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Hi everyone,

A few of you have come to our office hours to ask about the concept of “identity” in your first synthesis assignment. It’s a complicated term, but some of you are probably very familiar with it. For those of you who haven’t dealt with it in other classes, here is a short description that should be sufficient for this assignment.

p30919_d_v8_aa-1Identity can and *does* mean a lot of things, but generally it refers to the ways that you perceive yourself and how others perceive you (and these are often closely related to each other). People don’t have a single identity, but many layers of different identities, some of which can seem contradictory. In the past, students have drawn on their sense of global/national/regional/local identity and allegiance, gender, religion, ethnicity/race, interests, values systems/morals, philosophies, personality traits, political leanings or ideas about the role of government, etc. This list is not exhaustive, though!

The prompt brings up the possibility of identity changing either in concert or in contrast to the new context you’re studying in. Changes that bring your identity more in line with the context would be changing “in concert” (for example, having ideas of the role of “the state” (or all the arms of government & quasi-government bodies) become more like Canadians’ views if you study in Canada).

But thinking about the “in contrast” part is also important: Even if the core parts of yourself don’t change, keep in mind that many aspects of identity are relative. Think about terms like “local,” “foreigner,” “really religious,” “liberal,” “conservative,” “loud,” “quiet,” “independent,” “social,” “confident,” “friendly,” etc. All of these descriptions are based on how someone relates to what is considered “average,” but “average” is not a stable category; it is different in different places. (think of the uncle says “‘Normal’ changes every fifty miles.”) So even if there are aspects of how you act and feel that might not change at all, you still need to think about how the ways that you act and feel will affect how you’ll fit in in a new society with different norms.

IdentityJust as an example, someone may have the identity of “the intellectual liberal” in their small rural town in Iowa, but when they come to Madison, there’s a chance they would feel more conservative, less urbane, and identify more with rural lifestyles (this would be “in contrast”). Or maybe they would totally latch onto the dominant Madison culture, for good and/or bad (obviously there is more than one, but hopefully you get the idea).

If you feel like getting even more complicated(!), you can think about how identities are also relational, meaning a single person “performs” or inhabits different identities in different situations and around different people. For example, depending on the setting, a single person can easily inhabit the conflicting identities of daughter, mother, sister, student, teacher, boss, employee; or she might have non-conflicting identities of Latina, female, heterosexual, upper-middle class, foreign-born, well-educated, American, urban, and Catholic that fluctuate between “important” and “not important” at different points of her week. Each of these is bound up with different ideas of the self, perceptions by others, expectations for behaviors, and emotions.

You don’t have to use any of these special terms (relative, relational) in your assignment (and you may have learned different words for the same things in other classes), but hopefully the concepts can help you brainstorm ways to connect yourself to the material presented in the class about the places you will write about.

We hope the above clarifies more than it confuses!

Best, Kris & Rachel

Hi everyone – here is Synthesis Question No. 2. You can also see the text below on the Course Materials by Region section to the left on the main course page on Learn@UW.

Religion and Identity in Three World Regions (Russia/Central Asia/Transcaucasus, Middle East/North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa)


Due Monday, March 14th by 10pm CDT. For those of you who are not in the Central Time Zone, make sure you accurately know the time difference!

Questions and Guidelines

There are three parts (A-C) to this synthesis assignment. You may want to write roughly 1/2 to 2/3 of a page (single-spaced) for each part.

This week’s assignment concerns identity and religion, with particular attention to Islam (in parts A and C). While Islam is also very prevalent outside of this week’s study regions (especially in South Asia and Southeast Asia—Indonesia is home to more Muslims than any other country), please think exclusively about this week’s three regions when answering these questions (see map on page 159 of textbook). Many of you will have acquired a wealth of background knowledge prior to the course because of your personal experiences or coursework. It is wonderful to integrate this, but please make sure to ALSO fit your prior knowledge in with the new information you’ve learned from the course materials.

Before responding, please complete all the assigned readings, lectures, podcasts and viewing for the relevant regional units.

Part A: Think about two types of diversity that you saw in these three weeks: a) the religious diversity of all three regions as a whole, and b) general diversity (economic, linguistic, cultural, social, political, environmental…) across the regions’ Muslim communities.

First, what are at least two things you learned related to either type of diversity that surprised you or contradicted your previous conceptions? Please use specific examples from the text, articles (e.g. Diener), lectures (e.g. Harris, Turner, Kaiser), podcasts (e.g. Brottem, Fleming, Alatout).

Second, explain why you think you previously had these conceptions.

