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Thursday, February 16, 2012

What We Can Learn from the AAG Geography Matters Video Contest

The Association of American Geographers (AAG) ran a contest in preparation of its 2012 meeting next week in New York City.
The Association of American Geographers organized its "Geography Matters" video competition in preparation for the 2012 Annual Meeting in New York, New York, February 24-28, 2012. We were looking for videos that highlighted the difference that geography has made in: your life, your career, your community, the world, etc. Entrants were told that videos submitted would be used to enlighten others on the importance that geography has in our world today.
So far as I can tell there was a three minute limit. All eleven videos submitted are available on YouTube. I saw a tweet today that indicated the AAG announced the winners. First place got a free registration to the meeting, a year membership in AAG and $250.

I was interested in the videos as tools for educators, knowing full well that was not explicitly stated in the contest rules. Still, the idea that the videos "would be used to enlighten others on the importance that geography has in our world today" certainly speaks to teachers and learners. The top three submissions focused on different themes and had different production values. They all brought a smile to my face.

Kieran O'Mahony took top honors with "Geography Matters: Today More than Ever." The slickly produced video with professional sounding narration and original music contrasted beautiful landscapes with the manmade world. The thesis was that in our busy man-made lives, indoor environments, and electronic communications, we need to return to the outdoors, to the landscape, to calm our nerves and feed our souls.

Chris S. Renschler's "UB NOW: Geography Help Haiti Recovery" took second place and detailed how the University at Buffalo participated with partners across the globe on damage assessment after the Haiti earthquake. The documentary style video included comments from faculty and students on both the technology and the personal experience of helping others.

Tyler Depke's third place video, "Why do we eat what we eat?" was the most informal of the three. Depke stood at a river's edge and discussed how the geologic/geomorphic history of a landscape impacts how it looks and how it can be used today. In particular, he mentioned how soil type, moisture and other properties, developed over time might enable a vineyard in one area but not another. It was an interesting mini lecture but I'm not sure it really answered the question in the title of the video.

This contest provides some insight into how geographers explain what they do and why it matters. How could these videos be better in the sense of "enlightening others on the importance that geography has?" 

My sense is we geographers need to work on our storytelling. Stories engage people. What geographer is not happy to tell the story of John Snow and cholera? What a great story! Did you notice how the concerns about Apple's factory workers conditions in China came to a head in recent weeks? I think it had a great deal to do with great storytelling on This American Life. Have you watched any TED Talks? They are almost universally engaging - even the very sciencey ones - because they tell stories. To take a more geographic example, did you watch the four part Geospatial Revolution series from WPSU? I'd argue its discussion of geospatial technology was compelling, even to those in the field, because of both the stories selected and how they were told. (I worked on the project as an advisor but give 100% of the storytelling credit to the WPSU staff.)
Now, having said all that, I know telling stories is hard. But, but we need to keep at it, if we want to convince the world that what we do is important.