Zubeneschamali (zubeneschamali) wrote,

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.
Tags: 52 weeks, personal
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