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52 weeks: what's your area of study?

Last Sunday, I was shivering in Minneapolis in negative (Fahrenheit) temps while it snowed and blowed enough at home to send dozens of cars into the highway ditches. Yesterday, I went for a run and ended up wearing just a t-shirt. Gotta love the Midwest.

Wed. is the day we take off for the second semester of sabbatical! First is the 31-hour plane trip, assuming all goes well. *fingers crossed* Then there are a little over two weeks in New Zealand, which should be awesomely fun and beautiful and leading to lots of excellent photos. And then from Feb. to mid-Apr., both Mr. Z and I will be visiting the University of Melbourne, doing research in our respective areas.

Which leads me to the question cassiopeia7 asked me: what's my field/discipline?

It's a pretty small discipline, so for privacy reasons I'm not going to say a lot of details, but I am happy to say that I'm a geographer.

"Oh, so you make maps?"
"Don't we already know where everything is?"
"Are you going to work for the CIA?"
"Oh, you're going to be a teacher?"

These are all responses people have given me when I say that I'm studying geography. (Sometimes, hell no, hell no, and partly, if you're curious as to the answers.) The problem is, no one in the US takes geography in grade school. Like, 99% of the American geographers I know, including myself, discovered it in college. This makes me a bit evangelical about it, so bear with me here.

Probably the best explanation I've seen of what geographers do is a series of three questions from the founder of ESRI (heard of GIS? Geographical Information Systems? ESRI is the Microsoft of GIS): 1) What is where? 2) Why is it there? and 3) Why should I care?

The first one is what most people think geography is: memorizing countries and capitals, exports and mountain ranges, and...*zzzz* But that's only the first step. Why are there so many fights over national borders in sub-Saharan African countries? (Because European colonial powers deliberately drew the borders to break up ethnic groups.) Why is the capital of the US where it is? (So the states would stop fighting over which one would get to have it. Unfortunately, carving a piece out of two states roughly in the middle of the original 13 happened to be in the middle of a swamp. Have you ever been to DC in the summer? Ick.) Why is Vietnam the second-largest producer of coffee but Starbucks doesn't advertise Vietnamese coffee beans like they do Brazilian or Ethiopian? (Because the French introduced coffee when Vietnam was a colony to have a familiar beverage to drink, and now Vietnam mostly produces lower-grade robusta, which ends up as filler coffee in blends.) Why are there tons of little mountains and hills all over Los Angeles? (Because every one indicates the presence of a small fault line.)

I leave "why should I care?" as an exercise for the reader. :)

I did my bachelor's, master's, and Ph.D. in geography, and now I'm an associate professor of it. I'm off to Australia on sabbatical this semester to study urban sustainability and how it differs between Australia and the US, since we're more similar to Australia than Europe in a lot of important ways when it comes to environmental issues. And that's probably more than cassiopeia7 wanted to know, so I'll stop now. :)

If you have questions about me you'd like answered, there's still plenty of room on the calendar here.


( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
(no subject) - beadslut - Jan. 14th, 2014 01:58 am (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 14th, 2014 04:14 am (UTC)
On the bright side, you've probably already been through the coldest day, right? *knocks on wood*
Jan. 14th, 2014 02:46 am (UTC)
cool! my stepbro is a geographer in copenhagen and loves the discipline.
Jan. 14th, 2014 04:14 am (UTC)
Cool! Europeans know what it's all about. :)
Jan. 14th, 2014 03:08 am (UTC)
I knew ESRI! I feel so smrt.

I always love hearing/seeing you geek out about maps. There's such interesting history to it all!
Jan. 14th, 2014 04:15 am (UTC)
Go, you!

I'm glad someone enjoys it. Besides me. /o\
Jan. 14th, 2014 04:11 am (UTC)

So, erm . . . cultural cartographic sociological history? With a pinch of civil engineering? XD

*boggles some more*
Jan. 14th, 2014 04:22 am (UTC)
It really is a synthetic discipline, which can be a strength because we're always considering the big picture, but it can also be a problem when someone says, "but that's really just history," or "that's just engineering," or "isn't that sociology?", etc. Which is why so few American universities have geography departments--once the president of Harvard decided there was nothing unique about geography and closed the department, most of the other major universities followed suit. (He also suspected the chair of the geography department was gay and wanted to get rid of him. Why can't Americans find places on a map? 1950s homophobia!)

Put another way, history is about time and geography is about space. Spatial relationships and places. Because everything happens somewhere. :D

Edited at 2014-01-14 04:23 am (UTC)
Jan. 14th, 2014 04:41 am (UTC)
once the president of Harvard decided there was nothing unique about geography and closed the department, most of the other major universities followed suit.

Apparently high schools and grade schools, too, as my nephews have no idea that Iran was once called Persia and couldn't find Singapore (or hell, San Diego) on a map if their lives depended on it. Thank you Harvard. :p

history is about time and geography is about space.

Time And Relative Dimensions In Space? Holy Hannah, you're really a Time Lord, aren't you? XDDD

. . . and yup, your discipline definitely explains the wealth of detail in your more historical fics. :D
Jan. 14th, 2014 01:25 pm (UTC)
*shhh* ;)

I don't think most people draw maps for their fic 'verses, no. :)
Jan. 14th, 2014 06:28 am (UTC)
Those geography facts are awesome. I love maps, especially topo ones and water navigational charts. There's probably a better name for those but I don't know it. If you're ever looking for something to put in your journal, a random geography fact each day would be the coolest.
Jan. 14th, 2014 01:26 pm (UTC)
If there is a better name for them, I don't know it.

Neat idea! I probably won't manage every day, but I can do it once in a while. :)
Jan. 14th, 2014 12:30 pm (UTC)
Jan. 14th, 2014 01:27 pm (UTC)
Thank you! The ones of the US crack me up (there's one that Australians did, too), because I'm not sure the average American could do much better...
Jan. 14th, 2014 12:40 pm (UTC)
And now… TO OZ!
Jan. 14th, 2014 01:27 pm (UTC)
*hugs your icon*

SO NERVOUS about the trip. But it'll be fine once we get there. Pretty sure. *bites nails*
Jan. 14th, 2014 02:39 pm (UTC)
It will be fantastic. You will have the time of your life!!! :DDD
Jan. 15th, 2014 05:00 am (UTC)
Interesting! I look forward to hearing about your adventures in NZ and Australia.
Jan. 15th, 2014 08:47 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )