Focused Series »

Indo-European Origins
Northern California
The Caucasus
Imaginary Geography
Home » GeoNotes, Place Names

Is Geography Reducible to Country Names and Locations?

Submitted by on February 27, 2012 – 8:11 pm 4 Comments |  
Africa Quiz from the Christian Science MonitorThe Christian Science Monitor asks its readers, “Think you know Africa? Take our geography quiz.” In the quiz, 16 of 20 questions merely ask for the name of a country indicated on a map. One question asks the name of a mountain range, and two ask for the names of cities shown in photographs. The final question is a bit more complicated, asking for the identification of the only African country that is not a member of the African Union (Morocco).

Although I am happy to see a major publication quizzing its reader’s grasp of the political map of Africa, I am frustrated by the underlying assumption that geographical knowledge can be reduced to place-name identification. I find it telling testimony to the sorry state of geographical education that mastering such elementary information would be considered evidence of adequate geographical comprehension.

That said, the quiz does provide some interesting information. Had I been asked, for example, “what country in the world has the highest lowest elevation,” I would probably have been stymied, yet the Monitor provides the correct answer: “Completely surrounded by South Africa, Lesotho is, by some measures, the highest country in the world. Its lowest point is at an elevation of 4,593 feet, higher than that of any other country.”

Tomorrow’s GeoNote will give a brief sample of how I test my own students’ knowledge of Africa in multiple-choice exams.




Previous Post
Next Post

Subscribe For Updates

It would be a pleasure to have you back on GeoCurrents in the future. You can sign up for email updates or follow our RSS Feed, Facebook, or Twitter for notifications of each new post:

Commenting Guidelines: GeoCurrents is a forum for the respectful exchange of ideas, and loaded political commentary can detract from that. We ask that you as a reader keep this in mind when sharing your thoughts in the comments below.

  • While I agree that it would be good for the Monitor’s readers to know more than just names and locations, knowing those names and locations is a necessary step to knowing anything else.  What good is knowing something about the freakish elevation of Lesotho if you would put it in the Sahel, or worse yet in South Asia?  For years, I have heard historians tell students that history is not a matter of names and dates.  Many of the most egregious historical misconceptions I have heard from educated people, however, have stemmed from an ignorance of when or where a particular event occurred.

    • The overall geographical ignorance, even when mere country names and locations are concerned, was illustrated brilliantly in last night’s episode of “Worst cooks in America” (episode “Going Global”), where one of the contestants admitted to not knowing where Lebanon is (“If I knew where it is, I
      could use my intellectual brain…”, she said — huh?!). And another said that she
      is comfortable with getting assigned to cook Swedish meatballs, because Sweden makes her “think of the Alps, the skiing… because it’s in Switzerland” 🙂

      You can watch it here. The relevant remarks are at about 22 min and 26 min in…

      All of this only shows that there is much for us at GeoCurrents still to do… Educating the public about the world, one post at a time!

    • Martin W. Lewis

      I agree — learning the names and locations of countries is a first, and necessary, step. I am also in full agreement what it come to history. My children, in the 7th and 12th grades, tell me that they never have to learn any dates in their history classes. Somehow, American educators came to the conclusion that memorization stultifies curious young minds and somehow gets in the way of critical thinking. Such an attitude boggles my mind.  

  • Having just taken the test, I am far more concerned that the questions about South Sudan and Lake Victoria point to maps of South Africa.