geographical education

But are There Any Jobs in Geography?

(Note to readers: Last week I promised a GeoCurrents post on secession movements and proposals for the partitioning internationally recognized sovereign states. That post is still forthcoming, but it is taking considerably more time than I had anticipated. At present, I hope to post it by the middle of this week. In the meantime, I have written something a little different.)

Jobs in GIS USCAs a university geography instructor, I am often asked by students about potential careers in the field. “I love geography,” they tell me, “but how can studying it get me a job?” This is not an easy question for me to answer, because, like most professors, I have little experience and few contacts outside of academia. What I have long done is to refer such students to the Association of American Geographers (AAG), which provides information on such matters. Olivia Crosby’s “Geography Jobs,” linked to on the AAG webpages, is particularly useful.

Most “jobs in geography” discussions focus on the importance of technical education, particularly Geographical Information Systems (GIS). When I was in geography graduate school in the early 1980s at UC Berkeley, GIS was a relatively new field. Unfortunately, I missed the boat. I did so for two reasons. First the Berkeley Geography Department was hostile to Geographical Information Systems because the department was, paradoxically, both too conservative and too leftist for anything as useful as GIS. Second, I was myself something of eco-radical Luddite at the time, as such I had no interest in something as technical as GIS. But I have long since rejected the Luddite philosophy in favor of eco-modernism, and I am now a strong GIS proponent. I have not taken the effort to learn GIS myself, much to the disappointment of some GeoCurrents readers, but I always urge my students to do so. If they do, a rewarding career in geography might result.

The U.C. Berkeley Geography Department, to my knowledge, never embraced GIS, but most other geography departments have, as have a great many departments in other disciplines. “Spatial history,” for example, is a burgeoning subfield in the discipline of history, one that produces technically sophisticated historical geography (or geographical history, if one prefers). To my mind, the foremost practitioner of this art—and science—is the historical geographer Anne Knowles. See this New York Times article for an exploration of her work, and well as a discussion of the new term “spatial humanities.”


USC GIS MH370One school that has made great strides in GIS, both in regard to research and education, is the University of Southern California (USC), as can be seen in the website of its “Geographic Information Science & Technology Graduate Programs.” The USC program is particularly good at generating “infographics” that explore major topics of public concern through effective images. One example, that of the search for MA370, is reproduced here. The USC GIS program also produced the infographic on careers in GIS that is found at the top of this post. As can be seen, interesting job opportunities are available in numerous fields.


Nonsense about Continents

Basic geographical education in the United States remains, in a word, pathetic. As students are required to learn virtually nothing about the world, we should not be surprised that few young Americans have any idea where Iraq or Afghanistan are located. And the one locational lesson in global geography that young students are required to master, that of the “seven continents,” is, in a word, nonsense. The absurdity of the continental framework is readily apparent in a lesson plan found on the My Schoolhouse website, a prominent educational resource. The page begins by informing students that, “the seven continents are North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and Antarctica.” But the map placed immediately below this assertion (see above) portrays Central America, the Middle East, and Greenland exactly as they do North America, Africa, and the other supposed continents. True irrationality comes with a question listed below the map: “What continent appears to be part of Asia?” But “Europe” and “Asia,” along with “Middle East,” appear on this map merely as labels attached to different areas of a single landmass. As such, students could just as easily deduce that “Asia appears to be part of Europe.”

Nonsense about the supposed continents extends well beyond elementary education. My favorite absurdity comes with the mountaineering quest to bag the “seven summits,” defined as the highest peaks on each of the world’s continents. The list includes some formidable peaks – but it also takes in Australia’s Mount Kosciuszko, a gentle rise that one could surmount on a bicycle, if only authorities would allow it. To be sure, Reinhold Messner proposed dropping Kosciuszko in favor of New Guinea’s Puncak Jaya, which is indeed a difficult climb. By any reasonable standard, Messner was absolutely correct: New Guinea is part of the same piece of continental crust as Australia (see map), and is thus by continental criteria as much part of Australia as Japan is part of Asia. But despite Messner’s fame – and demands of reason – Kosciuszko remains standard.

So what is the actual continental architecture of the world? That issue will be addressed in tomorrow’s post.