Exploring Geography

Welcome to a new feature of the UCA Department of Geography online presence. Exploring Geography is intended to be a window into geographic topics of interest to members of our broad department community. These posts won’t simply be informational pieces about activities happening in the Geography Department, but rather more detailed commentary about themes of Geographic research, interesting Geographic questions, or Geographic connections to current events. We hope that these insights will give those outside of our department a better sense of how Geography connects to all aspects of the world around us.

Tis the Season

The study of Geography would be infinitely less interesting without maps. It would also be far more difficult. Geographers are interested in understanding and explaining spatial patterns. Whether those patterns are found in the distribution of specific plant species in a forest community, in variations in zoning regulations between counties, or in popularity of one tourist destination over another, maps are essential to breathing life into those patterns.

Noted cartographer and graphic designer Denis Wood, in his decades-long project mapping the Raleigh, North Carolina, neighborhood of Boylan Heights and related works, refers to maps as a narrative, as an argument made about a place. Rather than simply a representation of the real world or a snapshot of a place in time, the intent of maps—from their content to their intended audience, their scale to their design—are more a reflection of those who create the map than they are of the subject in question. This view of cartography, of critical cartography, can (and should) be political: how does power and position affect the ability of one group of people to “create” place, either through maps or through action?

Yet there is a more expressive part of cartography that is also suggested by these approaches. If maps are simply about illustrating spatial patterns, why are so many maps hanging on walls as pieces of ‘art’? Therein lies the fundamental balance of Geography as a discipline wedged between the Sciences and the Arts and of cartography’s role in maintaining that balance. Creativity in mapping can seem at odds with the purpose of cartography if one views it as creating a representation of space; when one views it as a narrative of place, creativity becomes much more important. (That distinction gets rather fuzzy in this age of digital maps, when users may trust their maps to be accurate even if they really aren’t.)

Map of Christmas Displays – Click to view interactive map

This map is the result of a quick Winter Break exercise, completed just in time for Christmas, showcasing the expressive cartography concept described above. An homage to the neighborhood examinations put forth by Wood in Boylan Heights, this map and the related project—found in the direct link from the image above—show the illuminated exterior holiday decorations in a portion of Little Rock’s Leawood neighborhood. What do the patterns mean? How are we to interpret the narrative of place that the map suggests?

The truth is you’re not. It’s just one map of a neighborhood. A map produced with numerous assumptions and limitations (for example, only houses with illuminated displays were recorded, leaving solitary, unlit, door-hung wreaths unmarked) can hardly be enough to capture the sense of place this neighborhood, or any other. Paired with a series of spatial records, we might be able to capture the sense of what is here and what it means to be part of Leawood. At the very least, however, this single map should give rise to questions about spatial patterns in the data. Why are there so few religious displays in a state where religion is clearly a major part of the social landscape? Why are high-traffic roads more likely to have homes with white lights?

To a Geographer, that is the power of a map. There may be no answers to those questions—or perhaps no definitive answers. But a map, whether made as a piece of Art or as record of Science, is an opening to a more comprehensive understanding of place. Show me a Geographer not interested in pouring over a map and I’ll show you a Geographer not interested in the core curiosities of their own discipline.

Maps are our tools, but they are also our voice; they allow us to translate the places and spaces we study into a form digestible to others. It is important as trained cartographers that we understand both how our data are best represented as well as how our audience will interpret that representation. As educators, we should also help non-Geographers critically examine maps. To understand their origin, intent, and message, not simply the visible patterns displayed. It is in those elements of a map where we can find the most interesting facets of Geography.

Exploring Geography

Welcome to a new feature of the UCA Department of Geography online presence. Exploring Geography is intended to be a window into geographic topics of interest to members of our broad department community. These posts won’t simply be informational pieces about activities happening in the Geography Department, but rather more detailed commentary about themes of Geographic research, interesting Geographic questions, or Geographic connections to current events. We hope that these insights will give those outside of our department a better sense of how Geography connects to all aspects of the world around us.

Russia 2011

Dr. Brooks Green spent a month in Russia funded by a grant from the Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad Program. Dr. Green took three university professors, two university students, a school psychologist, and eight school teachers to the Russian South. The group began the Short-term Seminar in Moscow, then traveled to Rostov-on-Don, Tuapse, Volograd, Astrakhan, and Ryazan’ before returning to Moscow and home. While in the Russian South, the group participated in classes on Russian geography, history, and language and tours of the Black Sea, Volga River, the Volga River Delta, and the north coastal area of the Caspian Sea. The purpose of the Short-term Seminar was to learn more about ethnic and cultural diversity in Russia; especially the Russian South.

