Symposium – The Detroit Geographical Expedition and Institute Then and Now: Commentaries on “Field Notes No.4: The Trumbull Community”

One of the best things about working on a radical journal of geography is the steady stream of surprise: submissions are largely unsolicited, and given Antipode’s relatively wide remit we receive all kinds of wonderful material. One of the highlights of 2016 for me was an email from Bob Colenutt in August.

Whilst working in Syracuse University’s Department of Geography Bob was involved in the 1971 Detroit Geographical Expedition and Institute (DGEI), facilitating work with the city’s Trumbull community, which is close to Wayne State University. The outcomes, legacies or “afterlives” of the 1971 DGEI are undoubtedly many, and, arguably, it’s always too early to say what they are. Thinking about dissemination, though, something tangible is Field Notes No.4: The Trumbull Community.

Each DGEI produced a set of “Field Notes”, and Bob kindly supplied a copy of fourth volume, which until now has been less easily available than the others (all can be downloaded below). Working with Bob, we circulated it among a diverse group of critical geographers (broadly defined), inviting them to respond to it and perhaps say something about the DGEI’s meaning and relevance today.

It was a fairly open brief, to be sure, and there’s a lot in Field Notes No.4 to get your teeth into, so we’re pleased to present here six essays that engage with the text from a number of angles…

[i] We open with an essay by Chris Knudson. Chris, who is working on the Antipode Foundation-supported project, “Histories of Radical and Critical Geography in North America”, co-authoring a paper about Antipode’s early days at Clark University, introduces us to the history and structure of the DGEI.

[ii] Next up is Rich Heyman, whose work on radical pedagogy and the history of geography, which focuses on the DGEI (see here), will be well known to many, looks critically at the reception of Field Notes No.4 in the 1970s and the lessons we might learn from it today.

[iii] Following this is Jim Thatcher–who is currently working hard with us on archiving the Union of Socialist Geographers’ Newsletters (watch this space)–looking back to the DGEI experience for what he calls a “path forward”: thinking through what it can teach us today about data, (counter-)mapping, and the politics of representation.

[iv] In a similar vein is an essay by Andrew Newman (Wayne State University) and Sara Safransky (Vanderbilit University). Both are Antipode authors (see here and here) and joint recipients of an Antipode Foundation Scholar-Activist Project Award; their contribution reflects on the DGEI and their experiences of ongoing participatory action research in Detroit.

[v] Alex Hill, who works on information design with Detroit Health Department as well as a number of innovative cartography projects around the city, broadens this out, surveying the history and present condition of community engagement and community-controlled mapping in Detroit.

[vi] And, finally, in his afterword, Bob Colenutt introduces us to Bill Bunge in the 1960s and considers the ways in which the DGEI experience shaped his career since then. We owe a debt of gratitude to Bob for sharing both Field Notes No.4: The Trumbull Community and his reflections on it with us. The level of engagement shown by all our contributors is a testament to the value of the work he and his partners did–work that continues to animate scholar-activists both within and beyond the discipline, both within and beyond the academy.

Andy Kent, 23 February 2017

The essays

Detroit, Geographical, Expedition, Institute: Unpacking the History and Structure of the DGEI – Chris Knudson

Knowledge Production, Political Action, and Pedagogy in Trumbull – Rich Heyman

Looking Back to Detroit for a (Counter-Mapping) Path Forward – Jim Thatcher

Learning from Field Notes No.4: The Trumbull Community: Reflections on the Politics of Urban Land and Participatory Research – Andrew Newman and Sara Safransky

“Nothing Changes”: Community Mapping Practice in Detroit – Alex B. Hill

DGEI/SHE Field Notes No. 4: The Trumbull Community: A Postscript – Bob Colenutt

The DGEI Field Notes

Field Notes No.1: The Detroit Geographical Expedition (1969)

Field Notes No.2: School Decentralization (1970)

Field Notes No.3: The Geography of the Children of Detroit (parts I and II here and here; 1971)

Field Notes No.4: The Trumbull Community (1972)