April 5-7, 2016: New York City as an Idea and as a Reality

This week, our class focused on our experiences in New York City and how they pertained to the readings that we had done prior to our trip. After going over the basic outline for the rest of the semester, as well as due dates for our major projects and clarification of what they entail, we watched  a segment from episode five of New York: a Documentary. We focused on the concepts discussed in Lindner’s book Imagining New York City, and talked about how we had seen some of those ideas of flaneurie, the vertical and the horizontal when we were walking around the city. We also talked about the differences between our expectations of New York and what we actually experienced when we were there.

Because I had already visited New York City, there was not a big difference between my expectations of New York City and what we actually experienced. However, due to the unique nature of our readings, I was able to see New York in a new light. For example, I had never considered the effect of the vertical and the horizontal on New York City. While the spread and height of New York is iconic in it’s own way, it was not until stepping foot on the streets that these concepts became functional. From the wind tunnels created due to the need for skyscrapers to the grid system that makes New York surprisingly easy to navigate, the horizontal and vertical become instruments of efficiency. The ideas that were presented as a way to analyze New York, in all of it’s different facets, actually serve to make New York an efficient city. In this way, what we studied as a way to “get to know” the facets of New York’s culture perform a more functional role in everyday New York life.

In this discussion of New York as an ideal vs. a reality, history is important to consider. Much of New York and it’s resulting fame is shrouded in the historical background of the city. However, when we went to New York, that historical past was difficult to find anywhere except monuments and museums, unless you knew where to look. Now, there are plenty of monuments and museums in New York City, but most of New York’s history cannot be encapsulated in one place. New York’s history takes place all over the city. Because we were looking for it, our class could see more of this history (due to the documentaries we watched, among other things) , but it seems that New York has covered up a lot of it’s physical history with modernity. When people come to New York City, they have this ideal that history will be everywhere in New York, but in reality, you have to search for that history. There could be multiple reasons for this; an increasing reach towards modernity and a need to cover up some of this history. The ideal of New York City as this great historical city (due to the emphasis placed on the history of New York) is very different from New York’s reality. These are two of the main differences that I noticed in New York ideal and reality.

February 16-18, 2016: Globalization

This week, our class attended a panel on globalization and the ways that different departments view it. We heard from professors in Economics, Political Science, German Studies, and Environmental Sustainability. On Thursday, we received the itinerary for our trip to New York City, and went over a few logistics of the trip before watching a video about the boatlift of 9/11. After that we discussed the effect that 9/11 had on Muslims in America and all around the world.

In our discussion of globalization, we talked about the ways that agency is given or taken away. While gaining agency is a way to overcome oppression, it is often hard to actually gain agency. Depending on many aspects such as culture, socio-economic status, and race, it may be difficult for people to gain agency without outside forces. For instance, the laborers who went on strike prior to the Triangle fire continually fought for their rights. However, it was only when two socialites took up their cause that they were able to gain any sort of major concession. While their resilience led to small victories (which are still important), their socio-economic status meant that it took a lot of help from outside forces to gain any larger victories.

Most of the time, a formerly colonized country is not left with enough resources to act independently, and so must make deals that can be detrimental to the welfare and growth of the country itself. In this way, they lose agency. Consider the example given to us in Life and Debt. Because Jamaica, a colonized country, wasn’t left with enough money, they lacked the agency to get what they needed to be a strong country, so they had to make deals with governments and institutions, such as the IMF, that left them with very little agency. While they have far more agency than they did while under Britain’s rule, they still do not have enough resources to have the agency they need in present day politics and economics. This is an example of how “gaining agency” through a desertion of power can lead to problems in the creation of power.

It is difficult to actually gain agency. There are so many factors that play a role in how agency itself can be gained or taken away. Also, there are some cases when suddenly gaining agency is detrimental. However, in most cases, gaining agency is a way to stop oppression. For example, the laborers who went on strike prior to the Triangle Fire were able to gain higher wages and shorter work days, a good step towards worker’s rights. Simply diffusing information, whether it be through something like a conversation, the news or even art pieces, is a way to gain agency and then stop oppression. This is seen in conversations such as the panel that we attended, and even in art pieces such as Sue Coe’s Fashion Victims. In this way, gaining agency can lead to overcoming oppression.

January 26-28: Public Art in New York

This week, our class mostly focused on examples of public art. We looked at Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby” Hammond’s “Blizaard Ball Sale,” Oldenburg’s “The Store,” and Richard Serra’s “The Tilted Arch,” hearing about the purpose of each type of art and a little bit about how it was made. We then took time in groups to talk about which piece really struck us. During Thursday, in the next class, we went around in the group and talked about which part of each piece that we had found interesting. This discussion included everything from pictures of the audience to comments on the purpose of each piece. Finally, we ended class with a discussion on “A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby.”

