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WKU professor returns from three-week Latin American expedition

Left: The famous Inca Citadel of Machu Picchu. Right: Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro with the Christ statue and Sugarloaf Mountain.

Dr. David Keeling, Distinguished University Professor of Geography, returned recently from a Latin American expedition that visited seven destinations, completing a three-week journey representing WKU and the American Geographical Society as part of a geographic educational outreach program.

The educational tour began in Bridgetown, Barbados, with discussions about Caribbean societies and economies, with a specific focus on the contrasts and conflicts that exist in the region.  The group then traveled to Peru for a visit to the famous Incan citadel of Machu Picchu. Dr. Keeling lectured about Incan culture and the long-term social and economic impacts of colonization by the Spanish. He also talked about the short-term prospects of development for modern Peru and the wider region of Latin America within a rapidly changing global economic system, along with the impacts of tourism on world heritage sites such as Machu Picchu.

In Santiago, Chile, Dr. Keeling lectured on the rise of Chilecon Valley and the reasons why the country has developed such a sophisticated economy compared to its regional neighbors. Trips to Valparaíso, Viña del Mar, and selected sites in Santiago city revealed a country of contrasts and opportunities. 

In Buenos Aires, Argentina, Dr. Keeling talked about Argentine identity and shared a chapter on this issue from a just-released book on nationalism and identity around the world. Questions about Peronism, Evita, and the brutal 1970s “Dirty War” were contextualized by the geography and history of the modern metropolis of Buenos Aires.  The group then traveled to Bariloche in Patagonia for explorations of the natural environment.

On the flight from Bariloche to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Dr. Keeling lectured on the urban redevelopment challenges of the 2016 Rio Olympics and explained some of the infrastructural successes and failures experienced by this metropolis of 13 million people.  

Heading from Rio de Janeiro to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, on the expedition’s final leg, Dr. Keeling talked about how Latin American societies face seven revolutions in the 21st century, ranging from climate change, population growth, and resource scarcity to land-use conflicts and economic instability. He provided examples of the kinds of spatial analysis that might prove useful for business executives, investors and others.

The primary mission of the both the department and the American Geographical Society’s educational travel programs is to focus attention on some of the planet’s most pressing problems, such as the social implications of climate change for small island communities, ongoing ethnic and environmental tensions in Latin America, and the challenges for emerging economies in engaging with an increasingly Westernized global system of trade and finance. A secondary mission is to demonstrate how geographers address these issues and to promote a broader geographic perspective on sustainable development issues.

“Learning about environmental challenges first-hand by examining, for example, vulnerable communities and their challenges in coping with changing resource economies within a local and global development context really helps people to understand the issues of sustainability and global change and puts the challenges we face as a global society into sharper focus,” Dr. Keeling said.

One of the benefits for WKU, Dr. Keeling said, is that the university’s growing international reputation is further enhanced through his participation in these educational tours, as the guests have included diplomats, former ambassadors, Fortune 500 corporate leaders, and successful business entrepreneurs. Students also benefit from the knowledge gained from these experiences and subsequently shared in the classroom and through research projects and study abroad programs.

Past educational expeditions have led to successful departmental study abroad programs to Argentina, Tanzania, Turkey, Iceland and Australia, among other destinations, with upcoming programs to Australia (Winter 2018), Iceland and Ireland (Summer 2018) already planned.

Contact: David Keeling, (270) 745-4555 or

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 Last Modified 5/2/17