Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Geography as an Iceberg: The Science is Much More than Place Names

When I tell someone that I am a geographer more often then not I am ask a trivia question like "what is the capital of Tuvalu?"  It is sometimes hard to explain that geography is more than place names and location memory.  The field studies both the physical and human world spatially and there are new subfields involving computer analysis of data.  It does not help that most geography classes, games, and trivia challenges focus on place names.  One of the primary reasons geography is not appreciated by the public more is because of this misconception.

Jay Merryweather of ESRI captured the misunderstanding of the science with his "geography as an iceberg" drawing.  This image is a perfect graphic to use in schools when trying to show that there is much more to geography than just place names.

Click to enlarge.  From ESRI.

3 comments:

Twelve Mile Circle said...

It's the same way with History (my original field of study)... everyone thinks it's all about the trivia of dates.

Yosef said...

In a similar way, I suppose, one can think of travel/tourism as an iceberg, with tourism being the top part that is visible and the study/background of the places one visits as the part under the water. For example, if you go to Jamaica just to go to an all-inclusive resort and relax by the beach, you're totally missing the Jamaican context; if, however, you go to Jamaica (on an armchair or actual basis) with the intention of exploring Kingston, the interior mountains, etc., and you read up about Jamaica as much as you can, then it's much deeper.

Besides which, geography and travel/tourism are very related as they both deal with places (though in their own ways). In fact, I got my interest in geography and related subjects as a child when I'd start collecting travel brochures of different places along the highway on the way to/from relatives.

Catholicgauze said...

Yosef,
Very true. Up until recently most tourism books (and even today's travelogues) are good geography books when it comes to gaining a sense of a place.