Part B: Religious identity may unite certain groups, or individuals of the same religion may feel completely distinct for political, ethnic, linguistic, economic, or other reasons. What are some specific examples from the course materials that show how religion is an important component of group identity? What are examples that show how religion can be secondary to other types of identity?

Part C:
Sometimes people to refer to all Muslim-majority countries as “the Muslim World.” Based on your readings (especially from the textbook) and the information you gleaned from the interviews and lectures, do you think this is a useful and meaningful way to group these countries, or is this a misleading categorization? Or is it only useful sometimes? When? Using course materials, explain and defend your opinion.


Please clearly label your answers to Parts A, B, and C. Use 12-point font, and please single-space your document to make it easier for us to read online. Your final assignment should be 750-1000 words. You will likely find it difficult to fit all of your thoughts in just 1000 words. Write succinctly, and make sure you are sticking to the specific questions!

Make sure to proofread: spelling, grammar, punctuation, and good writing DO count.

Please save the file using your last name and “Synth2” (for example Olds_Synth2.docx) and submit the file into the correct Dropbox.

If you look at the grading rubric on the blog post about synthesis questions, you will see that you will be graded primarily on how carefully and critically you considered course material in constructing your response. This is even more true for this assignment than it was for Synthesis #1. That said, we want to know your personal views, too, as we are speaking about representational issues and preconceptions. So be opinionated, express your views, insert your personality, and engage…just don’t only speak from the heart; also speak on the basis of the content you’ve been engaging with in this course. It should go without saying that all submissions must be respectful.

Kris Olds & Rachel Boothby

Thanks for all of your participation so far! We have gotten to see a number of the introductions you have posted. If you have not done it yet, remember that your introduction and your update of your Learn@UW profile (including a photo) are due this afternoon at 5pm.

As you know, tomorrow evening you will have access to your first quiz. The quiz must be complete before 5pm on Thursday, 6/23/16.

I want to give you all an overview of what to expect:

  1. Complete all of the U.S. and Canada readings, lectures, and podcasts before you take the quiz.
  2. Make sure to use the provided note-taking guide on the U.S. and Canada page as you work your way through the materials. The guide will help you prepare for both the quiz and for the synthesis assignment coming up next week.
  3. The quiz will cover all of the session 2 materials. Use the note-taking guide to give you guidance on this, but also be aware that anything from any of the materials is fair game. There is a more emphasis on the textbook than the lecture/podcasts, but there are questions on all of them. Carefully read and take notes on the text. (Note that the synthesis assignments put a bit more emphasis on the lectures/podcasts, so work carefully on all of the materials now – you won’t have time next week).
  4. The quiz will be a combination of multiple choice and matching questions. This will include map questions. The questions are randomized, so you will not have exactly the same quiz as someone else.
  5. The quiz is timed and you will have 30 minutes to complete it. If you have official accommodations, you should let us know today or early tomorrow.
  6. The U.S. and Canada quiz will have two matching questions with a total of sixteen matches to make, and fourteen multiple choice questions (30 points total).
Please let me know if you have any further questions or concerns. As the syllabus states, we are flexible when we can help you in advance of problems. As always, please email both Nicolle and me.

The instructions for completing this assignment can be found both on pages 8-9 of the syllabus and on the discussion forum page where you’ll be posting your response. The instructions are fairly straightforward, but here are some additional tips and answers to common questions that might help. This FAQ has been updated as students ask more questions, as well as after grading the first two contributions.

A General Note on Reading Foreign Media

Most people are familiar with the biases or general attitudes of the main media outlets of their home countries (for instance, Americans in the course can think of the differences between NPR and Fox News). Keep in mind that the same is true for foreign media sources, so just because you are reading something published in a country doesn’t necessarily mean that it is representative of the dominant views of that country’s population. In fact, it may be especially non-representative if the media source is heavily censored either because a) it is a state-run media source, or b) because the government exercises more control than you might be used to over what non-state entities publish. Lastly, in non-Anglophone countries, English-language media cater to specific audiences, often these are: 1) expatriates (non-locals who live in the country) and 2) local nationals who have above-average education and perhaps different values and worldviews.

These several influences on the media you may be reading–state censorship, state sponsorship, and catering to specialized audiences–doesn’t make your reading less useful. It actually makes it really interesting, and provides you with specific things to look out for and possibly reflect on in your posts. If you’re interested, doing a couple of minutes of background research on a news source–is it run by the government? does it have a reputation for a particular point of view? is it based in a country known for censorship? are the expats in that country mostly aid workers, businessmen, oil and gas employees, politicians…?–can add a lot to your interpretation.

Q: How to I find a media source?

A: You should select an English-language media source so that everyone in the class can read the article that you choose (even though many of you know other languages!). If there is a particular country that interests you in the region, you will likely be able to find a media source by typing (for example) “Hungary English newspaper” into a search engine. For some smaller countries, there may not be any sources obviously available, but it should only take a second to figure this out!

Q: Is [this article that I found] an example of local media?

A: The piece of news that you select must be both: 1) FROM the region we’re studying that week, and 2) ABOUT the region that we’re studying. If you are unclear, double-check to make sure that the source that you have found is actually based in the region. You can often figure this out by going to the source’s “About Us” page or just looking for a Wikipedia page about the source.

Take your time and explore the website of the source you have found. Make sure that the article you choose to write about is ABOUT the region, and make sure that the author is a reporter who works for that source. Sometimes you will see that a website just re-posts news written by a news agency like the Associated Press (AP) or Reuters. See this example from the Times of India. It looks like it is a story from the Indian media, but it was actually written by the Associated Press (based in the US), which you can tell from the little “AP” next to the date under the headline. See another problem? It’s NOT ABOUT INDIA. Usually, if the article is about the same country where the news source is based, then it will be an original article by an employee of that source.

Q: Is [the subject of the article that I picked] a good topic to write about?

A: You are welcome to choose articles about ANYTHING as long as you fulfill the requirements of the assignment. However, keep in mind that a major part of the assignment is being able to contextualize and/or comment on the article using things that you have learned from some of our course materials (interviews, lectures, textbook, articles). Certain topics are definitely easier to do this with than others. By no means are you required to choose articles that directly relate to the lectures or articles. In fact, it’s much more interesting to try to find innovative ways to make legitimate connections between very different topics, but choosing a short, superficial article can make it almost impossible to add good commentary.

Q: What are you looking for in the commentary?

A: The keys to a good commentary are:

  1. You use some aspect of the course materials to react to the article. Maybe the article supports something we saw in our course materials. Maybe they contradict each other. Maybe the course materials give some background information that helps you reinterpret the article. Maybe you can use to course materials to say something about the potential biases or perspective of the author or news source.
  2. The way that you connect the course materials and the article is insightful. Just saying “Nick Lewis talks about New Zealand wine in his lecture and this also talks about New Zealand wine” is not satisfactory. But maybe you could find an article about New Zealand voting for its new flag, and maybe make an original connection between the flag and Nick Lewis’s discussion of New Zealand “branding” itself. Provide some relevant detail regarding the specific content in the course materials that your media story connects too – it’s not enough to say “the article reminded me of a key message in Chapter 12”. What part of Chapter 12, and in which specific ways did that section link in to your media commentary?
  3. Keep in mind Bloom’s Taxonomy and attempt to shift from recalling facts and basic concepts in the latter part of your response to the analysis and evaluation levels. And spend enough time/space on the analysis component of your commentary. It’s hard to demonstrate what you are learning if you just describe and/or assert vs explore in a little detail.Blooms
  4. Try and convey your interest in, and enthusiasm about, the topic you are exploring. In other words, don’t just communicate you’re ‘going through the motions.’ This point relates back to one above – you can choose articles about ANYTHING as long as you fulfill the requirements of the assignment. Choose a media story about a topic you are curious and passionate about.

We would really love to hear other insightful reactions even if they don’t pertain directly to the course materials. However, these writing assignments are the ONLY way that you can prove to us that you are consuming all of the course materials that are assigned. That is why it is so important to us that you reference them

Q: Do I have to connect my article to the lecture?

In the media commentaries you definitely do not have to cite all of the course materials for the region or any one in particular. This said, please make sure you do refer to at least one source from the class in your response (textbook, academic article, lecture, audio interview, or film). Note that we have different expectations for the synthesis assignments, where it is important to synthesize most, if not all, of the course materials.

Q: How are our media commentaries graded?

A: You will receive 0-10 points for each media commentary. It will not be too difficult to get a pretty good score if you do everything that is asked of you, but 10-point scores are reserved for only the most thoughtful and insightful assignments. Here is a very general sense of what the scores represent (though reasons for each individual score will vary!):

  • 4-6 points: You wrote something and posted it, but it did not meet basic assignment guidelines (e.g. not  a local news source).
  • 7-8 points: Met the most basic guidelines, but level of detail, care, or insight was lacking (e.g. not well-connected to course material, summary and commentary not well-developed, hastily written with grammar or punctuation errors).
  • 9 points: A solid assignment with all components completed. Commentary was clearly connected to course materials, with moderate original analysis and insight.
  • 10 points: Same as 9 points, but commentary showed original critical thinking and insightful connections, analysis, and evaluation.

You will lose 0.5 points (5%) per day for late assignments.

Q: Wait, I’m confused. Are we supposed to post these in the Discussion Forum or put these in the Dropbox?

A: BOTH! You must post in the Discussion Forum so that your classmates can read and comment on your media commentaries. Just paste the text of your answer in the forum. Don’t attach a file there.

You must put a file (.docx, .doc, .pdf, or .rtf) in the Dropbox so that we can grade your assignment and make sure your points get into the electronic grading system.

You must post in both of these places before the due date/time to avoid late penalties. Note, however, if you forgot or had upload problems, you can upload anytime…ALWAYS go back and upload the same text as what you posted in the discussion forum as we cannot give you a grade if it is not in a Dropbox (given the way grade recording works, technologically, in Learn@UW).

Q: Should we reply/comment on our groupmates’ discussion posts?

A: That would be great, but it’s totally up to you! You get a lot more out of classes when you can interact with your classmates about the material. That’s really hard to do in an online class, but we hope you will give it a try. Please read your classmates’ posts and respond in a thoughtful substantive way (even if it’s just a couple of sentences) if you feel compelled. In addition to such conversations being interesting, you may also earn extra credit points at the end of the semester based on your active participation in the forums beyond just writing the required assignments

Q: It’s 9:58 pm CDT on the due date and I’m freaking out and am wondering should I post before 10:00 pm or give up or post a little late (say 11:00 pm) or if I’m exhausted should I just sleep and post in the morning when I wake up and have the extra energy and fresh set of eyes (and a cuppa tea or coffee booster rocket)? Help!!

A: These are target deadlines and they matter, of course, but preserve your mental health and post in the next hour (10-11 pm) or in the morning…i.e., no staying up all night or falling asleep at the desk and waking up with neck-strain! It’s very important to plan your time, effectively, and meet deadlines (when you graduate your boss won’t be very understanding, trust us, if you miss deadlines) but university life has a lot of pressure associated with it so keep healthy (mental health included). And if you feel like you keep missing deadlines due to bad planning, come and see us and talk about the challenges you face and we’ll brainstorm some good best practices. We’re here to help you, OK!

CCTV headquarters in Beijing






Due Monday, February 15 by 10 pm CST. For those of you who are not in Central Time Zone, make sure you accurately know the time difference!

Discussion Question and Guidlines

There are three parts (A-C) to this discussion question. You may want to write roughly half a page (single-spaced) for each part.

Before responding, please complete all the assigned readings, lectures, podcasts and viewing (l’Auberge Espagnole) for the first three sections of the course (US/Canada, Europe, and Australia/NZ/South Pacific).

PART A: Identity (the ways you perceive yourself and how others perceive you) is complex, and can change both in concert and in contrast with your surroundings. Consider the many different components of your identity. What are 2-3 of these important elements (consider, for example, nationality, allegiances, political inclinations, belief systems, etc.)? Outline the ways, if any, these aspects of your identity or the way you think about them might change (or perhaps not?) if you lived in l’Auberge Espagnole (the Spanish apartment) for 6-12 months during an intense study abroad session in Spain/Europe. It is only a temporary stay, of course, but it is more than a weekend. Would your identity change more in concert or in contrast with what is around you? Don’t be shy about speculating, but also BE SPECIFIC and justify your answer based on the course materials. Be sure to tell us both HOW these parts of your identity would change and WHY you are making such a prediction (using course materials!).

Here are a few relevant links that provide some background information on the European Higher Education Area, and the EU’s Erasmus Program that helped fund the study-abroad students in the movie:

I should also note that l’Auberge Espagnole is “Rated R for language and sexual content.” according to IMDB.

Part B: Now, outline the ways, if any, these 2-3 facets of your personal identity might change if you lived in a hypothetical l’Auberge Canadian (the Canadian apartment) for 6-12 months. This is the same as Part A, but for Canada. Be sure to talk about both HOW and WHY, and use course materials to support your predictions.

Part C: Now think about the course materials assigned for Week 3, including the lecture and podcast. Consider how your personal identity might change if you lived in a hypothetical l’Auberge “Kiwi” (the New Zealand apartment)…maybe in Dunedin (while studying at the University of Otago) or Auckland (while at the University of Auckland). This is the same as Parts A and B, but for New Zealand.


Please clearly label your answers to Parts A, B, and C. Use 12-point font, and please single-space your document to make it easier for us to read online. Your final assignment should be 750-1000 words. Write succinctly, and make sure you are sticking to the specific questions!

Make sure to proofread: spelling, grammar, punctuation, and good writing DO count.
Please save the file using your last name and then Disc1. For example:

  • BOOTHBY_Disc1.docx

and then upload it to the dropbox.

