In Reading and Writing Landscapes of Childhood: Growing Up Near the Great Lakes, a Fall 2012 course taught by Elizabeth Goodenough at University of Michigan’s Residential College, students learned how to create digital audio-walks with Anja H. Bieri, cultural geographer and artist.

Close readings of children’s literature by authors from the Great Lakes region provided the foundation for exploring the question of how tales of home and play shape our understanding of nature, society and our personal landscapes.

Anja led the students in exploring the cultural dimension of landscape through creating audio-walks – self-guided tours in which one listens to soundscape and voice compositions inspired by the topic of the course: landscapes of childhood. Anja’s teaching focuses on enabling students’ creative process to combine aesthetic education, new media, and social science, crossing the borders between art and social theory to produce informed, situated work.

This website unites the students’ productions and gives a larger public the opportunity to download their soundwalks and to listen to them while walking through the areas in Nichols Arboretum that inspired the students.

We chose Nichols Arboretum as our playground for its ambiguous character of being both sustained Michigan nature and cultural or cultured landscape. During Fall semester we took field-trips together, but students also went on individual research walks to record sound and voice for their soundscapes. While the “Arb” provided our connection to notions of nature and a wonderful opportunity to be outside so close to campus, some students also played with the transition to commercial settings and the differences between the urban and the park’s acoustic contexts.

The students created various types of soundwalks, but they all share a poetic, more abstract dimension that invites walkers to use their own imagination and to be inspired to think on foot about their own landscapes of childhood. The walks are between 5 and 10 minutes long, allowing time for a visitor to take several soundwalks at the Arboretum.

Laura Amtower, MFA student at U-M Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design, designed the map.

Before you head out, download the audio-walks to your computer and mp3 device, and bring headphones. You can also stream them from your smartphone. Now come and take a walk with us.