Saturday, January 12, 2008

Geography

I'm working on a post about place, about what it means to me. For any survivor of a modern Human Geography course it's a word fraught with meaning and half-forgotten murmurings of 'post-modernism', 'urban polemic' and horror of horrors 'social justice and the city'. Did you know that the field of Human Geography barely even exists in the US? That Geography over here is relegated to GPS mapping and everything else is lumped in with Geology?

In the meantime though I'm finding it hard to concentrate on serious writing, because the chuffing fleet's in town, and what am I doing tapping away at my computer when Santa Barbara's literally awash with 6,000 sailors!

Six THOUSAND sailors. Surely one of them could babysit? Surely one of them is over the age of 17 (on initial inspection during my morning power-walk along the beach I would have to say, no, sadly they all looked thoroughly prepubescent -or maybe it's just the ludicrous trousers?).

So, in lieu of a deeply thought out post, check out this fantastic article about Geography written by Guy Browning of The Guardian:

How To....Do Geography

Geography is the study of where things are, what they're doing there and why they aren't somewhere else. In the old days, it used to be the study of places and maps. This is now seen as an outdated approach, and to suggest that a certain place might actually be somewhere else is bordering on cultural imperialism.

Geographers have many unique skills. For example, they are the only class of people who can ask for directions and then understand where to go after they've heard them. Geographers also have an instinctive grasp of spatial layouts, and can walk quickly through any given department store to its toilets without walking through the centre of the lingerie section.

Many geographers opt to study the sexier side of geography, which is natural disasters. For example, a lot of work has been done on how volcanos can wipe out advanced civilisations that stupidly decide to live near volcanos. Another favourite topic is tectonic plates and earthquakes, and why California is about to experience the tectonic equivalent of a Greek wedding.

Human geography is a study of who is doing what where. That sounds gossipy, but in reality tends towards the study of tram systems with which geographers seem to have an almost mystical bond. Physical geography, on the other hand, is excellent for understanding the landscape and answering tricky questions such as "Why do rivers always flow straight through the middle of big towns?" and "Why does the sea fit so snugly round our coastline?"

Geographers like nothing better than studying the effect of ice on the landscape and how early man survived on Glacier Mints. A trained geographer can pick up a loose piece of rock and explain exactly where it came from, how old it is and what forces have acted on it. No one will be there to listen to him, but it's pretty impressive in its own way.

Like other academics, geographers love conferences. Interestingly, they can never decide where to go or how to get there. When they all finally get together, it's noticeable just how much corduroy geographers wear. That's because in long meetings they can look closely at their jacket sleeves and imagine they're studying ridge and furrow cultivation on a periglacial landscape.


2 comments:

Little Britainer said...

I love Guy Browning! He misses an easy one, though. The general cliche of being a geographer when I was at school was that you were very good at colouring in--I swear for three years we did little apart from colour various maps and diagrams... And geog teachers were always nuts about underlining titles and dates etc. I was a bit too messy for their liking.

Also, coming from the south coast, I can't recommend sailors' babysitting abilities... I'd keep Anna well away from that crowd if I were you.

Norm said...

You know, there's a whole great big honkin' diverse geography department just up the coast, and hardly any of them are GIS fanatics.

Well, maybe a few.