Global health geographer Matt Sparke
How did Seattle get to be a world epicenter for global health?
Most people would say that it’s due to the simple fact that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s biggest philanthropy with an endowment the size of a middle-income country, happens to be located here and has made fighting diseases of poverty its primary mission.
True, but Matt Sparke would say it’s a bit more complicated than that. To some extent, he says it’s also a reaction to some violent street protests the world knew as the Battle in Seattle.
Sparke is a geographer and professor of international studies at the University of Washington and also director of the new UW global health undergraduate minor.
As a co-author of a fascinating new book called Seattle Geographies, he’s been studying how Seattle has been altered by assuming a leadership role in global health — and, in turn, how this has worked to put a happy face on a word that once sparked (sorry Matt) world-class rioting in the streets here.
WTO Seattle protests
In 1999, Seattle gained worldwide attention when the World Trade Organization (WTO) came to town. Protesters converged on the meeting to argue that “globalization” as conceived by the WTO, World Bank and others served corporate interests at the expense of poor farmers, labor laws and the environment (to name a few).
See the movie Battle in Seattle if your memory doesn’t serve.
So what do the WTO riots and globalization have to do with global health?
“Lots,” said Sparke, who noted that geographers do much more than make maps. He studies human geography — the study of how people shape, and are shaped by, place.
And Seattle is a very outward-looking, globalized place. Always has been. Washington was the first state to normalize trade relations with China. We’ve always depended heavily upon international trade. Microsoft, Starbucks and Amazon.com are just a few examples of our entrepreneurial track record. On the humanitarian side of things, we put out more Peace Corps volunteers per capita than any other region. Continue reading