Flying more than ever, I have become familiar with Delta Airline’s Sky magazine. Clearly catering to people with far more disposable income than I have lying around (Seriously, monogrammed shirts? Executive dating services?) I have enjoyed reading the various City Profiles tucked in the publication. It takes me back to the my dissertation days when I was reading plenty of place promotion and place marketing literature and thinking about how Slovenia was using the Internet to put forth an image that would attract tourists, investors, and perhaps make EU accession and NATO membership possible. Even my content analysis course taught by Dr. Gary Heald saw my fellow students and I focusing on tourism imagery for our group project. A quick Google Scholar search would show that the term place branding seems to be the dominant term in use today, as a Wikipedia search for “place promotion” directs you to the term “place branding.” Despite these changes in terminology, we know that in an era of intense competition for flows of tourist and global capital in order to hold on to fleeting investments, place branding is not going away and only intensifies with the proliferation of various media outlets that marketers can deploy to reach potential tourists and decision makers within firms. We also know that the images created are often contested by those left out of the process of crafting the image.
This fall my GEOG 1103 students will be getting a crash course in the discourses used by Sky to promote various places in their place branding outlet, the City Profiles section, before moving on to select their own favorite city or country websites for their own analysis. Using the Voyant Tools site, students will be introduced to introductory textual analysis such as the use of world clouds, term counts, trends across the corpus, and contexts, in addition to the idea of ‘old-fashioned’ close reading.
This exercise will have the students look at sections and essays in four different city profiles, but in all fairness, not all cities are created equal, or are even cities. In the last five years Atlanta has been profiled twice. South Dakota’s two entries will present different issues of scale to consider as the writers have to highlight key parts of a state so editorial priorities and formula when constructing an image may come to the fore. Another interesting example will be the Mississippi River Delta edition, which has been expanded by the Delta Regional Authority to include portions of Kentucky, Missouri, Illinois, and Alabama (See image below).
Exploring the types of images, maps, and text used to describe a place and make it interesting to specific markets, it is our hope the assignment will get students to consider critically how they view places that are framed for them in this way. This is going to be a great project for students to look at and start to employ tools salient to both the social sciences and digital humanities. Links to selected student projects will be shared from the OU Create.ou.edu domain later this term.