Geography: Our place in this world

I recently published a post about History. I was lamenting what I perceived to be a lack of interest in, and knowledge of, a subject I consider to have great relevance and importance. The response was very satisfying, and the debate in the comments was a heartening example of what ‘good blogging’ is all about. Talking about the exam syllabus, and good and bad teachers, got me thinking about Geography.

As a child, I always loved to look at Atlases, maps, and my metal globe. I also had an encyclopedia that listed all the countries in the back, with pictures of their flags, the names of the capital cities, size of populations, their main industries and exports too. I would look up a certain country, find it on a map or on the globe, and imagine life there across an ocean, or on the other side of the world. Once I started to study the subject at school, I soon discovered that it was as much about geology, natural formations, mighty rivers and ice-caps, as it was about the countries that claimed their national borders. I also found out that most of my fellow school students had little or no knowledge or interest in the outside world, and dropped the subject as soon as they were allowed to.

Later on, I had some first-hand examples of this lack of knowledge. Some of it shocked me, especially when it concerned our own country, Britain. I met people who thought they had to travel south to reach Scotland. Others who thought Ireland was next to Wales, and not separated by any water. Even one man I met as a teenager who assured me that if I went to Australia, the people would be walking upside down. I presume now that this was him teasing me, but I didn’t think so then. Although this was at a time when many people had not travelled far from home, we did have a huge amount of men living nearby who had served in WW2, and had travelled extensively. That included my own father, who had been to India, Burma, South Africa, and Egypt. Their tales of distant lands inspired me to discover more, and to get better maps, and adult encyclopedias.

Much later, I was playing a game of Trivial Pursuit at work, during some down-time. My own crew-mate at the time was asked to name a country that bordered Pakistan. After some thought, he answered, “Spain”. I was smiling, and thought he was being silly, as he didn’t know a correct answer. But after some discussion, he told me that he really didn’t think Spain was that far from Pakistan. And this from a man who had been to Spain, and also worked in Australia for a year at one time. Years after that, I was on holiday in Turkey, with my wife and two of her children. One of the girls (14 at the time) asked me if we were anywhere near Ibiza. I remarked that she should have known how far we were (over 2,500 miles) from that island, and she replied “It doesn’t matter. I don’t have to know where somewhere is, to go there”.

That got me thinking. Was it just me? Does it matter if someone knows that Scotland is north of London, when their Satnav will tell them what road to take? Why should anyone care that Abuja is now the capital of Nigeria, if they have no intention of ever going there, or being remotely interested in that country? And if you think that Pakistan is close to Spain, unless you suddenly decide to drive from one to the other, it is perhaps of little consequence. In our lives, we are unlikely to ever find ourselves blindfolded, abducted, and left alone in some remote place, needing to discover how to get home, or where we might be. For everyday use, the majority of people can ask their phone or tablet anything they need to know about a travel destination, or holiday resort. If a family is going to holiday in a beach resort in Cuba, does it matter a jot if they know that they are only 90 miles south of the mainland of America?

I wonder if anyone still looks at maps, or has a globe? Is the electronic equivalent enough now? Does that interest in the world now only come in chunks the size of a phone screen, that you can scroll down? My own opinion is that History and Geography are inseparable, both linked to politics, and the world we live in today. Lines drawn on maps by colonial powers, the proximity of warring nations, the lust for natural resources, living space, and fertile land and water. Geography impacts on our daily lives more importantly every year, just as those resources diminish with use. It would be a shame if it became yet another ‘forgotten’ subject, dominated by the map-makers at Google.

What do you think?

