I am a geographer. True story.
I love telling people this in spite of the fact that they automatically want to start quizzing me on capital cities. [It’s fine, go ahead, I know them all… but really, must you make your cognitive limitations so obvious?] There is the added benefit of being an American geographer, especially abroad, because all and sundry love to remind… erm… well, all and sundry, I suppose, that Americans are rubbish at anything geographical. [SIGH] Though I understand this assumption based on this, and this, it is tedious. However, there are many benefits to allowing people to think you are ignorant and then blitzing them… It calls to mind a challenge put forth in a pub quiz in Lan Kwai Fong several years ago. We were at a draw after the final question, a Canadian investment banker (VP of Equities Trading at Goldman Sachs, no less, but still, Canadian) and me. The VP challenged and said if I could answer the following question he would cede the victory to me: Name the four countries in the world whose names include only one vowel.
I opened with Kyrgyzstan and he was all aghast. If you are quick on the uptake you can already see that he was basically cheating anyhow – or they don’t teach the “A-E-I-O-U-and-sometimes-Y” rule in Canadia. Then based on that silly rule, I continued with Egypt, Cyprus, and closed with the no-brainer: Chad.
I left with a case of mediocre wine, the Canadian’s phone number, and a reinforced understanding that people really do not understand geography. Like, at all.
If I am going to be really precise, I am actually a cultural geographer, which is considered a subfield of Human Geography. And to be fair to everyone who is not so into lexicology or semantics, I have to say that even while I was completing my graduate research among a really gifted cohort of geographers, my friends on the Physical Geography side of the discipline were always asking me what I was doing, like, what was I measuring (read: counting) anyhow? [SIGH]
Sometimes all you can do is shake your head.
My general attitude about geography is not head shaking [head banging maybe…] but more like common sense. I mean, what is the first question anyone ever asks about anything? Yeah, that’s right: “WHERE?” And if you think about it with any kind of effort, you realize that the “where” component is only important relative to the human understanding of the context of where.
According to Wikipedia human geography is the study of “the world, its people, communities, and cultures, with an emphasis on relations of and across space and place.” As a more specified (perhaps) construct, cultural geography “is the study of cultural products and norms and their variations across and relations to spaces and places. It focuses on describing and analyzing the ways language, religion, economy, government and other cultural phenomena vary or remain constant, from one place to another and on explaining how humans function spatially.”
Basically, I would say that describes the phenomenon of living – with some degree of consciousness.
Can you exist in the world and have no effect? Or not be affected? I’d say not.
I am a firm believer that everything really does come down to geography. I even still like the classical Five Themes: Location (absolute & relative), Sense of Place, Human/Environment Interaction, Movement, and Regions. I can say with certainty that my geography, that is the actual geography of me – mentally, physically, perpetually – are all extensions of those five ideas.
A geography teacher in the town of Wellington [the UK has such a true love of traditional geography that is has had to embrace more contemporary ideas to maintain their self-proclaimed mastery of the field…] has his students do a project on their “Personal Geographies”. It is a fabulous project that I may well co-opt. Its premise is to have his students identify and examine their personal geographies. I assume the first hurdle for this teacher comes from his students wanting a clear definition of “personal geography”. He says, “the way in which you view and make sense of the world around you.” I like that. He also reminds them that, “As you get older, your personal geography widens and deepens. You see more places and learn more about the world around you, and for a while at least, the place where you grew up in often loses it’s attraction. Young adults often move away from their home to find new experiences, returning later on in life to recapture some of their childhood memories.”
I am thinking a lot about this lately as I am absent my more traditional options to pull a geographical.
Time to remember I am living one, I suppose.