• Guerilla Geographer: Dr. Daniel Raven-Ellison
    Daniel Raven-Ellison has pioneered the field of guerrilla geography.

    Photograph by Darren Moore

    By Alyssa Samson

    Tuesday, July 10, 2012

    Daniel Raven-Ellison is a guerrilla geographer and a 2012 Emerging Explorer. He travels across cities to gain a different perspective of the world, one photo at a time. Through his projects, Urban Earth and Mission: Explore, Daniel encourages kids to create their own adventure, even in their own backyard.

    EARLY WORK

    Daniel has been exploring the world around him ever since he can remember. “Whether it has been searching for snakes and spiders or trying to lose friends in the woods, I have always been exploring and playing,” he says.

    Daniel is a former geography teacher. Throughout his life and career, he has been preaching the philosophy of exploration. “I think everyone is an explorer,” he says. “We are all exploring each other now. It’s inevitable that you’re an explorer and the question is what you do with your exploration.”

    Daniel also believes in what he refers to as “emotional architecture”—creating an open and loving environment in your home, instead of locking yourself in invisible walls of isolation, something he admits to doing as a teenager.

    While his past adventures have certainly increased his sense of wonder, he continues to plant each foot forward and not dwell on the past.

    “If you go back in time, you will think about what you want to change about your life and what you would have done differently,” he says. “But actually, from one phase to the next, you should be saying ‘you know what? I am going to do these really interesting things to make my life more worthwhile.’”

    MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK

    “The most exciting thing has been playing ‘capture the flag’ or a game of ‘1, 2, 3’ in the woods—that’s the best form of exploration out there because it’s the best thing out there in terms of emotion.”

    MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK

    According to Daniel, there is a lesson to be learned when climbing a steep and slippery volcano in New Guinea without the proper climbing equipment: Don’t do it. 

    “We went up this thing without the correct equipment and it got to the point where going back wasn’t really a choice either. I think that was the scariest part because the drop down was going to be like 500 meters [1,640 feet] and you would fall to your death,” he says.

    HOW DO YOU DEFINE GEOGRAPHY?

    “Geography is anything that happens somewhere, which means that everything has a geographic place; whether that place is real or imagined—Middle-earth, Hogwarts—it’s an imagined place, but real in our minds. In some ways, they may be more real than places like New Zealand, if you have never been to New Zealand.”

    GEO-CONNECTION

    As a guerilla geographer, Daniel asks questions about our sense of place, which forces him to think differently about the world. For instance, he decided to walk through entire cities, like Mexico City and London—taking a photo every eight steps.

    By piecing the photographs together in films, collected under the title “Urban Earth,” Daniel was able to gain insight into worlds that are often overlooked. He was surprised to learn how safe the experience was.

    “One thing I would like my child to have more than anything else is empathy—empathy for others, and with that, tolerance for understanding other people’s positions and why they may be in the position they’re in,” he says. “Everyone is in a particular position because of where they have come from in their lives.”

    Mission: Explore is a project that inspires children (and their parents) to become guerilla geographers by completing “missions.” Many Mission: Explore missions are collected in a series of books, focusing on areas such as camping and road trips. Missions may include searching for a long-lost cat, trying to arrive somewhere late and early at the same time, or drawing a picture of a beautiful deposit of . . . poop.

    “If you put children in the woods and let them go feral for like half-an-hour, they will learn more from each other and the environment than they would have listening to the teacher for how many hours,” Daniel says.

    SO, YOU WANT TO BE A . . . GUERRILLA GEOGRAPHER

    Daniel suggests students “get all the Mission: Explore books and do the missions.”

    Practicing your “ings” is also a one-way ticket to becoming a great explorer, Daniels says. Practice actions such as observing, asking, listening, smelling, feeling, tasting, experimenting, recording, painting, researching . . . everyday life.  

    GET INVOLVED

    Daniel encourages people to “go play hide-and-seek and go find stuff.”

    He also urges everyone to go somewhere they have never been. Regardless if someone else has already explored the place, seek challenges and put yourself in a new situation.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    city Noun

    large settlement with a high population density.

    empathy Noun

    ability to identify and respect the emotions and attitudes of others.

    equipment Noun

    tools and materials to perform a task or function.

    exploration Noun

    study and investigation of unknown places, concepts, or issues.

    explorer Noun

    person who studies unknown areas.

    feral Adjective

    wild or untamed.

    geographer Noun

    person who studies places and the relationships between people and their environments.

    geography Noun

    study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.

    Encyclopedic Entry: geography
    guerrilla Adjective

    having to do with warfare conducted by organized groups of civilians, not soldiers or the military.

    Hogwarts Noun

    fictional Scottish school for witchcraft and wizardry that is the setting for most of the Harry Potter series of books by J.K. Rowling.

    isolation Noun

    state of being alone or separated from a community.

    Middle-earth Noun

    fictional time and place that is the setting for the fantasy novels of J.R.R. Tolkien, including the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

    perspective Noun

    representation of volume or depth on a flat surface.

    philosophy Noun

    the study of the basic principles of knowledge.

    preach Verb

    to deliver a sermon or other piece of lengthy, earnest advice.

    tolerance Noun

    fair and respectful attitude toward others and their way of life.

    volcano Noun

    an opening in the Earth's crust, through which lava, ash, and gases erupt, and also the cone built by eruptions.

    Encyclopedic Entry: volcano
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