Dr. David Keeling, Distinguished University Professor of Geography and head of WKU’s Department of Geography and Geology, returned recently from his 11th circumnavigation of the planet, completing a three-week around-the-world tour of Latin America, Australia, Asia and Africa, covering about 32,000 miles and representing WKU and the American Geographical Society as part of a geographic educational outreach program.
The educational tour began in Cuzco, Peru, with discussions about Incan culture and the long-term social and economic impacts of colonization by the Spanish. Dr. Keeling also talked about the short-term prospects of development for modern Peru and the wider region of Latin America within a rapidly changing global economic system, along with the impacts of tourism on world heritage sites such as Machu Picchu.
In the remote Pacific island of Rapa Nui (Easter Island), part of Chile, Dr. Keeling lectured about the Polynesian diaspora, exploration and discovery, and the historical reasons for the social collapse of the Rapa Nui people. Renowned for its Moai statues that represent Rapa Nui ancestors, Easter Island faces significant environmental and economic challenges due, in part, to physical isolation and the vagaries of international tourism.
On the flight across the Pacific to Samoa, he lectured about island geographies and the impact of larger-scale climate change forces such as El Niño and the ENSO regional systems that influence droughts, floods and intensified cyclonic activities. In Australia, the group learned about coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef and the long-term impacts of ocean acidification and sea-level rise.
In Cambodia, Dr. Keeling explained what had happened to the Khmer society over the past 1,000 years, including the construction and subsequent abandonment of the Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom temple complexes. He also explained the political collapse in the 1970s that led to the rise of the Maoist group, the Khmer Rouge, and the resulting genocide of nearly two million Cambodians.
Heading to Agra, India, he lectured on the Revenge of Geography and India’s position in the global system, using maps and graphics to illustrate how India’s geography plays a defining role in its economic and political relationships in the region.
After a visit to Tanzania’s Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater to witness the migration process, the group headed to Petra in Jordan. Dr. Keeling lectured about the Mediterranean world and explained the geopolitical situation of both Jordan and Morocco (the group’s ultimate destination) in the aftermath of the Arab Spring and the subsequent regional violence associated with ISIL and the collapse of the Syrian state.
On the way to Orlando, on the expedition’s final trans-Atlantic leg, Dr. Keeling talked about how geographers see the world in the 21st century though the lens of climate change, population growth and resource scarcity. He provided examples of the kinds of spatial analysis that might prove useful for business executives, investors and others.
The primary mission of the both the department 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 climate change for island communities, ongoing ethnic and environmental tensions in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and the challenges for emerging societies in engaging with an increasingly Westernized global economy. A secondary mission is to demonstrate how geographers address these issues and to promote a broader geographic perspective on sustainable development issues.
“Learning about environmental challenges first-hand by examining, for example, island communities and their vulnerability to changing resource economies 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, as the guests have included diplomats, former ambassadors, Fortune 500 corporate leaders, and successful business entrepreneurs. 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, Iceland and Australia, among other destinations, with upcoming programs to Hawaii (Winter 2017), Iceland and Ireland (Summer 2017) already planned.
Contact: David Keeling, (270) 745-4555