From the Greek word meaning “earth writing,” geography is the study of place and space. Geographers ask where things are located on the surface of the earth, why they are located where they are, how places differ from one another, and how people interact with the environment. With roots in the ancient world, geography is an integrative discipline that straddles the science-social science-humanities divide and is centrally concerned with the nature and significance of the places, patterns, and landscapes that make up the earth’s surface.
Long before I knew my own strengths, my professors took a vested interest in my passions and challenged me to go beyond the textbook. They taught me that being a geographer was more than being a walking atlas, but being able to recognize the complexities of the world around us, and to always be curious. Meghan McCollum, 2013 U.S. Rotary Global Scholar
Most people who are ultimately attracted to the discipline of geography are motivated by much larger aspirations than good salaries. The opportunity to make a difference in the world, in whatever expression that takes, is one of the most frequently cited reasons why current geography students, researchers, and practitioners explain their career choice.
At least three recent global trends can be identified as contributing to a renaissance of geography and its potential for making a difference in society and the world:
- Globalization at an increasing pace and scale, phenomena that compel greater understanding of the world, places, people, and natural systems that affect us as a planet and as global citizens.
- Expansion of geographic technologies, once fairly obscure and now pervasive in our daily lives, such as GPS in cell phones and cars, online mapping at your fingertips, cable news reports using spatial visualizations, and many more applications in modern business and government services.
- An academic trend toward greater interdisciplinarity, especially a renewed focus on big questions that matter but that require a breadth of knowledge and multiple fields to tackle. Geography’s long-standing intellectual traditions in crossing those usual disciplinary boundaries are now better understood, increasingly seen as relevant and more widely respected in scholarly circles.