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UCL Home  /  Geography  /  Study  /  Undergraduate  /  Undergraduate Fieldtrips

Undergraduate Fieldtrips

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Our undergraduate students currently benefit from the opportunity to undertake fieldwork trips in every year of study. These trips provide you with the opportunity to explore physical and human geography methods and research in a range of very different environments.

You can read more about our fieldtrips, and the skills and experiences you will gain, below.

* fieldtrip locations maybe subject to change

In the first term, our first year Geography undergraduate students spend a week in Catalonia. The aim is partly academic since we want to start by giving you some practical experience with a range of field and data analytical methods. But this is also a wonderful opportunity to meet your fellow students at the start of your University career and to get to know members of staff.

As you might expect from a Geography fieldtrip that incorporates the vast range of activities associated with the subject, you’ll be doing lots of different things when you are out there. One day will be spent in the beautiful Montseny Natural Park where we learn how to assess river water quality. So that will involve some geography classics - wellies, nets and sampling. Another will take us to Barcelona where we will investigate how the idea of urban ‘rebranding’. That we’ll do through guided walks and other means of city exploration. There are also days when we look at how physical and human geographers can work together. For example, for one day we’ll consider the physical geography of beach development but also the social impacts of coastal management.

The course ends with an afternoon of group poster presentations. The aim here is to pull together some of ideas we have used in the course in a supportive environment. By the end you’ll have a much better sense of how advanced level geography is done and we'll all know each other much better too.

Physical geography is about understanding how environments work, how they have developed over time, and how they may change. To understand these changes, physical geographers use a range of methods to survey, monitor and model relevant environmental processes. As a means of getting to grips with these choices, the second year field class to Mallorca takes students through the process of developing a physical geography research project from identifying its aims and objectives, through developing the fieldwork programme, laboratory and data analysis, to writing up the results and presenting findings. The idea is that is should equip you with the skills for producing a really good physical geography dissertation, were you to want to, in the 3rd year.

Work largely happens in two protected Natural Areas in Northeast Mallorca. These areas include a diversity of environments including fresh-brackish wetlands, shallow lakes, canals, ditches and coastal dunes. Our relationship with the local protected area authorities also means that we can access areas not open to the public. In return, the data we collect helps them with their management. Working in small groups, students undertake a range of projects that reflect the type of research undertaken within the Department. There are opportunities to be trained in and use research grade field and lab equipment (as well as, for some, practising your inflatable rowing boat skills).

Our focus on the practical skills of a physical geographer then follows through into assessment. On the last afternoon of the field class, students present their findings to the group in the form of an academic conference paper. Then, on our return to London, project work is written-up as a research paper for an academic journal.

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Though just a short train ride away, Paris presents some quite different social and historical phenomena. The aim of this fieldtrip is to introduce you to some of the ways in which human geographers might respond to a new city and thereby strengthen your research design skills. The fieldtrip also builds on other Human Geography second year courses, including Political, Development, Urban, Cultural and Historical, Environment and Society.

The trip begins with an orienteering walk and a group dinner in a lively area. Evening lectures in local universities from Paris-based scholars set the scene for the next day’s activities and allow you to see how cities can be studied. The trip also benefits from our close links with Paris universities, such as the Sorbonne. Indeed local Students from Geography departments of the Sorbonne and Paris-Est sometimes act as our guides. The aim of the course is to build your confidence in identifying research questions, and to see how different methods can contribute a variety of perspectives and new insights on a fascinating and always changing city. This course has been designed so that that, by the end, you’ll be equipped with a much clearer sense of how human geographers work, and how you can produce excellent human geography work yourself.

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One of our students, Anparasan Sivakumaran, has created an entertaining short video of his impressions.

As a third year specialist course, this module focuses on aspects of Mediterranean environments. Our aim is to integrate knowledge accumulated over the course of the undergraduate program with field skills, towards a holistic understanding of the interaction of geology, climate, vegetation and humans in shaping landscapes. We do this in Lesvos, an island situated between three continents that has long fascinated naturalists. Indeed this is where Aristotle invented Biology.

