Wednesday, October 15, 2014

To go forth and explore - famous geographers

Image above: Famous geographers - what criteria? How many can you pick?

Related links to Spatialworlds
GeogSplace (a teaching blog for Year 12 geography)
Spatialworlds website

Australian Geography Teachers' Association website

Where am I??

Adelaide, Australia: S: 34º 55' E: 138º 36'

To explore and discover to be geographically famous

The importance of the term explore in geography is fundamental to the spirit of geography.  In the Australian Curriculum: Geography it appears often and quite purposely as an important component of 'doing' geography.  As is said in the Rationale of the curriculum:

"Geography is a structured way of exploring, analysing and understanding the characteristics of the places that make up our world..."

I often ask participants in my workshops  to name a famous geographer. I am usually met with blank looks, and then they hook into the explorers. Yes but no is usually my answer. This posting focuses on who are the recognised famous geographers and who are the famous who have done amazing geographical things. 

"Things like natural ecosystems, physical features, migration patterns, ethnic distribution patterns, and other facets of human-environment interaction are all the province of the geographer. Today, not many people could name a famous geographer. In the past, when much of the world was still exotic and unexplored, geographers occupied a crucial role in society."                                 Caitlin Dempsey Morais, Editor of ESRI's GIS Loungewebsite

The following site is an interesting starting point for us to explore the famous geographer.

* List of famous geographers  

This list of notable geographers is in alphabetical order enabling sorting from reputable, prominent, and well known geographers to the lesser known geographers of today.  If you want to answer the question, "Who are the most famous geographers ever?" start your search . Regardless of this search facility, few of the names are in everyday currency in the general population, let alone with young people. The names normally forwarded when people are asked to list famous geographers tend to be famous explorers such as Cook, Mawson, Magellan, Dampier etc (none of who appear on the famous geographers list). These men were either adventurers, scientists, navigators, or surveyors (in the case of William Dampier, a pirate!). By not calling them recognised geographers is not denigrating their achievements but even they would not call themselves geographers. Regardless of the classification of their expertise or background, they most definitely did geographical things using amazing geographical knowledge and skills in their pursuits.  

One such person was Alexander Von Humboldt, who was a scientist. Humboldt set off and did some amazing geographical exploration and discoveries contributing to the geographical knowledge of the world.  Humboldt, the geologist turned geographer and South American explorer was a bit of an 18th century super scientist, traveling over 24,000 miles to understand the relationship between nature and habitat. In the video, George Mehler details Humboldt’s major accomplishments and why we should care about them today.  Also have  a look at the TEDEd lesson plan to accompany the video

* Another one of my geographical heroes is the 19th Century Russian, Nicholas Miklouho-Maclay - a name that never appears on the famous geographer list - in fact his name rarely appears anywhere! He really did some amazing exploration on the cultural geography front in New Guinea, Australia and Malaysia. Miklouho-Maclay was an explorer, ethnologist, anthropologist and biologist who became famous as the first scientist to settle among and study people who had never seen a white man. Miklouho-Maclay spent the major part of his life travelling and conducted research in the Middle East, Australia, New Guinea, Melanesia and Polynesia. His geographical story for such a short life (1846-88) is truly rivetting. 

Such scientists, explorers and adventurers from the past are certainly worthy of the famous geographer tag! They don't often turn up in the famous geographer lists but they added enormously to our geographical knowledge of the world. They are heroes for students to know about and admire in the spirit of geographical exploration. These are just two of thousands of biographical stories of geographical heroes. We should be profiling them in our geography classes as real life 'Indiana Jones' types, with incredible geographical adventures to capture the exploration imagination of our students.

* Here is another list which provides further insight into the famous geographers

* ESRI have another take on famous geographers

* By the way, the most famous former geography student is Prince William (the Duke of Cambridge) of the United Kingdom who studied geography at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland; having switched from studying the history of art. Yes, a future King of England (and Australia unless...) will be a geographer. Some other interesting famous geographer information can be found on the University of Florida site (never knew that Mother Theresa was a geography teacher).

* The greatest journeys: Whilst on about exploration, here is an interesting interactive site which maps history's greatest journeys. This site is a great connecting history and geography resource.

The opposite side of the coin: the geographically inept and challenged

* Geography gaffes - certainly not geographers of fame - some amazing media geographical bloopers

* Everyone should be able to read a map
New research suggests that map reading is a dying skill in the age of the smartphone. 

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