John Strait, associate professor in the Department of Geography and Geology, knows how to rock his students… all the way from Huntsville to the Mississippi Delta!
Dr. Strait teaches a course formally called Cultural Field Studies (GEOG 4360)… but unofficially it goes by the name "Race, Blues, and Rock 'n' Roll." As Dr. Strait says, “the course uses blues music and culture as a lens to investigate a host of topics that pertain to cultural geography. “
Every summer for the last seven years, SHSU students have joined Dr. Strait in a weeklong immersion trip in the Mississippi Delta as part of the course. They travel in a departmental van from Huntsville to Memphis, Tennessee, and then south through Mississippi. The journey includes visits to several museums and sites that are significant to the musical heritage of the region as well as to the civil rights movement. The collective experiences shared by the students, and the travel journals that they maintain during their field adventures, serve as valuable resources for classroom discussions once the group returns to campus and begins meeting in the classroom during the Fall semester.
In the summer of 2013, Dr. Strait and his students had a number of memorable experiences during the trip. These included:
- Meeting James Meredith, the civil rights activist who is famous for being the first African-American to integrate the University of Mississippi in 1962, in Clarksdale, Mississippi. In a speech there, Meredith focused on his experiences and his current views of the continued efforts to encourage school integration.
- Sharing a morning of worship and song with Bishop Al Green and his choir at the Full Gospel Tabernacle Church in Memphis. Bishop Green, a Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame inductee, is famous as one of the country's greatest soul singers and performers. Rolling Stone magazine considers him to be one of the greatest singers of all time.
- Visiting the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale and seeing the commemorative brick housed in the new Muddy Waters wing of the museum, purchased by a colleague of Dr. Strait’s on behalf of his class, the geography program and SHSU. The brick gives the university a permanent presence in the museum.
- Attending a photography exhibit that stems from Dr. Strait’s fieldwork on the Geography of Blues culture in the region. The exhibit’s announcement stated: "This collaboration examines the forgotten aspects of the blues - the people and the landscape that inspired blues music. Dr. Strait's research on the geography of the Mississippi Delta blues inspired this examination of place.”
- Participating in a late night/early morning discussion, under a full moon, at the rural crossroads where legend has it that famous blues musician Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil in return for guitar virtuosity. The class’s discussion there focused on many points relevant to the course, including how blues-influenced music and culture reflects the maintenance and syncretic evolution of transplanted African religious traditions in the United States.
Dr. Strait’s “Race, Blues, and Rock 'n' Roll” course, and especially the yearly journey to the Mississippi Delta, reflect his philosophy of teaching: “Scholars or students,” he says, “are more apt to appreciate important historical, sociological and geographical events and processes when learning about them at the exact places and spaces where they unfolded.” And in the case of this course, learning is also nothing short of fun!
Students interested in enrolling in GEOG 4360 (Cultural Field Studies; 3 credits) for the Fall 2014 semester, or merely interested in hearing more about the course, should contact Dr. Strait (firstname.lastname@example.org; 936-294-4077).