92 thoughts on “Geography: Our place in this world

  1. We had a world map hanging up on the wall when we were kids so I have a sense of where things are and a curiousity about them. I don’t have a really good sense of the distances though. I remember years ago a friend talked to me about doing a recon of a local area when you arrive. I took this as good advice and remember when I arrived in Earl’s Court I walked the block and then went out and discovered more during our stay but I have noticed over the years while I will research a bit I still rely a lot on my google maps on my phone and am the kind of person where if I don’t have to organise it I just go along with where the group is going. I guess I’m saying I feel have good and bad habits. I still think its important despite modern conveniences to learn or prepare a bit so you have some information for yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was drilled in geography throughout school. We were forever given blank maps and told to fill in countries, rivers, mountain ranges, etc. Africa has changed a lot since then, but I try to keep up. The “stans” throw me. It is depressing to realize we are sending young soldiers to countries they have never heard of.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sat nav’s are worse than useless here we found that out within a week of being here so now I always carry a map in my bag a town map when I go walkabout as I like to know the street names and how they interconnect with each other and also as we don’t drive in town but use local transport it helps when we are looking for somewhere to know the street name and the road it is off. I also have a beautiful solid silver map which belonged to my dad and it shows all the old counties and boundaries in the UK plus the coats of arms it always fascinated me as a child and I was happy that he left it to me…Also, my husband is a map man so I learnt early on to read it when we are on our travels…I get questions fired at me 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great to hear that you are a ‘map-lady’, Carol, and I love the sound of your Dad’s silver map too. Moving to a country like Thailand must be a challenge, and you rose to it, with your map reading! 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It is a challenge and you couldn’t rely on a sat nav here too many unmarked roads particularly in the rural areas so you need a map as they show landmarks which are handy especially when going somewhere new 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m intrigued when you, on a map, you see a border marked in a straight line. Invariably this is a border imposed upon the populace after conflict. Natural borders are created over time which mark the local topography, language or culture. Most of the mathematical precise regions are still areas of hostility despite the good (or not so good) intentions of the bureaucrats.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wonderful post Pete, and lots of interesting comments as well. I do love maps; I like to know where I’m going and where I’ve been and what’s out there to be discovered. But for getting from point A to point B in the city where you live or may be visiting, including the fastest route due to traffic congestion, nothing beats having GPS or Google maps on your phone. I sometimes wonder how I ever got around without it. Bottom line, both are good.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Susanne. I got around for 50 years without satnavs or google maps. I still use local and national maps to this day, as relying on a satnav or phone signal in this rural area is fraught with problems. They keep telling me “Turn Right”, where no road exists! 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. My geography knowledge comes as a bi-product of history, I read about things happening somewhere and then have to look them up on a map to see where they are. Phil is map-mad 🙂 I can use a sat-nav AND navigate a map.
    I see what you’re saying in these posts about the ignorance of generations coming up, but I think there has and always will be ignorant people, who don’t care about learning things, and sometimes they won’t care at one stage of their lives, and will at another, or they’ll just go on being ignorant. But there will always be those who quest for knowledge from what’s gone before, and those who will forge the future. They may be the minority, but they hold the greatest sway.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pleased to hear you had a good teacher, Kim. I didn’t have the greatest teacher in that subject, and she riled me a great deal. But I had loved it before she came along, and did my own studying.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Its odd you mention Google as I imagine it, or more specifically Google Earth, has brought the world to more people than a globe ever did, but only if they had an interest in the first place, which I suppose is your point 🙂
    Much like inches and centimetres I grew up in the age of having to learn both maps and satnavs, so I’m happy to use either, but I will admit that my geography can be a bit sketchy, especially in Africa, whilst good with the paces I holidayed in whilst I was part of the jet set 🙂
    I think someone’s knowledge can very much depend upon your occupation as well, a kind of need to know basis and everyone’s knowledge grows over time. When I was 18 I needed to know where the nearest pub was, now I’m 50 I have a fridge 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Just to say, I agree! I don’t have a smart phone or satnav and still use maps and directions. I get lost a lot but I usually get where I’m supposed to be. I love maps and find the history of mapping fascinating – it was never just about drawing what was where as all sorts of political skullduggery was involved.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. You may already have guessed that I am a bit of a Geography nerd. Even remember how Ox-bow lakes are formed. But, yes, I love knowing about countries and capital cities, though I am not so good on South America or even Africa now that they keep changing names! I cannot understand why anyone should want to remain ignorant of where places are and more importantly what is happening there! I wonder if learning languages is also decreasing now everyone has a SMART phone that can translate for them. They won’t be so smart when we run out of electricity.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I was sure you would be ‘on board’ with this, Jude, and your comment confirms what I suspected.
      When the day comes, the ‘ignorant’ will be lost. I am convinced of that. 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete. x

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ve always been fascinated by maps. There is a wood-framed 5 ft. by 4 ft. map of the United States on our living room wall, a large shadow box containing a raised relief map of Sequoia-Kings Canyon on another wall, and a framed map of the U.S. in 1845 on yet another wall.

