For students: We hope this two-page guide will help sharpen your reading skills and deepen your understanding of this issue’s articles.
For teachers: We encourage reproduction and adaptation of these ideas, freely and without further permission from Saudi Aramco World, by teachers at any level, whether working in a classroom or through home study.
— THE EDITORS
This issue’s Classroom Guide is organized around one theme: A Sense of Place. The Visual Analysis portion also focuses on that theme.
Theme: A Sense of Place
Geography is the study of space in the same way that history is the study of time. In geography, space refers to the physical world— to locations, distances and directions. Place is a little bit different. Place is how we humans give meaning to physical space. For example, a peninsula is a space. It exists as a physical reality. We might name that peninsula the “Arabian Peninsula.” When we do that, we relate the physical space to our human-made realities that are political, cultural and economic. As geographers have said, “Place… is space endowed with physical and human meaning.”
You live in a physical location, like a continent, or an island, or amid a range of mountains. That is the space you inhabit. But when you say you live in a specific country on that continent, or a specific region in that country, you’re overlaying political boundaries and other human ideas onto that space. In short, you are then defining a place.
Place is an important part of who we are. We are citizens of a country, residents of a region, participants in cultures that occupy specific locations in space. (And sometimes people disagree over what those locations are!) In the following activities, you will explore what a sense of place is, and how and why it is important.
Your Important Places
Think about the definition of place that you just read. Then think about how it relates to your own life. What places are important to you? For example, do you feel a sense of patriotism about your country? If so, then your country is an important place for you.
Do you feel you have things in common with your neighbors? If so, your neighborhood is an important place for you. What about your home—the building where you live? A mountain where you hike, or a lake where you swim? These are some examples. Think of your own places. List as many of them as you can. Write a journal entry explaining why these places matter to you. Which of them do you think are central to your identity—your sense of who you are? Which ones feel important, but may not be central to your identity?
Objects Reflect Places and Tell Stories
Read “Ghraoui and the Chocolate Factory.” As you read, underline the parts of the article that address the importance of place when it comes to Ghraoui Chocolate. Then write a response to one of the following prompts: “Our creations reflect Syria” (a quote from Bassam Ghraoui) or “The story of Ghraoui Chocolate is also the story of modern Syria.” If you respond to the first quote, answer the question, “What does it mean for an object to ‘reflect’ a place?” To get you started, think about “reflection”: Mirrors reflect images—but that is usually only part of the thing being reflected. You reflect on your parents. A project you did reflects on how much research you did. That said, how do Ghraoui’s creations “reflect Syria”? If you respond to the second quote, answer the question, “How do objects tell stories?”
What objects reflect you? Team up with another student. Interview him or her as if you were a reporter for a magazine like Saudi Aramco World. Ask your partner about an object that reflects or tells a story about him or her. What is that object? What does it reveal? What story does it tell? Write up the results of your interview as if you were writing a magazine article. Show the write-up to your partner to get feedback on its accuracy. Prepare a presentation about your partner. Include what you have written, as well as a photograph, drawing or model of the object. Display the presentations around the classroom. After people have viewed each others’ presentations, have a class discussion about what you have learned about how objects reflect people.
Places exist at specific times, so adding a time element to your study of place creates a more vivid, complex sense of a place. A hima is a protected place. It was defined in Muslim sacred texts that are centuries old. Today that ancient idea is being revisited as a way to protect places. To find out about himas, read “A Tradition of Conservation.” Based on what you read, make a graphic organizer that shows a) what himas were originally protected for; and b) what they are protected for now.
Then turn your attention to the question of what protection means, again adding time to the puzzle. There are different ways to think about protecting places. 100 years ago in the United States, two different perspectives dominated the discussion about protecting places. John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, advocated preservation. In his view, the government should protect wilderness from any kind of human development. He believed that nature should remain untouched so that people could enjoy its spiritual qualities and beauty. Gifford Pinchot had a different point of view. He believed in conservation—that is, using some resources but also preserving some wilderness. He believed in using resources wisely—not exploiting them ruthlessly, but not leaving them untouched either. Which perspective seems most like the hima? In a hima, does protection mean leaving the area untouched? Does it mean not using any of the resources in the area?
Make a Venn diagram that compares three approaches to conservation: Muir’s preservation, Pinchot’s conservation and the hima’s approach. Complete the diagram to show what the three approaches have in common and how they differ.
Poetry Explores Place
Mahmoud Darwish was a world-famous Arab poet born in Palestine and a voice for people in exile. Darwish lived much of his life away from his homeland, and many of his poems speak of his attachment to a place where he, for many years, could not live.
Read Mahmoud Darwish’s poem “We Are Here Near There.” Use the activities below to help you understand the poem. Then take your understanding to a deeper level and think about what Darwish was saying about his sense of place.
- Have a volunteer read the poem aloud. What are your first impressions of the poem? Do you like it? Why or why not? What do you think it means? What makes you think so? Answer these questions, either in a class discussion or in a journal entry. After you analyze the poem more closely, you can return to your initial responses and see if they have changed.
- Using a highlighter, mark all the places in the poem that refer to “thirty”—such as “thirty doors to a tent.” Look at what you have marked, and list the “thirty” references on a sheet of paper. With a small group, discuss what you notice about the list. What pattern or progression do you see in the images Darwish used? Keep your answer in mind as you continue analyzing the poem.
- Using a different color, mark the places in the poem that refer to freedom or liberation. Why do you think Darwish has mentioned freedom and liberation in the poem? What do the references add to what he is saying?
- In a third color, mark the passages that say “here near there” and other phrases that include “here.” As you did before, list the phrases. With your group, discuss the pattern or progression you see. What do the images Darwish uses with “here near there” suggest about where “we” are?
Once you have completed the steps above, put them all together. Discuss: Where are “we,” according to Darwish? What place are we near? Are we at home? Where is that home? What images does Darwish use to answer that question? Then step back and think about place more broadly, and the activities you have completed already on that theme. Answer the following question: In “We Are Here Near There,” what relationship does Mahmoud Darwish say exists between “us” and place? You may write your answer as an essay, a story or a poem. Or, if you prefer, you might use visual images to show your understanding of Darwish’s sense of place.
Analyzing Visual Images
Photographs are excellent formats for showing places. Look back at the definition of place at the start of this Classroom Guide. Then look at the photo above. How would you describe the place shown in the photo? Some things to keep in mind as you write your description: What is the physical space like? What are the boundaries of the place in the photo? To what use is the space being put? How does that use define the space as a place? Consider the mountains in the background of the photograph. What does their inclusion add to your sense of the place? Suppose the photographer had chosen to crop (edit) the photo so that you could only see the land with the sheep, and not the mountains. Put your hand or a piece of paper over the mountains. Does excluding the mountains change your sense of the place? If so, how? If not, why not? Then reread the article. How, if at all, does the text of the article change your understanding of the place? If time permits, choose one of the other two photo spreads that accompany “A Tradition of Conservation.” Answer the questions from those above that are applicable. What other questions occur to you about the place in the photo?
Finally, try it yourself. Refer back to one of the places you said was important to you. Photograph that place. Do your best to make your photo reflect for viewers what the place means to you. Trade photos with another student. Answer the questions above about your partner’s photo, then share your answers with the photographer. Discuss what you see in each other’s images.
||Julie Weiss is an education consultant based in Eliot, Maine. She holds a Ph.D. in American studies. Her company, Unlimited Horizons, develops social studies, media literacy and English as a Second Language curricula, and produces textbook materials.