On Thursday, May 14, the Pulitzer Center gathered nearly a dozen university professors to explore journalist and National Geographic Fellow Paul Salopek’s seven-year, 22,000-mile Out of Eden Walk with our Campus Consortium partners and other colleges.
We all undertook our own 'walk' through some of Salopek's extensive reporting during a 3 ½ hour-workshop led by Don Belt, who pioneered the first university-level course built around the Out of Eden Walk while at Virginia Commonwealth University.
The Pulitzer Center is Salopek’s educational partner for the Out of Eden Walk, working so far mostly with secondary school students and educators. Now we’re aiming to bring this amazing project to colleges in a more systematic way. The walk offers a unique window into early migration routes and modern day issues—a terrific resource for educators in wide-ranging fields: anthropology, geography, environmental science, religion, journalism and more.
Belt, who has known Salopek since his early days at National Geographic, offered the semester-long Out of Eden Walk course in spring 2014 while at VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture.
“Thanks all for a great day, for sharing your time and expertise—and especially to Don, for showing so well how powerful a tool the Eden Walk can be,” Pulitzer Center Executive Director Jon Sawyer wrote to workshop participants. “We're excited to see what comes next—and do let us know if there's anything we can do to help push this initiative along on each of your campuses.”
Colleagues came from Hood College, American University, LaGuardia Community College, Wake Forest University, Boston University, Elon University, the George Washington University and the College of William and Mary. Disciplines ranged from anthropology and religious studies to geography and journalism—the very diverse, interdisciplinary approach Salopek’s journey of slow journalism inspires.
The excitement that the Out of Eden walk could provide their students was obvious, with professors describing the workshop conversations as fun as well as intellectually stimulating. Many are ready to bring the walk into their courses.
In his introduction to the workshop's curriculum guide for professors, Belt states he designed the curriculum, like the Out of Eden Walk, “to explore the creative frontiers of Slow Journalism, a movement away from the super-fast, superficial coverage that dominates modern news media and towards a more in-depth, deliberate, mindful approach to narrative journalism using the latest tools of digital technology.”
“What I’m using the walk for in my classroom is to teach students to first of all slow down. Then the next phase is to send them out into the community and doing the sort of in-depth interviewing and story telling that Paul is practicing. I want them to apply those lessons on a micro-scale in their own communities,” Belt said in an introductory video for educators about the Out of Eden Walk's applications in the classroom.
In that same video, VCU student Morgan Hull said: “The experience of slow journalism and walking everywhere was really interesting because it really opened your eyes to every day things you don’t usually see."
Belt’s curriculum is for a semester-long course designed as an intensive, senior or graduate-level journalism seminar. He now is thinking about how to incorporate a more interdisciplinary approach when he teaches the course next at his new academic home, the University of Richmond. He also sees ways to explore the issues raised by Salopek's extensive reporting as part of other courses not exclusively devoted to the Out of Eden walk.
Prior to the workshop, Belt and the Pulitzer Center provided participants with an array of suggested reading and viewing assignments: As Belt says, a “recommended first stop” is Salopek’s introductory article on the Out of Eden Walk that appeared on the cover of the December 2013 issue of National Geographic.
The article is the start of an extensive body of written and multimedia assets Salopek has produced since he began his walk. All his dispatches are gathered together on the National Geographic website.
Other resources on an expanded site developed by Salopek and his creative team in partnership with the Knight Foundation, National Geographic, Pulitzer Center, and Project Zero, include a fascinating interactive map room–complete with walking tours of major cities he has visited along his path and even a map of police stops and their degree of severity. The resources also include what Belt considers perhaps the “most lasting of the project’s legacies”–the multimedia "Milestones" that Salopek records every 100 miles of his journey around the world. By the time he reaches Tierra del Fuego, Chile, in approximately five years, there will be 2,300 of these Milestones.