    I can locate any country on the globe without the slightest hesitation, though I admit not being able to tell you the capital city of all of them. I know the general geography of most countries. Of course, I’ve read many books that touch upon geography, including the fictional works of Jules Verne. I haven’t traveled as much as you have, but I’ve been to a few places outside the U.S.: Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, France, and Monaco. I’ve always wanted to visit Australia and New Zealand, as well as wander through the temple complex of Angkor Wat in Cambodia (in high school, I wrote a research paper that included a detailed map of the site).

    Wall hangings also include French- and British-themed vintage photos, drawings, etc. on the wall (e.g., “L’Inondation de Lyon 1856”). So there is a good measure of history on our walls, too!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. You could probably guess that I enjoy Geography and enjoy holding an Atlas in my lap and exploring a region visually. I try to stress it in History class because there’s not geography class in the American classroom. Too many of my students (16-17yrs old) don’t know the difference between the Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean let alone where’s Scotland or Turkey.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Cindy. I once read that over half of the American people could not place Washington D.C. on a map. I don’t know if that’s true, but if it is, it makes me sad. Of course, I knew that you would ‘get it’. It seems that Americans, above many other nationalities, regard the US as being the centre of the universe, and that they ‘don’t need to know’ about what else is ‘out there’.
      If I am wrong about that, I will be happy to hear it.
      Best wishes, Pete. x

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      1. Of course, you are wrong, my friend. I’d contend that we humans are all self-absorbed and place the ego in the middle of the map. Don’t forget, only fifty years ago, the British Empire still enjoyed the last bits of her empire. It was after WWII that America ascended to the top of pile. We are cracking, and I suspect the Chinese will become the next superpower. Superpowers get to push their nativism to the forefront. Sorry, a bit of a tangent there. I’m sure there are many who don’t know where D.C. is located on the map. I think all countries probably suffer from this.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Naturally, I have no doubt that many in the UK might struggle to find London too. When I was a child, so much of the map was coloured red, (the empire) it seemed to me that there was little else, outside of Russia, and the Americas. I still contend that many people in the US regard that country to be the most important, and with good reason. Since the 1960s, the influence of the UK has diminished, and with that, our own overblown sense of self importance. This map is worth seeing.
          https://mymodernmet.com/true-size-world-map/
          See how small Britain really is! 🙂
          Best wishes, Pete. x

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  12. Pete, here is the reality for anyone under the age of 21: they don’t have a home phone, and probably don’t know that they ever existed. They will NEVER mail a letter. They don’t memorize anything because it’s saved on their phone. They don’t need to “know” anything because their devices “know” it for them. Let’s hope for their sake there is never a power outage.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Pete, I think it is terrific that the world’s knowledge and history can be accessed by the touch of a small device…but that device needs electricity to run, so if it goes down, let’s hope there are enough intelligent people out there to handle it

        Liked by 1 person

  13. I agree with you, Pete, on the idea that history and geography are inseparable. How can one have a clear concept of a historical event without a clear concept of where it took place? Talking about ignorance: In my first year in Canada I met an old lady who thought that Germany was a town in Ontario!!!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I know people who think Brussels is the capital of France, Peter. Those same people think that East Germany still exists, and that Russia is north of Scotland. It doesn’t matter to them, and they live a happy life, without basic knowledge. That has never worked for me.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Pleased to hear that you can read a map, Julie. My own wife, (also Julie) by her own admission, cannot tell north from south, or east from west. She lives by using her satnav, sadly. 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  14. I have to admit that I was a bit like your peers when it came to Geography at school and I ditched it pretty quickly. I found all the map drawing incredibly challenging and I am a big believer in playing to your strengths. That said, I’d like to think I have enough of an understanding of world Geography not to make a tit of myself.

    Again, Mr O is an absolute buff for similar reasons that you mention in terms of how linked history and geography are. For me the most interesting part has always been how linguistics and geography are linked and how languages and cultures blur and migrate at borderlines.

    I do think that having some knowledge of Geography is helpful for shaping your world view. As someone who grew up in Africa, the general western view that the continent of Africa is one giant, war torn, famine-ridden dust bowl sucking in aid like a bottomless pit is so incredibly depressing (and insulting). Sort of summed up by my angry Christmas post from past years: https://abbiosbiston.com/2013/12/18/it-might-very-well-be-snowing-in-morocco-to-be-fair-bob-2/.

