Geo 626:  SPIRIT OF PLACE          SPRING 2002     


THURSDAYS 1:25 to 4pm       Morrill 2--room 136,                                  Version: revised during 2001


Prof. Richard Wilkie,  office in Morrill 261           office hours:  Wed. 2-3pm and Friday 11am to noon

                                telephone:  545-2078,  email:  


Course Description (Spring 2001):


            This seminar explores the meaning of “place” in the lives of people.  Why does a particular landscape or environmental setting move us, and what is it that attaches us to those places?  What is the essence of these special and often sacred places?  What are the universal themes that repeatedly show up in the “literature of place” that connect people across time, space, and cultural differences?


            Early in the course it is important to have each member of the class look within themselves to explore the meaning of place in one’s own life, and to look at the development of your own “life stream”, which ranges from early explorations and experiences with places up to your present attitudes and relationships with both the natural and built environments.  Hopefully our discussions about your own experiences--your phenomenological foundations--along with discussions from the readings, will help to place your attitudes, values, and experiences into a broader comparative context with how others relate to similar or different kinds of places.  Finally, each of us individually--and the group as a whole--will slowly develop a conceptual framework that will provide a philosophical and intellectual base from which to explore the topic more completely in your major paper for the course.  Hopefully this process of spiritual connection and understanding of the world around us will be ongoing and continue throughout each of our lives. 


 Several more of the many questions we will explore include:


      • Why are some people attracted to particular kinds of environmental settings, while others are drawn to very

            different kinds of environments and places? 


      • How have those who have thought seriously about places--ranging from the sacred to the profane--attempted

            to describe or capture a “sense of place” or a “spirit of place” in their writings, art, films, music, poetry,

            photographs, sound tracks, or other forms of communication?


      • Are there “ways of seeing”, “experiencing”, or “knowing” places from one’s past that will help enhance future

            interaction with all kinds of places?


      • How do individuals use our previous experiences or relationships with places to enrich understanding of ourselves,

            our communities, our countries and the world in general?


            Lawrence Durrell has written in his essay Landscape and Character, “My books are always about living in places, not just rushing through them.  As we get to know Europe slowly, tasting the wines, cheeses, and characters of different countries you begin to realize that the important determinant of any culture is after all--the spirit of place.  Just as one particular vineyard will always give you a special wine with discernible characteristics so a Spain, an Italy, a Greece will always give you the same type of culture--will express itself through the human beings just as it does through its wild flowers” [N.Y.Times Magazine, June 12, 1960]. ......While Durrell’s statement might be a little too deterministic, it is clear that in his writings the spirit of place comes alive and is always at the heart of his novels.


            Thus in this seminar we will explore not only how we individually relate to particular kinds of places and spaces, but we also want to examine how travel writers, novelists, artists, geographers, poets, historians, naturalists, landscape architects, filmmakers, musicians, and others have communicated and used their concepts of place in their work and lives.  I hope too that we can explore the real world by taking a field trip in May.





Required Books: (course books plus a course reader by Richard Wilkie} (to be purchased from the Jeffery Amherst Bookshop Annex, behind 55 South Pleasant St. in downtown Amherst.)


1.  Yi-Fu Tuan, Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience, Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1993 (paper).

2.      Gerald Durrell, My Family and Other Animals, New York, NY: Penguin Books (paper).

3.      Henry Miller , The Colossus of Maroussi. New York, NY:  Penguin Books, 1990 (paper).

4.      Frances Mayes, Under the Tuscan Sun. New York, NY: Broadway Books, 1997 (paper).

5.      Wallace Stegner, Wolf Willow.  New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1990 (paper).

6.      Peter Sauer, Finding Home. Boston Beacon Press, 1991 (paper).




Grading Policy for the Course: A once a week course involves a great deal of classroom interaction and discussion.  It is important that people come to class each time to maintain a sense of continuity in the course.  So please come to class each week! The grading breaks down as follows:


  • Classroom involvement and participation: 1/4 (25% ) of the grade.
  • Shorter written papers: 1/3+ (35% ) of the grade.
  • Major research paper: 215 (40%) of the grade (Note: because the paper is 40 percent of the grade, the minimum length of it should be at least between 18 and 25 pages.)


Note Also: Please provide two copies of each paper when you turn them in during the semester. Since I photocopy some exercises to give out to everyone, and I need one copy for my files, it is important that you turn in turn in two copies. I am giving you a free copy from course readers for a fair exchange.




1.  Jan. 30: Introduction & Course Overview: (Philosophies of Travel and involvement with Places)


2.  Feb. 6: Favorite Places


3.  Feb. 13: Favorite Books about Place


4. Feb.20: Childhood and Place (Child Exploration, Memories and Place)


5.  Feb. 27: Ancient Wisdom about Sacred Places: (Sense of Place from Folklore, Place Names & Historical Landscapes)


6.  March 6: The Human Senses and Bonding with Places: Including Selected Visual Elements of Place --Quality of Light, Color, Shape & Form, Patterns Visual Order & Scale


7.  March 13: "Spirit of Place" through Film



Spring Vacation (March 16-24)



8.  March 27: How Writers approach "Special Places"


9.  April 3: Pilgrimages Home and Elsewhere


10. April 10: Spirit of Place in the Human Built Environment




11.  April 24: Student Presentations Begin


12.  May 1: Student Presentations


13. May 8: Student Presentations or Field Trip


14. May 15: Course Conclusion: Making Sense of the many Paradigms