A new class at The University of New Mexico is taking students on a tour through the world of geography – and they’ll be using beer to do it.
This fall, UNM’s Department of Geography and Environmental Studies is offering the ‘World of Beer’, a new 100-level course designed to explore different areas of the discipline while using beer to think through a variety of geographic questions. For Associate Professor Maria Lane, department chair and class instructor, the course will provide a fascinating and unique way to delve into the field.
“I think this is going to be a really cool tour of geography that explores the fascinating subject of beer at the same time. When students finish the class, they will know a lot more about beer, culture and the environment. They’ll also be really well informed to choose other classes within the department if that’s their interest,” she said. “My colleagues and I are all very excited about it. We think it’s going to be very popular and a great introduction to geography using a fun and interesting topic.”
Developing a class around beer made sense, says Lane. Albuquerque and New Mexico are regularly featured in lists and articles celebrating the area’s exploding craft beer scene, which according to America’s Beer Distributors has a nearly $520-million economic impact on the state. And with more and more breweries regularly opening around town, Lane says beer provides a great research area for geographers.
“New Mexico is an unbelievable place to study geography,” Lane said. “Whether it’s physical geography, cultural geography or historical geography, New Mexico is like a living laboratory. We try to take advantage of that in a lot of our Geography courses, and a class focused on beer is another perfect opportunity.”
While the class will have traditional lectures, tests and projects, Lane says it will also be a bit unconventional. It will begin with a historical and cultural review of beer’s origins and how it’s changed over time and in different regions of the world – lectures Lane will present, given her background as a historical geographer and expert on world regional geography. After that, the class will largely be comprised of guest speakers from within UNM’s Department of Geography & Environmental Studies, from the local craft beer industry and from other beer-related sites in North America.
UNM professors will each present in their area of expertise, always using beer as the focal point. For example, Associate Professor Chris Duvall, an expert in the biogeography of human-plant interactions, will introduce the class to the basic study of humans’ plant use and cultivation, and then he’ll show how those concepts help us understand the evolution of hops farming techniques. Similarly, Assistant Professors Yan Lin and Chris Lippitt, both experts in the area of Geographic Information Science, will introduce the class to geospatial technologies and spatial analysis tools widely used by geographers in a variety of industries. Using those tools, the class will then examine the craft brewing industry and learn how spatial decision-making is a critical part of opening or growing a beer-related business.
“Every one of these lectures will be absolutely fascinating because they’re we’re going to have people who are experts in a wide variety of geographic fields presenting basic concepts that can be applied to beer,” said Lane. “We want to give students a new lens on the world of beer.”
The class will also feature guest speakers from outside UNM – primarily from different breweries around Albuquerque. Collaborating with professionals in the local craft beer industry will give students a better, real-world understanding of the field and let them learn from people directly involved in it. Lane says many of the large local breweries already engage in educational outreach through lectures or tours, so getting them involved with the class is a good opportunity for all sides.
The class will be offered as a 100-level course, giving freshman and sophomore students the chance to take it, even if they are not Geography majors. Lane hopes the subject matter will interest students who may not even know what geographers study, and that it may even motivate some students to consider taking more advanced geography classes after learning about the world of beer. And while the class includes some optional events, outside of class, for students who are at least 21-years-old, it’s definitely not required to register.
To learn more about the ‘World of Beer’, visit the department’s webpage.