    If you like a bit of geopolitical literature, you might enjoy this book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Prisoners-Geography-Everything-Global-Politics-ebook/dp/B00Y16BEM2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1528115761&sr=8-1&keywords=prisoners+of+geography

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Talking of language, I was once told that Finnish and Turkish are very similar languages. That was a weird one!
      I have been to Africa, but only to these countries; Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Kenya, and Tanzania. I found them all to be very well-organised and civilised places, (though Tanzania and Tunisia had issues with power cuts, and sanitary arrangements at the time) and I have few preconceptions about the countries there, except perhaps the DRC, and Somalia.
      Thanks for both links, Abbi, I will certainly check them out now.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  15. You have hit another nail on the head, Pete. History and geography are inseparable. Even the youngest children can begin to learn and understand. My most popular units of study at school are always on a country. I begin with my big book atlas of the world. We look at the world, land and water. With my finger I begin to find Massachusetts or at least the coast of New England- close enough. Then I find the country we will be learning about; France, or China, or India… I then take my finger and ‘travel’ there. Children see crossing the ocean, or mountains. Can you see that this entire meeting and conversation is both long and exciting for children? Then, I show them a real satellite map. We compare the two. “Why is there light blue and dark blue in the ocean?” And on and on.

    How can I teach about another country, its history, food, art and more, without starting with geography?

    And it gets better! Chapter reading often includes specific places, and we stop to pull out the big book atlas and find it. From “Little House on the Prairie” to “The Story of Doctor Doolittle”, geography is grounded into the reading.

    Apologies for going on and on, Pete. Clearly we both see more than just value in learning geography. Thank you for an excellent post.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. It’s funny you mention this because sitting across from me I have a globe with my blue panama hat resting on top of the North Pole. Once I realized how little High School taught me I became interested in so many different things. So I think the first problem stems from bad or uninterested teachers who don’t engage their students. Obviously some students just aren’t interested in the subject or aren’t interested in learning about a given subject at that time but undoubtedly there are those like me who were willing to learn but didn’t have a good school to get them started. And eventually, I had to get myself started.

    In relation to the girl who said she didn’t have to know an island in order to go there I wonder, what is the point of going somewhere if you don’t know anything about it? I think 14 is a forgivable age but there are plenty of people who don’t even know where the major countries are and that’s a serious problem. The scariest part isn’t that these people don’t know history, geography, politics, or a number of other issues, the scariest thing is that these are the people who are usually the loudest and open their mouths first and that often decides the nonsense news we receive or the elected officials we end up with.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You raise some excellent points, Dustin, and I am very pleased that you read the post, and left your comment. Also great to hear that you have a globe! 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Like

  17. There are some facts which are good to know whilst others are trivial. I don’t know where to draw a line which separates dummies from clever-clogs as far as geography goes. I couldn’t name the capital cities of every country and don’t know why I should so singling out Nigeria is probably unfair for that person. He may know the best place to fish for trout nearby, perhaps not common knowledge but more useful. I feel geography is more specialised than history which tells us something about ourselves.
    I’m looking forward to your post on Maths and Physics, Pete. That’s my cuppa tea. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You make sense with that argument, BF. Like I said, maybe it’s just me, and a love for trivia.

      I dropped Physics as soon as I could and only got a Grade 4 Maths, so they are unlikely to feature. However, I did remark to my step kids that I have never forgotten long division, or times tables, and was amazed that they found it impossible to translate a foreign currency at a rate of 2.5 to £1.

      This made me think of a conversation with a Maths teacher. In an Algebra lesson, I failed to understand why X+Y = 4. She explained that the value of X was 3 and Y was 1. I replied, “so why not just write a 3 and a 1 then?” She wasn’t impressed. I even recall her name, from 1963.
      Mrs Widdowson.

      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. She probably had a point. The currency translation method is algebraic. £ = F/2.5
        A thought struck me about geography and maths and how to know the shortest distance between, say, Heathrow and Abuja. A map would give a pretty rough approximation but terribly uneconomical if you were in the airline business. A globe would be better but only with a knowledge of geodesics, a mathematical issue. So, maths can be important for understanding geography, and maps! 🙂
        I find ways that subjects interweave interesting and there’s an opinion that teaching subjects separately and in isolation is the wrong way to do it. Who knows?

        Liked by 1 person

  18. Once again we share an interest. If my better-half would allow it, I’d have a wall mural of an old world map. I refuse to get rid of my old atlas and love looking at photographer’s blogs of all the far away places I’ll never see!!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Looking back to my skool daze, Geography? Boring! History? Boring! Maths? Boring! Physical Education? Boring! Only English Language, French and Music held any interest for me. What did the Pampas and wheat growing have to do with me? So I guess that the echoes of my past still resonate with today’s generations.

