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1: Geography Matters

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    Re-framing Geography

    When most students hear the word "geography", there is a quick association with the memorization of countries, capitals, rivers, flags, and facts associated to places. Nervousness tends to follow, as many students lack familiarity with world maps and related geographical information. Apprehensions around learning geography are often based on misconceptions about what this field of study has to offer. Consider a recent study[1]: Researchers asked undergraduate students from various American universities to rank key-terms of study topics based on their study interests. The survey results showed that students ranked the term “geography” lowest in comparison to other geography-related key terms. Yet, students expressed interest in studying “society,” “global,” “environment,” “immigration,” “human rights,” “sustainability,” and “climate change” – all of which are topics of study in geography. The researchers also found that exposure to geography matters. Students who had taken geography before ranked courses with the word “geography” and associated key terms notably higher than those who had not, regardless of if they majored in geography or not. In reading these results, we interpret that there is a gap of understanding in student perceptions of geography courses. This gap could be bridged with a little exposure to geography education but also with the use of transparent and relatable terms in course titles and descriptions to capture the wonder and curiosity that college students already have for topics in geography.

    We take these research findings with much enthusiasm knowing that the geography discipline offers a unique and holistic approach to better understand topics that our students care about. We hope that this book is a conveyor of knowledge about our world and its most pressing matters. Starting with this first chapter, we seek to lift the veil on what geography is, challenge some of its traditions, and accentuate its potential to engage students in thinking critically about world-making. This is a foundational chapter connecting readers to our approach to World Geographies, an exploration of the world as a pluralistic human experience. If this is your first geography course or not, we welcome you to reflect on the food for thought this chapter provides. We hope these initial lessons reaffirm the terrific decision that you made by choosing to take a world geography course. Let’s begin!


    [1] Stoler, J. et al. 2020. What’s In a Name? Undergraduate Student Perceptions of Geography, Environment, and Sustainability Key Words and Program Names. Annals of the American Association of Geographers 111 (2), pp 317-342.

    1: Geography Matters is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Aline Gregorio & Nazanin Naraghi.

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