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From Here to Everywhere
Photo by Kevin Matthews

From Here to Everywhere

The geographer who chairs the new Global Studies Interdepartmental Program says that globalization makes people think twice about simple questions, like where they're from.

Our contemporary world has changed in such a way that there is a more intense interaction between the local and the global, the national and the global, than had existed in previous times.


The economic decline, at first gradual and then sudden, of Buffalo, N.Y., is somewhere in the back of Professor J. Nicholas Entrikin's mind when he thinks about events as traumatic as Hurricane Katrina, the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami of December 2004, and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Entrikin grew up in a Buffalo still in its industrial heyday, and if place means something to you, as it does to this professor of geography, that matters.

It mattered in 1975 when he began teaching at UCLA, his first and current job, and noticed that students from Southern California needed extra help in order to understand the events of the Industrial Revolution. He realized that they "didn't have a good sense of a factory area, and a factory town, and workers housing, and the kinds of things that were common in these old industrial settings."

The Buffalo of Entrikin's boyhood was "a place of strong neighborhoods, of strong ethnic neighborhoods, a strong union history, all of these things that created a very strong sense of attachment to the place." Some who might have otherwise left choose to stay, Entrikin says, because their families lived there for generations. His East Coast biases long since dispensed with, Entrikin enjoys hikes in the Santa Monica mountains and thinks of Los Angeles as a fascinating window into North American and global trends. He is keenly aware of the city's fragility, its susceptibility to seismic and other events.

Places matter most when threatened. Or at least, Entrikin says, that is when most people cease to regard them as inert backgrounds on which lives get lived the way light dances on a movie screen.

"Places are always related to human projects, they're always related to a particular set of goals, and they are made and remade all the time," Entrikin explains. But projects and goals must be reevaluated when disaster strikes, as in New Orleans after Katrina, when "all the sudden the infrastructure is gone and the kinds of activities that the place facilitated can no longer occur, because the place no longer exists as it did."

Globalization and Global Studies

This fall, Entrikin begins to preside over the Global Studies Interdepartmental Program (IDP), which allows UCLA undergraduates to complete a major or minor while focusing on global issues in an increasingly integrated world. Entrikin says "our contemporary world has changed in such a way that there is a more intense interaction between the local and the global, [and] the national and the global, than had existed in previous times."

Interaction and competition. Entrikin cites the rapid rise and uncertain future of the European Union. He sees regional entities, nation-states, and the EU in competition for power in Europe and for claims on individuals' loyalties. Although new member states have joined, several of the EU's original Western European members are engaged in a "pullback" from a move towards integration that dominated the 1990s.

Global Studies majors and minors inevitably consider such issues of "scale" and "the interaction of different scales," as Entrikin puts it, issues that crop up variously in every region in the world.

The program is for serious students. The Global Studies major has a core curriculum, including third- and fourth-year courses that must be passed in sequence; a minimum GPA requirement; and a mandatory 35–50 page senior thesis, the culmination of two quarters of individualized study with a faculty member. The major builds in study abroad and extends opportunities for international internships.

Maps

Back in Buffalo, Entrikin used to write organizations to request maps of faraway locales. "I was aware at a very early age that maps are not, as people often take them to be, just sources of information." He says maps are products of the imagination with consequences for how people experience the places they live, visit, and dream about.

Entrikin remains grateful to this day that he went to a college, Syracuse University, that had a geography department. The academic discipline gave him tools to organize his thoughts about the politics, economics, and physical characteristics of cities. He did his graduate work at the University of Wisconsin, where he minored in philosophy, another abiding interest.

Entrikin has served as chair of UCLA's Department of Geography, and he chaired the committee that recommended the creation of the University's Institute of the Environment. He also co-founded the UCLA History-Geography Project, which hosts seminars and workshops for training K-12 teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District, primarily from the district's lowest-performing schools. He is married and has two grown sons.