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Monday, March 26, 2012

Response: Geography is About Memorizing Capitals

Elmhurst College's "Quick Studies" blog offers a very nicely written article on the crisis in geography. It's titled "Off the Map." The author, Andrew Santella, includes data from the NAEP study, bemoans limited geographic literacy, and points to budget cuts as evidence of the situation. He even elicits the classic and still current understanding of what geography is from Elmhurst associate professor Rich Schultz from the department of geography and geosciences: "Ask people what they think geography is about and they’ll talk about memorizing state capitals."

Such articles are important, especially if they offer some hope for enhancing the situation. The positive news in this post is Schultz and a colleague's effort to tie geospatial technology to science in a new course for non-majors. I'm excited to learn more about that.

In the mean time, we need to start telling new stories about geography. We need stories that can help distance geography (pun intended) from the state capitals comment above and what was once called the "capes and bays" visions of the discipline. So, what stories do we tell?

We can all tell the John Snow cholera story. But we need more like it. We need simple to tell, simple to understand stories that define what our discipline is, how it works and why it matters in memorable, bite-sized pieces. I'm sorry if this sounds a bit like marketing, but in all honesty, geography needs marketing.

I am a geographer with two degrees in the subject. I only know that one story. What are the other stories should we be telling? What stories do you tell to explain what geography is? Should they be part of our communal storytelling? Please share them in the comments.

- HT to @josephkerski