Friday, September 17, 2010

Neogeography: Time to try to clarify and build on the term

Related sites to the Spatialworlds project
Spatialworlds website
21st Century Geography Google Group
Australian Geography Teachers' Association website
'Towards a National Geography Curriculum' project website
Geography Teachers' Association of South Australia website
Email contact

Melbourne, Australia: S: 37º 47' E: 144º 58'

Left image: Mapping example using technology.
Right image: Fields of France in Spring.

In his abstract for the 2011 AGTA Conference Dr Peter Hill, ACARA CEO, says; "...geography as a discipline has undergone profound changes which in turn have impacted on the teaching of geography as a school subject. With the renewed focus on geography as a discrete subject within the Australian curriculum, there is an unprecedented opportunity to ensure that geography in schools reflects amazing developments in ‘neogeography’.”

In this blog posting I will attempt to define the contemporary version of neogeography and explore what the term means for geography in our schools and in turn the Australian Curriculum for geography.

The term neogeography has been used since at least 1922 (originally used in reference to ancient geology – palaeogeography!). However the meaning of the term has changed significantly over the decades. In the early 1950s in the U.S. it was a term used in the sociology of production & work. In 2010 the term has changed again to mean “new geography” and consists of a set of techniques and tools that fall outside the realm of traditional GIS (Geographic Information Systems).
Where historically a professional cartographer might use ArcGIS, a neogeographer uses a mapping applications like Google Maps, talks about GPX versus KML, and geotags their photos to make a map of their summer vacation. Increasingly there are spatial tools, frameworks, and resources available that make it easy to create maps and share the locations of an individual’s interests and history. Neogeography is about people using and creating their own maps using the “geospatial web” on their own terms and by combining elements of an existing toolset. Essentially, the advent of “do-it-yourself” mapping applications such as Google Maps has brought some of the capabilities of GIS into the hands of the laity. This trend was accelerated by the release in 2006 of Google Maps, Google Earth, and also with the decreased cost of geolocated mobile devices such as GPS units. The concept of Web 2.0 has also resulted in an increased public appeal of mapping and geospatial technologies. However neogeography is not limited to a specific technology and is not strictly web-based, so is not synonymous with web mapping though it is commonly conceived as such.
The contemporary use of the term, and the field in general, owes much of its inspiration to the locative media movement that sought to expand the use of location-based technologies to encompass personal expression and society. Neogeography combines the complex techniques of cartography and GIS and places them within reach of users and developers. The term is sufficiently abstract to serve as a broad category of un/non-professional geographic practices (walking mapping, tagging, etc.). Neogeography covers a broad field of activity, which includes urban exploration, site specific sculpture, land/earth art, geo-tagging, guided walks, ephemeral cities, imaginary urbanism, altered maps/radical cartography, travel writing, psychogeography, place based photo blogging, etc.
A number of geographers and geoinformatics scientists (such as Mike Goodchild) have expressed strong reservations about the term "neogeography". They say that geography is an established scientific discipline; uses such as mashups and tags in Google Earth are not scientific works, but are better described as Volunteered Geographic Information. Despite these reservations by geographers and GIS specialists, many say that the art of mapping using computers (electronic cartography) has democratized mapmaking and “spatial play”, making everyone an active geographer.

The following quote from Andrew Turner is a good summary of the origin and impact of neogreography:
“NeoGeography is the empowerment of the non-geographers, noncoders and folks who don't have access to "real" GIS. Many say that GIS has reached its saturation level (not in all regions of the world) and derivatives of this technology have been developed. The term "Neogeography" is one such derivative of GIS. Similar So, GIS and neogeography, both are here to stay as geography has survived along with GIS and other sciences. Neogeography has helped the GIS and mapping professionals being recognized by the masses (largely thanks to Google and their API) and new tools and application being developed which can be used by all and sundry and is not restricted to a closed and specialized.”

Most importantly, if neogeography as a phenomena is here to stay and is all-pervasive in our society, surely it should be an integral component of geography in schools. The neogeography literate are already incorporating the tools and applications of neogeography extremely effectively in their classroom. An example of this is the work of Rebecaa Nicholas in Melbourne who is doing amazing things with neogeography. Just check out Bec’s and her students blogs to see the impact of neogeography in her classroom.
Considering Peter Hill has highlighted the importance of neogeography, it is beholden upon geographers in Australia to ensure neogeography is well and truly integrated into the Australian Curriculum for geography.

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