What is Geography?

What’s that?

“Geography” (from the Greek for “earth description”)

Most people who have received a degree in Geography may be familiar with the baffled looks and/or the question “What do Geographers do?”. My personal favorite is, “What’s the capital of (insert State name)?”.  This of course is a result of people’s general misunderstanding of what Geography is as an academic subject and how it is applied, especially in the modern age.  In general, people may perceive geography as an “outdated” subject or rather a topic that was only pertinent to the “age of discovery”. I mean the whole world has already been mapped, right?!?  This reminds me of one my favorite quotes regarding Geography:

             “Mere place names are not geography. To know by heart a whole gazetteer full of them would not, in itself, constitute anyone a geographer. Geography has higher aims than this: it seeks to classify phenomena (alike of the natural and of the political world insofar as it treats of the latter) to compare, to generalize, to ascend from effects to causes and in doing so to trace out the great laws of nature and to mark their influence upon man. In a word, geography is a science, a thing not of mere names, but of argument and reason, of cause and effect.”  – William Hughes, 1863 King’s College, London

Ironically, Geography has never been as pertinent now that we live in the modern globalized digital age. We all carry around pocket sized Global Positioning Units (GPS) checking in places and geo-tagging our social media posts.  The products we consume on a daily basis, from the food we eat to the clothes we wear, come from all corners of the planet.  Making our daily lives more and more spatially interdependent.

Then, of course there is the visual data aspect.  In the time of “Big Data”, visual representations of data have become increasing popular.  What better way to visualize data spatially than on a map?  Some great open source projects use maps to visualize spatial data such as: mapbox, cartodb and D3.js. The possibilities of mapping data is essentially limitless.
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