Wednesday, April 21, 2010

AAG 2010 Interview: Dr. Carol Harden

Dr. Carol Harden is a professor of geography at the University of Tennessee and President of the Association of American Geographers.

During the AAG 2010 convention I was fortunate to spend thirty minutes with Dr. Harden about her background, thoughts on blogs, and geography in general.


Like many geographers Dr. Harden’s path to the field was not a straight one. She originally was involved in environmental studies until she worked with past AAG President Melvin Marcus who told her how her work was geographical in nature.

Dr. Harden became a self-identified geographer after discovering that she was “very, very comfortable” in geography and that the field was welcoming. Her work is more physical geography, geomorphology, but she has also looked at how physical and cultural landscapes affect each other like in the papers Interrelationships between land abandonment and land degradation: A case from the Ecuadorian Andes and Geomorphic response of an Appalachian Valley and Ridge stream to urbanization.

Geography Blogs

Dr. Harden and the geographic blogosphere’s first encounter was not as good as it could have been. She wrote in the November 2009 edition of the AAG newsletter that “[t]he media are changing. Now we have wikis, twitters, and blogs as well as OpEds and classic journalism. Is blogging an effective way to launch your research results into the public domain? My informants prefer up-to-date websites and personal contacts. And, compared to a blog, a good website is more visible to internet searches.”

The statement certainly is not hostile to blogs and when compared to other things said to me because of Geographic Travels [with Catholicgauze!] like me being a monster or Zionist agent it comes across as nearly nothing. However, many in the geoblogosphere (which include geography, geospatial, geopolitical, and cartographic blogs) felt that our researched and well read work was being ignored by the greater geographic community. I contacted Dr. Harden stating my concerns and she was gracious in her reply and promised to give the topic more thought.

During the interview Dr. Harden stated she appreciates the “inviting and open” atmosphere of blogs. She realizes that blogs are a key part of the online media suite which knowledge and opinions are shared within the discipline and public. She also mentioned that blogs do a great job pulling lots of information together. Blogs are a “tremendously useful” tool that can open doors to future research.

However, she still has some valid concerns. The wide range of style from academic to pure opinion with the added element of anonymity has made the blogosphere hit or miss when it comes to credibility (though there are excellent quasi-anonymous blogs out there like Coming Anarchy).

The Fight to Advance Geography

When talking both about the AAG 2010 convention and the state of geography in the United States Dr. Harden stated the need for geography to be relevant and visible. From a top-down approach she discussed the renewal of the No Child Left Behind Act and the hope that geographers can work with congress to make sure somesort of geographical education is mandated. However, she believes geographers need to look past No Child Left Behind and work on relevant projects that can inform the public about important things. Climate Change was explicitly brought up with at least one session (four to five presentations) being conducted at the convention from Wednesday morning to Sunday afternoon. Climate change sessions ran throughout the meeting--over 50 sessions in two continuous tracks.

She offered these key steps to advance geography: work on “real world problems,” make work visible to the public and power makers, and conduct outreach to schools, alliances, etc.

The Best Point

Dr. Harden said that geography is big and it has successfully shed its inferiority complex. We geographers must get out there and make our work visible. And yes, blogs are a valid way to make our work more visible.

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