During our discussion in class, we mostly focused on Kara Walker’s piece. The enormous structure, made entirely of sugar, struck a lot of my classmates. What I found the most interesting about this statue is it’s lack of permanence. While most art pieces are not expected to stay in one place for a long time, I cannot think of a piece that slowly melted the entire duration of it’s exhibition. As was mentioned in the video we watched about the creation of this statue, Walker intentionally allowed the statues to melt.

I think that this was a wonderful choice in terms of creating a message. As this statue was mostly about slavery, I feel like by letting the statues melt and lose shape, Walker offers a way for the audience to see the damage caused unto the slaves by the plantation owners. Furthermore, it shows that though we acknowledge slavery, a good amount of us think of it in general terms, as something that is wrong (which it is, of course). As the statues slowly melted, the human-like figures made out of molasses slowly deteriorated until they were vague human forms. The “slaves” become faceless, dehumanized figures that we can forget easily. This is one of the things, I think, that Walker is trying to fight against. Walker’s controversial public art piece sends many messages, but the decision to make statues out of sugar, a substance associated with slavery, and allow them to melt, was one decision that sent a particularly strong message.

January 19-21, 2016: Preparing for the Course

This week we spent most of our time preparing for assignments within the course itself. On Tuesday, January 19, we reviewed the syllabus once more, taking time to go over the specific requirements for each assignment, such as the digital portfolio. We then went around the room and introduced ourselves, telling the class out name and what we are most looking forward to about the trip. Finally, we had a small discussion about the article “The Mindful Traveler,” which had been assigned to read the previous weekend. On Thursday, January 23, we reviewed the set up process for our digital portfolios, and set up a tab on our menus for Global 102. Finally, we got a little more clarification about what our digital portfolios are for, and had time to do a little bit of work on our reflection log.

While I read “The Mindful Traveler,” I grew increasingly aware of my good fortune in being able to travel as much as my family does. I am well aware that I grew up in a privileged life, and was given many opportunities that a lot of people do not get. However, I was still surprised by some of the things that the author pointed out. That being said, I think that my biggest area I need to grow in while I become a “mindful traveler” is creating an increased level of sensitivity of how my presence in a place will affect life.

I am only one person, and I am used to thinking that my life does not truly change much. While I have the power to make small changes, I cannot change the fate of a family. However, I suppose that even the smallest person can make a difference. Being uncourteous and stopping in the middle of a busy sidewalk can result in collisions, or it can make someone late because they now have to navigate around me. To use a metaphor: we are all cogs in a clock, and if one falls out of rhythm or stops working, the clock will be damaged or stop working. When traveling, I need to remember that people have rhythms in their lives that I could potentially disrupt.

With an increased level of sensitivity, I will be able to find ways that I fit into the rhythm of a new place. This way, instead of being an “in-the-way” tourist, I will be able to both truly experience a new place and help the people of the place that I am traveling to. I will be able to see how I effect an environment, and hopefully, with more work, tailor that knowledge so that I leave the place that I went to in just as good, or even better condition than it was when I first arrived. That way, I can be a mindful traveler.

January 12-16, 2016: Personal Map

Credit: “Brain Map” by Logan Douglas (author) is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA

This week, as it was the first week of the semester, we started with a basic introduction to the class (which consisted of details about the assignments for the class and a brief introduction of the professors), as well as a basic overview of New York, including it’s skyline, basic layout and a little bit of history. We also had the opportunity to learn a little bit of information about the trip to New York in March. During the next class, we met students and professors in the theater trip and did a self-reflection collage assignment (picture above, with a link below for better quality), which we shared in groups.

In the collage assignment, I had a little bit of trouble coming up with ideas to put on my paper. Most of what I think characterizes me is so typical and common-place that it was difficult to think of it as interesting. However, after some reflection, I was fully able to realize that emphasis that travel has in life. I always knew that I love to travel, I just didn’t realize that travel was so important to the way that I think of myself.

While looking at the collages of my peers, I noticed that even though we all had many different interests, personalities and backgrounds, there was always one element of us that we all shared. For instance, in my group, Veronica and I shared a love for musicals, while Adriana and I were both “foodies.” This, to me, was more important than any one detail about one of my group members because of it’s underlying message: that even though we are all so different, there are one or two similarities that we all can use to find common ground.

Copy and paste this link for a larger and clearer picture of my collage: