Mette Bruinsma


Location: R303, East Quadrangle, Main Building, Glasgow G12 8QQ

Research title: Collecting Worlds, Learning Geography [TBC]

Research Summary

Collecting worlds, learning geography: disciplinary history and knowledge production in the undergraduate geography dissertation

The geography dissertation is regarded by academic lecturing staff as a conclusive or defining test of independent ability, undertaken in the concluding phases of undergraduate degree studies. As a defining statement, the dissertation is also reflective of wider student learning, encompassing cultures of fieldwork activity, data gathering, processing and interpreting, and presentational design. Evidently, every student’s geography dissertation has a singular story to tell, and is representative of the undergraduate voice in university geography. Cumulatively, dissertations also speak to greater questions of disciplinary trends, character, range and change, and the ways in which diverse worlds, peoples and places, have been collected and documented by learning geographical researchers. The examination paper has, for over a century, been accepted as a standard form of assessment in university geography degree studies. The design of examination papers and the formulation of specific questions reflect academic expectations about student abilities of knowledge acquisition and written expression. Changing styles of exam paper and question can also be reflective of trends and tastes in the discipline, either locally or as a greater scholarly community. In spite of its significance and centrality as a means of testing ability and classifying student performance, the examination paper remains all but unexamined in scholarship on the history of geographical education in higher education.

Based on an archival-interpretive approach, the project will include the analysis of the unified collection of undergraduate geography dissertations and degree examination papers held by the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow. The School retains a near-complete run of hard copy dissertations (regional; physical; human) submitted by final-year undergraduate Geography students, c. 1959-2016. Once chaotic and only semi-catalogued, Glasgow’s dissertation collection has been recently re-housed and newly organised with a searchable database, making properly accessible a unique archival resource spanning almost sixty years of intellectual and pedagogic change in academic Geography through the praxis of undergraduate students. Similarly, the School holds a significant archived collection of the question papers sat by student classes in examination diets at University of Glasgow c. 1913-1980. (Additional, supplementary archival holdings collected by the School include: student expedition photograph albums; student fieldwork reports; Drumlin, the annual student magazine).