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What Is Geography

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If one were to ask ten different people what geography is you might get ten different answers. It is hard to define geography because it is hard to understand the complete scope of the discipline of geography. It is at the same time overwhelming and everyday. Unlike the study of theoretical maths and disciplines of the like, geography is hard to escape. As geographer Tim Cresswell argues, one can not do something as simple as walk through a shopping centre without running into potentially geographical questions. Geography is not always readily apparent. To see it we have to have the tools to see it. Geography is unique in that it does not subscribe to one particular topic, instead it is used as a lens over many different topics attempting to transform the perceived world into the interpreted world.

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What distinguishes geography apart from other disciplines is that it orchestrates diverse topics through a spatial filter, thus viewing the world in a new way. Geographers have the freedom to use this blend to explore many different topics and apply, spatial or topical approaches while also combining the human and physical world. The geographer Charles Gritzner wrote that geography seeks to answer three major questions; what is where, why is it there, and why do we care? When asking what is where, this is probably the average persons take on geography based on what they learned in primary school. Learning the “where” in school involved the study of the features of our world, the physical environment such as lakes, valleys and vegetation. Spatially where is something in relation to something else. A map is a prime example of this idea. The question why is it there, on the surface may seem like a simple one, what causes put things where they are, but it can give much more in-site than that. It can give understanding on how the past led to the present and how that can intern give guidance for the future. If you talk to someone from one generation back who went to school in the 80’s and did not take post secondary geography, their definition would more than likely end here. Maps, finding capital cities, physical features and maybe something more intuitive like tectonic plates. The question “why do we care” usually is not mentioned in the definition.

The why do we care aspect of geography deals with values, morality and ethics. Why is this area or monument important? Why and how are those people different? How are they the same? All these value questions are apart of and hidden in geography. This is why geography is considered a more holistic science than it’s counterparts. Like the analogy Dr. Will Wilson put forth; to be a true geographer one must play the “geographic orchestra”, to use every tool in symphony, without fixating on one particular instrument, to create a whole and rich picture. Hopefully in doing so you will expose those hidden questions.

Humans cannot help but perceive the world through space and time, this means that geography is fundamental in our way to understanding. If something exists and something happened then “somewhere” must have come first. Kants argued that geography covers space while history covers time. Without geography “history is scarcely distinguishable from fairy-tales” (Elden 2009:11). Geography is shaped and linked to more than just theory, it includes institutions, national or otherwise. The creation of empires and the relationship to the world those empires have. The development of new ways of doing things and new techniques. Geography is at the heart of polity, understanding how the world works around it and more importantly how the world works within it. It’s natural resources, it’s geographic location and the predispositions of it’s people. Understanding how people take the natural landscape and turn it into a cultural landscape and then possibly into a political landscape. The study of politics and war is a geographic discipline. Without geography there can be no state. Who are these people, what are they like, what resources do they have, what obstacles must be overcome, physical or otherwise. Once a place or people have been conquered how does this new entity attempt to understand other nations of the world? This has been happening throughout history. History and geography are interlinked in the context of creating new ideas.

The average person would describe geography as asking the question “what is over there?” but it can also asks how did over there happen? Who is over there?, how did they get there?, why did they stay? What is there relationship to the world? And so many more. Geography is constantly adapting itself to change. Most sciences ask questions like what is on the earth, and how do we extract what we need, but geography can also ask the question most often forgotten in the western world; why is that earth sacred? Most of the world views the Earth as a sacred place that has meaning and purpose beyond just the physical, geography is one of the only Sciences that attempts to combine empiricism with the abstract. Geography has many important lessons to teach about our place in this world, our relationship to the natural and inhabited. It confronts us with questions like how do we tread more lightly in this perplexed place. As long as you live in a space and you are traveling through time you will never escape Geography.

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