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Today@Sam Article

Professors, Student Rewarded For Work For Blues Class

Sept. 26, 2011
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt

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Strait and his “Race, Blues and Rock'n'Roll” class visit Po’ Monkey’s Lounge, known as the last of the rural juke joints, in Merigold, Miss. —Submitted photo

John Strait, an associate professor of geography and coordinator of the geography program, will serve as a faculty mentor to another professor with the help of a National Endowment for Humanities grant.

Strait was selected to advise Alan Marcus, of Towson State University in Maryland, who will assist Strait in his ongoing research, as well as conduct his own research, on the geography of blues music and culture in the Mississippi Delta.

“For some time I have been engaged in an ongoing research project that focuses on various dimensions of this topic, and the award will essentially support both of our travel costs to the region over a two-year period,” Strait said. “I will also be assisting him as he attempts to develop a graduate-level course focused on the subject matter that mirrors the one I offer at Sam.”

The grant also awards Strait an annual stipend from the NIH for the two-year period.

“It (this grant) reflects the fact that the pedagogical approach I have developed as a means to teach this field-oriented class is generating scholarly attention from others within the discipline possessing knowledge of the subject matter,” Strait said. “This in turn, reflects well on our students.

"I'm also very proud to say that the NIH grant award says something about our geography program at SHSU," he said. "The students in our program are very fortunate in that they have the opportunity to experience something really special.

"Most undergraduate students these days, even geography students, don't get a chance to travel abroad or engage in actual field work. This course allows our students to really get their 'boots dirty' in a unique part of the country; they're not just learning about a unique cultural setting, they actually get to immerse themselves in it," he continued. "They share an amazing collective experience that they'll will carry with them long after they leave Sam Houston State. I find that to be a really cool thing."

Strait, Marcus and SHSU senior geography major Elizabeth Jackson co-authored an article on their most recent trip, which will be published in an upcoming edition of “Perspective: The Newsletter for the National Council for Geographic Education.”

“The fact that an undergraduate student from Sam has co-authored an article in the NCGE newsletter is great news,” Strait said.

Strait has been offering the “Race, Blues and Rock'n'Roll” course since 2007 “as a lens to understand the cultural geography of the south, specifically, but in some regards, the entire U.S.” and to explore such issues as Civil Rights, tourism and the use of musical heritage, urban revitalization, migration, economic change, racial segregation and how history is written, Strait said.

As part of the summer course, students travel through the Deep South, visiting such important sites as the National Civil Rights Museum, Soulsville’s Stax Studios (the Museum of American Soul Music), Sun Studios, Graceland, Hopson Plantation, Stovall Plantation (the former home of blues great Muddy Waters), and Po Monkey’s, one of the last remaining authentic rural juke joints.

“The purpose of the trip was to learn about a host of geographical themes and concepts through the lens of the Mississippi Delta’s ‘blues culture,’” the three said in an article. “The region provides the perfect laboratory for learning, as a collective experience in the Delta promotes a form of learning that simply cannot be garnished from textbooks or traditional classroom experiences.

“Yet aside from academic learning, there is a personal component to this adventure that will open your eyes to all the biases, stereotypes and preconceived notions that you’ve carried throughout your life,” they said. “You learn pretty quickly that first impressions are not always what they seem and that some of the most amazing experiences can happen in the most unassuming places.”

The class will be offered again next year and the trip will occur in August 2012.



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