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yay for geography. whatever it is.

January 31, 2011


this isn't me. this is my best friend nick. but this is how excited i am about geography

this might just be the toughest post i ever write.  defining geography and pinpointing why i chose geography as my academic path are tough tasks for me.  they’re both a bit…gloopy.  some people might have gone with the word fuzzy right there…but it’s not just fuzzy…there’s a weight, a density, to the issue that fuzzy can’t convey.  it’s more viscous…swimming through my thoughts on the matter is kind of like swimming through oil (not that i’ve ever swam through oil).  so, gloopy it is.  anyway, i’m by no means in any sort of a position to set forth a formal and/or complete definition of geography, nor am i particularly inclined or interested in taking part in that discourse at this point, or on this blog.  i’ll leave that for the true geographic scholars and their fancy papers.  or whomever else wants to delve into it.  but i will try and convey to you how i have come to define geography for my own purposes.  and also how i wound up here in the academic world of geography.  and possibly along the way i might even convey why i think it is important, or relevant.  but we’ll see, i make no promises.

first and foremost, i believe geography is a way of thinking about the world. it’s not what one thinks but how one thinks.  and it’s not just about maps.  if it was just about maps it would be cartography.  that being said, i do enjoy maps.

so how did i end up here?  well…unintentionally.  i stumbled upon it, which is probably partly why pinpointing why i chose this path is such a gloopy conversation and thought process for me.  although many of the important experiences in my life are linked strongly to memories of particular places, initially i chose geography because it meant i didn’t have to choose between all of my different interests.  it allowed me a way to study, to better understand and connect, the nouns (people, places, things) in my life that i loved.  i can study the geography of physical culture, of tea, of land use, of food, or some combination of all of them…the list, like the beat, goes on.  obviously now that i’ve entered grad school i’ve been forced to choose, to refine my interests…but the future is wide open because rather than teaching us about a specific topic geography teaches us skills to help us better understand the world around us…the people, the places, the experiences, the history, the stories…that we encounter.  it teaches us to make connections at various scales.  and for me, discovering those connections is exciting and addicting and that’s why i have stuck with geography.  i think.  but i don’t believe everything i think, so i could be wrong, if someone out there has another theory i’m open to hearing it.  there’s also a dichotomy, a balancing act…between recognizing and honoring the uniqueness of place while also being able to draw connections, to see the common threads between those places.  i find striving to keep this balance challenges me and keeps me on my academic toes.  i believe that some of us relate and react strongly to place…we are left with distinct impressions, they linger…some of us are more sensitive to the threads connecting seemingly disparate places and people. but that doesn’t mean that all of those people who are into geography share this sixth sense, or that everyone who does becomes a geographer.  regardless, not everyone sees (whether innate or learned) those connections and relationships and that’s why (i believe) it’s imperative that we are capable of sharing that way of thinking, seeing and experiencing.

geography as a discipline in the academic world tends to be highly analytical, theoretical, at times even philosophical.  it’s become very much about the why of where, at times, i believe, at the expense of simply the what of where.  while talking with professors i was warned that my path, one that was a bit more interested in the descriptive, in the kicking in the dirt, was on the way out in the world of academic geography.  i think critical and analytical geography has a place, an important one, in the field of academic geography and in my own journey and education.  but i believe we’re at risk of losing that human touch.  of alienating the general public.  and i suppose that’s why i jumped at the idea of starting this blog.  to share a love of geography.  but for me i think this blog will also be a way to hold onto that part of geography, for myself.  to not lose myself in the analytics/critical aspects of geography that dominate in academia.  i believe that numbers and data, analysis and critiques are crucial for policy implementation and change, for appropriate change…but i also believe that stories are just as important.

stories can make us care about people and places that we’ve never experienced or connected with.  stories make people care.  i believe this is also a responsibility of the discipline, of our community of geographers.  not just the writer or the journalist.  every human community has had story tellers, and every community needs story tellers.  as geographers we bring a specific way of looking at the world and it’s conveyed in our writing, in the stories we tell and the way we tell them…but that doesn’t mean the writing has to be scholarly…it doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for journalistic geographic writings, or creative non fiction, or even fiction.  in an ever globalizing world we have to be able to make connections at all sorts of spatial scales.  to see, and to follow, the ripples in the water, to be ever more vigilant of the butterfly effect, of the threads connecting people and places.  and that’s what geography has really come to be about for me.  learning the stories that make up my life, this world.  and ultimately sharing those threads and stories.

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