    Strange then, that all these years later, I find myself glued to the TV History Channel or National Geographic! I can also scream at TV quiz contestants when they don’t know that Durham is further north than Birmingham!

    “Tell me, I may forget. Teach me and I may remember, involve me and I will learn” Whoever said that had a point.

    It’s all about relevance. For today’s yoof, it’s more important for them to know about Kanye West than to know where Nepal is. Only 14% of Americans have a passport and they think that it’s always raining in the UK, whilst Brits just know that Trump is President of the USA and Disneyland is THE best place in America.

    Join any group below the age of 55 and try talking about Venezuela. You would be met with quizzical stares or indifference and soon dumped out of the conversation. Show them your FB page and suddenly, you’re in with the ‘in’ crowd!

    We’ve all become hedonistic and inward looking.

    Motivation is key. Rather than listing dates in my history lessons, why not tell me about the formation of industry, the battle against disease, the battle against poverty; MY place in history and how I got here. It may be different today, but I was never taught these things. I’ve learned more about recent British history by watching ‘The Crown” on Netflix than I ever did at school!

    Pete will know that I spent quite a while as an Instructor in London’s Ambulance Training Centre where I taught new recruits. Bus drivers, secretaries, shop workers walked through the doors on Day 1 and a few months later, they left to apply life-saving skills and street craft to London’s ill and injured. Their heads could have been filled with long medical words or useless info on how enzymes worked, but what use would that be to a casualty? The recruits wanted pictures painted, scenarios and a “What the hell do I do now?” skill.

    Sorry, I’m rambling. Like I said; in my view, it’s all about relevance and motivation. Perhaps today’s educators could be a little more inspiring.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ok, so I agree with you, many Americans (terrifying) do see life that distorted and skewed but not all of us. I have only been to England twice, neither visit did it rain! So sorry I am in the minority here but I also blame ALL ‘news’ media for what they pump into peoples’ brains.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Some of your questions made my brain hurt! And mainly because (despite having been a travel agent once upon a time as well as taking college geography) I have so little knowledge of it. People matter! Therefore having some idea (besides esoteric or ethereal) of where they are matters. Doesn’t it??

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I obviously think so. It matters at so many levels, including knowing how far away your ‘friends’ or ‘enemies’ are of course. Being a part of the world we live in brings a responsibility to know something about it, at least as far as I am concerned.
      Many thanks for your comment.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  21. Scary thought, but true, Pete. I know some bits of geography (rather political geography) has changed plenty since I studied and I’m not sure I have caught up with all of it. But you’re right about its importance. Regarding satnavs… I travelled to Louisiana with a friend a few years back. Although we had requested a rental car with satnav, there was a problem with the car and we ended up with a car with no satnav. It was incredibly difficult to locate a place where we could buy a map (it seems they have decided they are totally redundant and it took us several days of getting lost to eventually find one. Tourist information was OK for small maps, but not much help for one of the whole State that was reliable enough). It did make for some interesting conversations and we got used to the very personal style the locals had of giving directions… ,)

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Good post Pete, always had interest in geography and the countries of the world, perhaps thats why I ended up moving to NZ. School actually let me down with the subject when I moved from one school to another which was very science based (told no space in geography class). Recent trip to Rome highlighted to me how much we now rely on technology, I think I was the only person who actually used a paper map (now well worn) as almost every one walking was studying their cell phones. I wonder how we shall cope the day technology fails. I do hope some basic skills are never lost.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. How true, imagine what’s happening now. China encroaching on our small islands on West Philippine sea and the president is kowtowing to them. We won at the Hague back in 2016 during the term of Ex-Pres. PNoy but this one would rather give our islands than file a diplomatic protest. He said he cannot fight a war with China. He might be thinking of a physical war but we just want it said that what he is doing and what China is doing are both wrong.

        Liked by 1 person

  23. Best example for horrifying deficits in Geography is Mr. Trump, who spoke about “the town Belgium” a while ago… Geography was one of my favorite items in school, and I still love it, but I confess I have lacks of knowledge, too. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I once saw a news report where an American reporter was interviewing people in Illinois. He was showing them a map of the USA with no names on the states, pointing at Illinois, and asking the people if they could tell him the name of the state. Despite all of them living there, only one person from all those asked was able to give the correct answer. 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

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