Saturday, October 14, 2006

What is Geography?

Think about it for a second: what is a good definition of geography? It is a problem I have been thinking about it lately. I have been examining my blog post; practically all I consider to be geography, yet the subject matter varies widely.

To understand what geography let us examine its makeup. There are fourth traditions to geography.

  • Spatial - The study of phenomenon and their distribution on the earth's surface. "Patterns and processes" to put it another way. A very wide field which includes things like political geography, historical geography, and GIS.
  • Area Studies - The study of regions like the Middle East. This is high school geography and what most people think of when they
  • Man-Land Relationship - How humans and the environment influence each other.
  • Earth Science - Hard core geography like geomorphology or fluvial geography.

However, these traditions ignore two aspects of ancient and Renaissance geography that have been lost.

  • Astronomy was once considered a part of geography. However, when Copernicus ended the thought of an Earth-centered solar system the sciences went separate paths. One of the very first spatial studies was measuring heights on the moon by measuring their shadows. While this was Selenography, clearly it should be studied by geographers. I call for a union of all planetographers!
  • Cosmology aka Teleology was another concern of geographers. Studying the purpose of the humans and earth were serious business. Clearly it is a matter for the philosophical geographers but can be used by those who have a religious-drive (your's truly) and is currently but unintentional being used Marxists and socialist geographers. It is a tool for those who view geography as a tool for combating and solving problems.

So we have examined what makes up geography but still have not answered what is geography. One of the best definitions I have heard goes geography is the study what is where, why there, and why care," but I do not feel this can work as a proper definition.

So in short I cannot define geography. What do you feel geography is? I am close or just ranting?

Category: Miscellaneous

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I suggest that there is a bit of danger in simplifying geography and traditions of geography.

For instance, is all historical geography and political geography spatial, or necessarily so? Could not a study in either of these subfields also deal with natural resource issues, part of the human-environment interaction theme?

Pattison's proposal of traditions carryfully outlines the idea that geographic research fits into at least one of these traditions, and usually several. Drawing boxes and casting (types of) geographic research into one or the other starts getting dangerous. Same thing with critical geography along feminist/marxist/socialist bents. Must these only be cosmological? Can they not also study human-environment, spatial, or areal/place aspects of people and Earth?

I would suggest that concretely defining, or coming up with a universally acceptable definition of, geography detracts the good geographers can do by actually doing geography, especially because such efforts to define geography are necessarily limiting and overly generalized. Is it not enough to know generally what geography can be and what one can do with it, rather than obsessing about semantics and revealing disciplinary biases?

Just some thoughts.