The World in a City

Toronto-based photographer and former high school geography and psychology teacher, Colin Boyd Shafer, stopped by National Geographic headquarters to talk about Cosmopolis Toronto, a documentary project that reveals the true diversity of Toronto through photography, stories, and mapping. See ideas below for how you, too, can connect your students to their communities and the world.  

Can you find the world in one city?

Inspired by this question, Colin Boyd Shafer set out to photograph and tell the stories of someone born in every country in the world, who now calls Toronto home. In one year, June 2013 – June 2014, Colin traveled the greater Toronto area to take portraits of individuals in a place where they feel ‘at home’ and holding an item that connects them to their past. These photographs below are just some of the stories that are connected through a Google map as part of his latest project, Cosmopolis Toronto.

Abdel (born in Chad) is standing inside the University of Toronto’s Athletic Centre where he proudly studies Kinesiology and Physical Education. Photograph by Colin Boyd Shafer

Abdel (born in Chad) is standing inside the University of Toronto’s Athletic Centre where he proudly studies kinesiology and physical education. Photograph by Colin Boyd Shafer

Abdel describes his mother as his inspiration, someone he could never come close to thanking enough for how she raised the family. Photograph by Colin Boyd Shafer

Abdel describes his mother as his inspiration, someone he could never come close to thanking enough for how she raised the family. Photograph by Colin Boyd Shafer

“Cosmopolis Toronto aims to create an accurate picture of diversity through the unique individuals that make up Toronto today; share compelling personal stories; and create engaging and positive opportunities for dialogue among people from various cultural and social backgrounds.” (http://cosmopolistoronto.com)

Wales (born in the United States) is standing on the Toronto Subway, a public transit system she has a “love-hate relationship with.” Photograph by Colin Boyd Shafer

Wales (born in the United States) is standing on the Toronto Subway, a public transit system she has a “love-hate relationship with.” Photograph by Colin Boyd Shafer

This is the camera that Wales’ father used to capture important moments of her childhood growing up in California. Photograph by Colin Boyd Shafer

This is the camera that Wales’ father used to capture important moments of her childhood growing up in California. Photograph by Colin Boyd Shafer

Saima (Born in Qatar) was the victim of long-term abuse. Down by Lake Ontario is where she would go to reflect and dream of a better future. Photograph by Colin Boyd Shafer

Saima (Born in Qatar) was the victim of long-term abuse. Down by Lake Ontario is where she would go to reflect and dream of a better future. Photograph by Colin Boyd Shafer

With henna on Saima feels connected to both her Pakistani background, and birth country of Qatar. Photograph by Colin Boyd Shafer

With henna on Saima feels connected to both her Pakistani background, and birth country of Qatar. Photograph by Colin Boyd Shafer

Colin began his project by photographing his grandmother, Eileen, who was born in Stoke on Trent, United Kingdom and moved to Toronto in the 1960s. He found most of his participants with the help of social media. Participants found connections and comfort in the series by reading about the similarities many immigrants faced and felt new respect for the uniqueness of their own story.

When Eileen (born in The United Kingdom) broke her hip in the late 1990s her late husband John built her this customized chair. Today this is her special spot, where she still drinks her tea and does her crosswords. Photograph by Colin Boyd Shafer

When Eileen (born in The United Kingdom) broke her hip in the late 1990s her late husband John built her this customized chair. Today this is her special spot, where she still drinks her tea and does her crosswords. Photograph by Colin Boyd Shafer

Whenever her children were bored or sick, it was always, “Can I look at the albums?” and they all knew that “if the house sets on fire…grab the photograph albums!” Photograph by Colin Boyd Shafer

Whenever her children were bored or sick, it was always, “Can I look at the albums?” and they all knew that “if the house sets on fire…grab the photograph albums!” Photograph by Colin Boyd Shafer

Colin’s next project is INTERLOVE – a documentary series featuring people who differ in faith but come together in love. Click here to support the project. You can also follow Colin’s work via the Cosmpolis Toronto Facebook page.

This post was written by Alison Szopinski, manager of the Geo-Educator Community at National Geographic. Join the Geo-Educator Community for ideas and resources that help students learn about the world.

TEACHERS’ TOOLKIT

Emulate this project in your classroom:

  • Ask the students to share where their family is from (towns, states, countries). How far back do they know?
    • Homework Idea: Have students identify where their immediate family currently lives, and where their parents and grandparents are from (town, state, country).
  • Create a classroom tree.
    • Have students create leaves for each place they found where they have a connection.
    • Each student’s name is a branch.
    • The tree trunk is your classroom. Any surprises? What do they think of this tree? How many new places can they learn about by sharing family stories with each other?
  • Map it with string!
    • Have students place pins and small notecards with their name and family connection to that place, on a world map. Include a pin for your classroom location.
    • Have students pick a unique color of string and connect their map pins (embroidery thread works, too!)
    • Discuss what the world looks like with the lines and connections.
  • Ask students to take a photo for class that shows them with a family member and an item of cultural or familial importance. Add these photos to the map or tree above, or simply show n’ tell.

Take it further:

National Geographic Genographic Project: Education Collection

Video: Global Human Journey Geneticists map the human journey out of Africa

Activity (1 hour) for Grades 3-5, Ages 8-11: Migration Around the World
Activity (50 min) for Grades 9-12, Ages 14-18: Exploring Modern Human Migrations
Activity (50 min) for Grades 9-12, Ages 14-18: All Africans under the Skin

Encyclopedic Entry: neighborhood
Encyclopedic Entry: family

Nat Geo Blog (10/17/2013) Chinatowns Threatened by Gentrification 
Nat Geo Blog (04/01/2013) Cholo Universe

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