotor, Montenegro, to witness the environmental impact of a booming cruise tourism industry, before heading to Prague, Czech Republic, for the final leg of the journey. In Prague, the expedition focused on the restoration and redevelopment of the historical quarters of the city, with a visit to the Lobkowicz family properties as an example of restitution strategies employed since Czech independence. The expedition ended in London, England, on Oct. 5.

The famous Charles Bridge in central Prague.

The famous Charles Bridge in central Prague.

The primary mission of both the Department of Geography and Geology and the American Geographical Society’s educational travel programs is to focus attention on some of the planet’s most pressing problems, such as the social implications of gentrification in developing cities, ongoing geopolitical tensions in European communities driven, in part, by the current Syrian refugee crisis, and the practical challenges for Eastern European societies of emerging from the long shadow of Soviet occupation. A secondary mission is to demonstrate how geographers address these issues and to promote a broader geographic perspective on sustainable development issues.

“Learning about urban growth challenges first-hand by examining, for example, accessibility and mobility strategies for growing cities within a local and global development context really helps people to understand the issues of sustainability and global change and puts the challenges we face as a global society into sharper focus,” Dr. Keeling said.

One of the benefits for WKU, Dr. Keeling said, is that the university’s growing international reputation is further enhanced through his participation in these educational tours. Students also benefit from the knowledge gained from these experiences and subsequently shared in the classroom and through research projects and study abroad programs.

Past educational expeditions have led to successful departmental study abroad programs to Argentina, Tanzania, Turkey, and Australia, among other destinations, with upcoming programs to Hawaii (Winter 2016), Argentina, Iceland, and Ireland (Summer 2016) already planned.

Contact: David Keeling, (270) 745-4555 or david.keeling@wku.edu

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