As noted in ‘How to Write a Good Synthesis Assignment,‘ you will be graded primarily on how carefully and critically you considered course material in constructing your response. This said, we want to know your personal views, too. Think about these issues seriously, knowing that first-hand experiences in the world’s regions are exciting, scary, challenging, and rewarding. So be opinionated, express your views, insert your personality, and engage…just don’t only speak from the heart; also speak on the basis of the content you’ve been engaging with in this course.

Kris Olds & Rachel Boothby

Welcome to the Geog 340 (World Regions in Global Context) course support weblog.

Geog 340! is a course in which you will explore the world’s diversity and analyze how identity is shaped. You will determine how and why different peoples experience different forms of cultural, economic, environmental and political change. You will examine how people shape that change. And you will make sense of how and when ties between world regions link them into similar paths of change.

340ScreenGrabThe course was redesigned from the bottom up in 2016 and is 100% new content in comparison to all the terms prior to Fall 2016. We’re thrilled with the outcome of the redesign process, and hope you will be too!

If you are potentially interested in taking Geog 340 in the Summer or Fall 2017 terms, here is some background information to help out make an informed decision. Please note that the Summer version runs 26 June to 23 July 2017. The Fall version runs 6 September to 13 December 2017.

The Instructor and the TA

The Summer 2017 term instructor is Ms. Rachel Boothby and the TA is Ms. Danya Al-Saleh. Rachel and Danya are both PhD students in the Department of Geography and have considerable experience with the content of this course, as well as travel and field work.

The Fall 2017 term instructor is Dr. Kris Olds and the Fall TA has yet to be hired.

Please link here to download the Spring 2017 syllabus for this course, though it’s worth noting that we are considering how to make the compressed Summer timetable more manageable for you.

Please contact the Department of Geography’s Undergraduate Advisor (Joel Gruley <>) if you are a first year student and are seeking direct admission to the course.

Here are several updates to get some things moving before term officially starts.

Q&ASyllabus & Schedule

Read the Spring 2017 syllabus carefully to get a sense of the course. Because we don’t have a first day of class in person where we can go over the course format and policies, this syllabus is very long. Maybe think of it as a course guidebook. We’ll load up the Summer 2017 syllabus here as soon as it has been finalized. And, again, the rhythm of the course will be very different given the compressed summer schedule.

Please note that the course starts slowly for the first session to help those of you who are taking an online class for the first time to dig around the course site on Learn@UW, sort out the course text issue, read the detailed syllabus, email us with any questions you have, etc., etc. Geog 340 is newish, but we’ve taught it enough times to know how to reduce stress and anxiety – and starting with clarity regarding rolling deadlines that are coming up is one of the tricks. Your first assignment will be to fill out your course profile and to introduce yourself on the course Discussion board.


The course website (which is hosted on Learn@UW) goes live at 8:00 am on the first day of Summer term. You will need access to a computer to read, watch, and listen to the course content (apart from the textbook), and to engage in discussion forums, etc. We also make ample use of ‘drop boxes’ on the site so you can upload written exercises on it.

You may also want to learn more about how to use the new Canvas platform. If so, you can access the training course at

The Textbook

The course text during Summer and Fall 2017 terms will be:

World Regions in Global Context: People, Places, and Environments, 6th Edition by Sally Marston, Paul Knox, Diana Liverman, Vincent Del Casino & Paul Robbins, 2017.
ISBN-13: 978-0134183640     ISBN-10: 0134183649

6th edition text

We are using the 6th edition so please acquire a copy of it and NOT the 5th edition. Textbook options include fully online (the cheapest option, especially if you get the 180 day access version):

an ‘a la Carte’ edition for a binder (cheaper than the paperback version, but more expensive that the online version)

and the standalone book (without MasteringGeography):

We are NOT using MasteringGeography.

The University Bookstore by Memorial Library has ordered copies of the paperback version and the three-ring-binder (a la Carte) version of the 6th edition. You can buy or rent either of these versions from the bookstore.

And here is the link to search for the 6th edition of the course text – Amazon offers various versions (including rental).

Multiple reserve copies of the 6th edition are available in the College Library and the Geography Library on two-hour loan. This is the cheapest option (free!).

Please note that the assigned textbook is required reading and you will be spending a lot of time with it so please ensure that you are satisfied with the format you are considering.

Finally, please note that we’re working hard to reduce textbook costs, substantially. More on that this summer and fall.


Please contact Rachel Boothby <BOOTHBY@WISC.EDU> with questions about the Summer 2017 version of the course. Please contact Prof Kris Olds <> with general questions about the course, tips for success in online courses, etc. We’re more than happy to help you out!