August 2011 Graduates

The following students graduated on Friday, August 12, 2011:

Brandon Jones, BS Geography

Katherine K. Gilbert, Master of Science in Community and Economic Development
Olivia R. Johnson, Master of Science in Community and Economic Development

 

May 2011 Graduates

The following students graduated on Saturday, May 7, 2011:

Brad Tharp, Master of Geographic Information Syste (the first to graduate in this program)

Claudine Forte, Master of Science in Community and Economic Development
Jonathan Hawkins, Master of Science in Community and Economic Development
Meredith Johnson, Master of Science in Community and Economic Development
Olivia Johnson, Master of Science in Community and Economic Development

Angie Lewis, BA Geography (Outstanding Student for the 2010-2011 academic year)
Bridgette Anderson, BS Geography
Stephanie Dunn, BS Geography
Mike Fish, BS Geography
Zach Hudson, BS Geography
Brandon Jones, BS Geography

Yang Cao, BS Environmental Science, Administration and Planning
Kathryne Crain, BS Environmental Science, Administration and Planning
Donald Daily, BS Environmental Science, Administration and Planning
Matthew Embrey, BS Environmental Science, Administration and Planning
Wesley Gunselman, BS Environmental Science, Administration and Planning
Hunter Mays, BS Environmental Science, Administration and Planning
Uta Meyer, BS Environmental Science, Administration and Planning
Joseph Potts, BS Environmental Science, Administration and Planning
Hayley Sebourn, BS Environmental Science, Administration and Planning

December 2010 Graduates

The following students graduated with degrees in Community and Economic Development, Geography, and Environmental Science: Planning and Administration:

Wesley Townsend Craiglow – CED
Lindsey Jordan Gooch – CED
John Daniel Higgins – CED
Yifang Hong – CED
Lindsay Martindae – Undergraduate Scholar, Environmental Science: Planning and Administration
Will Hayes Merritt – BA, Geography
Brandi Sliger, BA, Geography
Jeremy Wilson – BA, Geography
Jason Zachary Groves – BS, Geography
Aaron Killingsworth – BS, Geography
Brandon Klar – BS, Geography
Madeleine S. Richert – BS, Geography
Jerry G. Shannon – BS, Geography
Ramsey M. Shuffield – BS, Envronmental Science: Planning and Administration
Ni Weijun – BS, Geography

Dr. Jeff Allender

Dr. Jeff Allender attended the Annual Meeting of the Southwest Division of the Association of American Geographers in Tahlequah, Oklahoma on October 21 – 23. He presented that paper, “Vernacular Rock and Brick Construction in the Southern Ozarks”, attended several other sessions, and participated in the field trip, “The Cultural Landscape of Northeastern Oklahoma.”

Dr. Michael Yoder presented a paper titled, “Entrepreneurial Governance and Economic Development in Micropolitan Cities of Arkansas,” on October 15, at the Annual Meeting of the Southwest Division of the Association of American Geographers in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Dr. Yoder also attended other sessions while at the meeting.

August 2010 Graduates

The following students graduated with degrees in geography or in community and economic development.

Will Hayes Merritt, BA, Geography
Dallas Hunter Madden, BA, Geography
Ryan M. Wadkins, BS, Geography
Abdoulkadri Seini, MS, Community and Economic Development
Moctar Sini, MS, Community and Economic Development

May 2010 Graduates

The following students graduated with degrees in geography or in the environmental science, planning and administration track:

Samantha Dean, BA, Geography
Justin Aylett, BS, Geography
David Burge, BS, Environmental Science-PA
Mindy Clark, BS, Geography
Matthew Duck, BS, Geography
Lee Garrett, BS, Geography
Brandi Hendricks, BS, Geography
Robert L. Long, BS, Environmental Science-PA
Garrett Looney, BA, cum laude, Geography Honors, “Imaginary Boundaries: Human Trafficking, the Sex Trade, and the Transnational Economic Zone of Mae Sot, Thailand”
Nathaniel Schultz, BS, Environmental Science-PA
Brandie Smith, BS, Environmental Science-PA
Jacob Wesson, BS, Environmental Science-PA

Stephen DiGiacomo

Stephen DiGiacomo was presented the Outstanding Student Award at the College of Liberal Arts Honors Convocation.