Geography is the study of the earth’s inhabitants, characteristics, and events. It is divided into two major areas – human and physical geography. Physical geography focuses on the earth’s climate, land formations, soil, vegetation, and hydrology. Human geography encompasses the analyses of economies, communities, and intellectual systems in different regions (Rowntree, Lewis, Price, and Wyckoff 11). Geographers’ work primarily involves the collection, use, and analysis of objective data placed in the format of maps showing characteristics and features of the earth’s inhabitants and their surroundings. This geographic information affects multiple disciplines and people using that data for different purposes.
One major area of study in the field of physical geography is “cartography” or “mapmaking,” which involves the collection and display of spatial data. Overall, mapmaking is central to geography, since Geographers study various regions and use maps to conduct their research. Maps also provide critical information for other disciplines, as well as anyone interested in traveling from place to place. A map of our world, country, state, or city is more than just a picture; it is a precise image that enhances the understanding of different features in regions and places of interest.
Since the 1960’s, geography has rapidly changed with the progression of the computer. The computer allows geographers to create and use programs that enable us to digitally produce maps. This brought forth the study of Geographical Information Systems, known as GIS. GIS is a “computer system capable of assembling, storing, manipulating, and displaying geographically referenced information, i.e. data identified according to their locations” (“What”). Even though most people have never heard of GIS, it is in their daily lives. For example, a map of a park could have been made with GIS, and a common person might have never noticed it. Also, it is used to create the dynamic weather maps presented on the daily news.
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By using satellite imagery, Geographers can receive remote sensing or geospatial data, which are often processed in an automated, computer format, using GIS to create accurate maps containing pertinent data about features in the maps. Without an accurate, objective interpretation of a region and its features, mobility would be one vital area that would be hampered. For example, in disaster response incidences, remote sensing data is used to provide critical information to responders about specific damaged areas affected by the disaster. This type of objective data allows responders to rapidly assess areas where they need to focus their effort in situations, such as floods or fires.
There are many academic journals and magazines about Geography and GIS. The most publicly known publication for geography is National Geographic, which is a published magazine available on newsstands around the world. National Geographic contains many useful articles on geography, science, history, culture, and space. The National Geographic Society which publishes National Geographic, states it mission as, “to increase and diffuse geographic knowledge and to motivate and enable each new generation to become geographically literate” (Education & Children's Programs). In addition, the National Geographic Society has its own television channel, website, television programs, radio programs, and other various publications.
In the field of GIS, one important journal is the magazine ArcUser. In this journal, the world of GIS is brought to the readers through articles about GIS projects around the world. The journal focuses on various GIS projects, using the GIS software, such as ArcGIS or ArcView provided by the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI). One specific project in the journal was about whether or not water ever flowed on Mars. In this project, the researchers used a grid of Mars’ planetary surface to search what might look like “erosion and sedimentation caused by running water” (Fraczek 66). After studying the areas under those criteria, they built a geographical mapping model of Mars showing rivers that may have existed on that planet many years ago.
At George Mason University, the Geography Department is in the College of Science, which includes undergraduate and post-graduate programs. As a geography student, one learns about the world around them, as well as various regional patterns, problems, people, and more. In this field, there are endless learning opportunities for anyone with a passion for history and science. George Mason University geography facilities include a GIS Lab, Remote Sensing Lab, and GIS Center of Excellence. During the 2007 school year, the Geography Department held many public student and community events, such as The World Basketball Project and GIS Day. George Mason University’s head basketball coach, Jim Larranaga, and the men’s basketball team participated in The World Basketball Project. During this event, an official NCAA globe basketball was created for children in the INOVA Hospital. Also, maps and other geographic information were featured at one of the basketball games for fans to learn more about geography. At Mason’s GIS Day, government agencies, area employers, and Mason faculty held a seminar in which students and the community could learn and explore the world of GIS.
Many associations and organizations conduct yearly conferences to promote geography. Examples of large yearly conferences are The Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting and the Applied Geography Conference. At these conferences, Geographers come together to experience new technologies, job opportunities, and discussions about what is occurring in the geography world. Most of these international conferences require membership or invitation; however, free conferences are often held at many universities, such as the University of Kentucky’s Conference on Critical Geography.
Throughout the United States and in the Washington D.C. area, many job opportunities in the fields of Education, Environmental Management, Transportation, and Business are available for graduates with expertise in geography and GIS. Several Local, State, and Federal government agencies hire geographers to design databases and integrate them with GIS technology. For example, the Bureau of the Census hires geographers with GIS and other computer skills to work with automated cartography and geospatial databases to show demographic and economic statistics. Other private sector companies, such as ESRI, hire geographers to design new projects and support changes to GIS software. Furthermore, many geographers choose to teach the subject of geography at the college or secondary school level.
In conclusion, the study of geography is important, since it focuses on information related to people and all of the natural and manmade physical features on earth. Also, geography has been a part of the technological revolution over the last several decades by expanding the use of automated maps and related databases. As a result, many people can enjoy the benefits of geography through these automated maps and related databases that provide a vast amount of information about the earth and its inhabitants. Overall, geographic information provides a chance for people to explore both known and unknown regions, whether geography is a focus of a career or used in everyday life.
National Geographic Society. "Education & Children's Programs." National Geographic. <http://www.nationalgeographic.com/education/mission_statement/>. Internet; accessed 16 June 2008.
Rowntree, Les, Martin Lewis, Marie Price, and William Wyckoff. Diversity Amid Globalization. 3rd ed. Pearson Education, 2006. 688.
"What is GIS?" GIS Lounge. DM Geographics, LLC. 16 June 2008 <http://gislounge.com/what-is-gis/>. Internet; accessed 1 January 2007.
Fraczek, Witold. “Where Did Water Flow on Mars?” ArcUser. Winter (2008): 66-69
Academic Journals & Publications
- ArcUser. < http://www.esri.com/news/arcuser/index.html>
- National Geographic. < http://www.nationalgeographic.com/>
- Diversity Amid Globalization. < http://wps.prenhall.com/esm_rowntree_dag_3/>
- GIS Lounge. <http://gislounge.com/what-is-gis/>
People, Conferences, Events
- The World Basketball Project < http://gomason.cstv.com/sports/m-baskbl/mtt/larranaga_jim00.html>
- GIS Day. < http://www.gmu.edu/departments/geog/GISDay2007.html>
- Conference on Critical Geography. <http://www.uky.edu/AS/Geography/CriticalGeo/index.php>
- The Applied Geography Conferences. <http://appliedgeog.binghamton.edu/>
- The Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting.< http://www.aag.org/annualmeetings/2008/>
- National Geographic Society. < http://www.nationalgeographic.com/index.html>
- GMU Department of Geography. < http://www.gmu.edu/departments/geog/index.html>
- Bureau of the Census. < http://www.census.gov/>
- Environmental Systems Research Institute. < http://www.esri.com/>