Tuesday, August 16, 2016

I Admit It...

The recent political shake-up in Britain post-Brexit has left us with (among other things) a new prime minister, and this post has almost nothing to do with all that. Rather, I was surprised to learn that Teresa May got her undergraduate degree in geography. And then I was even more surprised to learn that this is apparently seen a source of hot shame. I've heard really terrible things said in the UK about geography as a discipline ('the degree for sporty people' as one uncharitably called it). I think geography's bad reputation is entirely unearned. Some really amazing stuff has been done by geographers.

Geography's UK reputation is funny because Americans hardly even seem to know what geography is (see this Forbes article about Teresa May and how it begins with a helpful definition of "geo-graphy"). When I first moved to the UK, when people found out I'm a geographer they would often say "human or physical?" to which I just responded with stunned silence that anyone outside geography knew anything about it. In the states they might just start quizzing me about state capitals. (Quick, what is the capital of Delaware? Don't look, just what is it? The answer might amaze you, unless you are from Delaware.)

Exactly why geography is absent from many prestigious universities is the source of much speculation (extra points if you know the only US ivy league department). But I have to say I didn't realize that having no reputation may be desirable to having a bad one. The antidote to both of these problems, I think, is for geographers to be more vocal about being geographers (represent, if you will), saying it proudly instead of hoping no one finds out and pens an exposé about it. I, for one, am dead chuffed to be a geographer!

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