Z Geography Asks: Is this Geography?

Many Geographers, and suspect practitioners of most disciplines, spend some of their professional (perhaps even personal) thought processes engaged in “policing the boundary.” Like the states that some of us rail against, disciplines often delineate their boundaries – “this is part of the discipline”, “this is not part of the discipline”. Of course, the answer you receive (like political boundaries) is entirely dependent on whom you ask and, more specifically, where they’re located in the discipline. For those on the periphery, whether by design or by fate, the answer is almost wildly different from those in the “core”. While the core of a state is fairly easy to identify, or is it?, the core of a discipline is less so.

Take Geography, what is the core? What is the “bread and butter” of the discipline? In my first post I offered this definition: “Geography is the study of an area with particular emphasis on its people, its landscape, and the myriad ways in which several areas and their phenomena are related.” Holding myself to my own definition, let’s launch into the fodder for this post “Geographic art” as found by the San Francisco Chronicle.

The news source highlights the “Tapestries” exhibit by artist, Ann Diener, tagging it as a “perception of geography”. Of course, Z Geography asks… is this Geography? According to the article, the artist is “interested in the history of spaces” and quotes her directly “theme of all the pieces in the show relates to changes to land, how man uses and manipulates the spaces he inhabits.” The picture below, from the Chronicle’s website, offers a singular glimpse into the exhibit.

Tapestry 1, 2012 (via San Francisco Chronicle)

But yes, this is Geography. Given my definition above, it is a study (or at least a perception) of the way in which humans have interacted with and remade their environment. As a human geographer, I consider this to be the sub-discipline’s bread and butter. What Diener offers Geographers is a take, perhaps a critical one given the reproduction above, on urbanity. To me the scale and chaos (despite grid planning) of American cities is captured quite nicely. As always, critically examining every source, whether organization or person, is important. Based on the limited information provided in the San Francisco Chronicle it seems that the works are primarily focused on “Western” urban landscapes. Understanding the focus on urban areas, it would be most interesting to see the interplay between the “old” and “new” urban areas in long-established cities, such as Damascus or Jericho.

Art critical of “Western”, or even human, creation of places in spite of nature isn’t anything new. Thomas Cole painted a series of five works, entitled The Course of Empire, that is first, a stinging critique of human arrogance. Though directed primarily at imperialism, one can see the message applying to mankind’s rush to build ever larger structures within our cities. The painting below, Desolation, predicts the ultimate fate for humanity’s projects.

Desolation, 1836 (via wikipedia)

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2 thoughts on “Z Geography Asks: Is this Geography?

  1. Robbie, nice post. I have always felt that good ‘ol regional geography had been subsumed by all other sorts of items, and there was even an academic poo-poohing of those who focused on a regional interest. I also consider personal perceptions of a place well within this definition, as you point out above with the tapestry illustrated.

    All of us geographers have some different definitions — I still think of the broader term of the science of spatial patterns and relationships (add the term human for human geography). This could be evaluating the patterns of historical settlement by colonial Spain, or explaining the seating patterns of an audience at a lecture.

    I enjoy your blog. Keep up the good work.

    David Lindahl

    • Thanks for the kudos David! I was actually planning on writing a post (have some research to get through) on the tug-of-war between the science-y quantitative guys and the regional geographers. Found some excellent source material, stay tuned.

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