We start by visiting a petrified forest, one of the best of its kind with tree trunks and root systems remaining preserved by the material produced by volcanic eruptions for over 20 million years. We discuss the geological evolution of the island and the climatic and ecological inferences we can draw from these fascinating fossilized trees. On our second day, we visit the Megali Limni ancient lake basin that contains a record of how abrupt climate changes originating in the North Atlantic affected the local environment during the last glacial period. We take sediment cores from the basin and examine how environmental events are imprinted on the stratigraphy. On the third day, we ascent to the top of the Parakoila mountain, noting changes in vegetation and taking tree cores, whose annual growth rings contain an archive of recent climatic changes. On the fourth, we take microclimate measurements and consider the factors influencing microclimate. On the final day, groups analyse the tree-ring and microclimate data and present their results.

Our overall ambition in the Lesvos fieldclass is to develop advanced skills in "reading landscapes" by understanding how physical, biological and cultural forces combine over time to shape an area of land. In this sense, the aim is no less than to to transform the way we look at nature.

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The beach is a place where sea meets land. It is, therefore, a site of juxtaposition. Sites such offer opportunity, danger, and excitement. This course looks at how we can analyse these tensions as human geographers. In human geography, it has become commonplace to understand ‘place’ as emergent from local and trans-local relations, but rarely are these relations actually traced across multiple fields (the economic, the political, the cultural, the environmental) and across multiple scales (from the body to the global). In Florida, we examine the complexity of how they all come together to shape the coast of North Florida and influence our sense of it as a ‘place’.

Visits to the port and the naval base highlight how Jacksonville is central to global flows of both commercial and military power, while students delving into the local historical archives can unearth the sometimes uneasy relations between these flows and the local stewards of the environment. Similarly, presentations by local officials in charge of beach access and visits to formerly segregated beaches will allow us to explore the micro-geographies of power and privilege that bubble up in the cauldron of local politics. How are beaches policed in both formal and informal ways? We’ll also wade into these debates, surveying local residents to consider the legacies of race and income inequality in today’s beach communities.

Alongside these structured activities, we have no choice but to engage with place in various superficially banal ways ourselves: through encounters with strangers, through the local cuisine, through music, and more. These experiences are of course just as much a part of place as any organised activities. As such, a personal diary about how we can analyse these experiences also forms a central part of what we will do in Florida.

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Cities are about rubbing along with strangers and about flows of efficient human movement. But they are also about moments of relaxation and social encounter. All of these features and more are central to making a city an enjoyable place in which to spend time. Yet we rarely pay close attention to the detail of how exactly they are organised and experienced. In the Berlin fieldclass, we take on the challenge of doing exactly that. We aim to develop new ways of examining everyday life and, through them, provide new insights about how cities work, and how they might work better.

First, we experiment with what they call ‘auto-ethnography’ – closely examining our own experience of a place to see what that tells us about how it works. We do that by hiring bikes and learning to move around an unfamiliar place. Then we consider the photograph and how we can examine the intricacies of city life through photography of various kinds. How can photos help us to notice and understand variation in everyday objects and how they are lived with? How can they help us to pay attention to things we might otherwise easily ignore?  We’ll also try out what video recordings reveal. What, for example, can videos of how people move in and out of city malls tell us if we look at the really closely? What do they say about how people and animals live together in different urban contexts?  The aim in all this is to develop our skills as experimental human geographers – willing, ready and able to try out new methods and see where they lead us.

Then when we come back to London there is the chance to transform all the different forms of evidence that we’ve collected together into a web essay that shows our ability to question what is so often taken for granted about city life. The aim is to force you to notice things you’d otherwise overlook. You’ll never look at coffee cups and cigarette buts in the same way again!

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What our students say...

"The fieldtrips have definitely been one of the highlights but many of the traditionally taught modules can be really engaging and enjoyable. I’ve had the opportunity to go on a residential field class each year as part of my degree.”
Benjamin Siggery
BSc Environmental Geography