Guest Post: The Whole World, Not Just A Map

Andy’s back!  Since it’s Geography Awareness Week, he wrote this editorial for our campus paper, so it only seems fitting to have it posted here as well.  Spreading the good word of geography!

Image from brightideaspress.com

Image from brightideaspress.com

Geography: The Whole World, Not Just A Map

When I tell people that I’m majoring in Geography, the question I get asked most often is “You can get a degree in that?” Second most often is “So do you know all the state capitals?”

Yes, you can get a degree, and a job, in Geography, even if like me, you can’t name more than a dozen state capitals. Geography is so much more than state capitals – it is literally, exploring the world. Exploring the world all around us, and discovering patterns and phenomena that nobody noticed before.

Because Geography, the scholarly discipline, isn’t just about knowing names of states and capitals and obscure South American rivers. (That’s called “place-name geography,” by the way.) Geography, at bottom, is the study of place. It is the study of how places affect people, and how people affect – and create – places.

Image from Geo Awareness Week's Facebook page.

Image from Geo Awareness Week’s Facebook page.

Southern California, and CSULB in particular, are hotbeds of groundbreaking geographic research. One of our grad students is working on a way to do short-notice aerial photography with a remote-control quadcopter, which could revolutionize ecological research and natural hazards. Another is studying tiny fungus that live in plant roots and their role in supporting plant life in inhospitable environments. A third is researching historical miners’ strikes in southern Iowa, looking at the history of labor conflict in a very particular place and time.

If you’ve seen elaborate models of voting behavior on CNN, you’ve seen the intersection of statistical and political geography, which raises interesting questions: why are densely populated coasts liberal, while thinly populated rural areas are more conservative?

Our department has classes on the environment, urban growth and development, gendered spaces, the geography of religion, and land-use planning law. Geography is the ultimate discipline for people who want to study everything, because everything has a place. And as our country is rapidly urbanizing and changing and connecting almost faster than we can figure it out, figuring out how place is being affected – from natural systems, to social and political phenomena in packed cities, to the way the law needs to change to adapt to denser cities and climate change.

This is what Geography studies. This is what I study.

It’s Geography Awareness Week, and I am proud to be a geographer.

It’s the 26th annual Geography Awareness Week, established in 1987 to promote geographic education. This week, the Department of Geography and the Geography Student Association will be putting on a number of events to show interesting aspects of Geography, and I invite you to participate.

You don’t have to be a geographer to participate. This year’s theme is The New Age of Exploration, and I invite you to explore the ordinary places all around you, and search for new knowledge.

Andy Bradford is a student at California State University Long Beach, studying geography, urban planning, and working on a fantasy novel set in Los Angeles.  His previous guest post was The Living River.

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