The importance of Geography

I heard on the radio this week that over 8 out of 10 British people do not know where Edinburgh is. Stop and think about that for a second. I went looking the following day for the source of this information and it was from a survey done by the Ordnance Survey for national map reading week.

“We commissioned a survey, and 2,000 adults across Britain took part. People were asked to plot various locations, from cities to National Parks on an outline map of Britain and we were pretty surprised at the results. Some 40% of people struggled to pinpoint London and only 14% could accurately plot Edinburgh’s location.”

Out of 2000 adults only 40%, or 800 people, struggled to pinpoint London. WHAT? REALLY?

This led rise to “Millions of Brits don’t know where Edinburgh, Manchester and even London are on a map – and experts blame mobile phones

It is not mobile phones per se, but how we are coming to rely on technology in our everyday lives. Do you need to remember that it is 1.6 Kilometers to a Mile? Or who the King of England was during the Great Fire of London? (Charles II if you are interested). This information is readily available from your favourite search engine; why bother committing it to memory (unless you have an exam or are doing a pub quiz). Can the same be true with where things are? I know where my friend around the corner lives, but do I need to know where Edinburgh is if I can just punch the postcode/address/what3words into my navigation device and follow the instructions?

In my Geography degree I don’t remember doing too many “can you name where X is on the map” lectures (though I would have been good at it!); in fact, it was only in my first year at Secondary School (age 11-12) that I remember being asked to plot on a map a list of places and find news articles relating to them. After that we did a lot of colouring in and then talked about Ox bow lakes, and central business districts.


Firstly, do we need to know about place?

Dorren Massey wrote brilliantly about a sense of place. She sadly died this year.

Doreen Massey: “I think the immediate way to respond is that if history is about time, geography is about space. What I do in geography is not space meaning ‘outer space’, or space meaning ‘atomic space’, or any of that; it is space as that dimension of the world in which we live. Whereas historians concentrate on the temporal dimension, how things change over time; what geographers concentrate on is the way in which things are arranged- we would often say ‘geographically’, – I’m here saying ‘over space.’”

Here is another quote from a chapter entitled “A Global Sense of Place” in her book “Space Place and Gender“. University of Minnesota Press: 1994

“Now I want to make one simple point here, and that is about what one might call the power geometry of it all; the power geometry of time-space compression. For different social groups, and different individuals, are placed in very distinct ways in relation to these flows and interconnections. This point concerns not merely the issue of who moves and who doesn’t, although that is an important element of it; it is also about power in relation to the flows and the movement. Different social groups have distinct relationships to this anyway differentiated mobility: some people are more in charge of it than others; some initiate flows and movement, others don’t; some are more on the receiving-end of it than others; some are effectively imprisoned by it.”

Clearly we do need to know about place.

Do we need to know about location?

If you are lost, trying to find out where you are is pretty critical. There is also an interesting juxtaposition between the article “Millions of Brits don’t know where Edinburgh, Manchester and even London are on a map – and experts blame mobile phones” and the 8th most commonly used app being Google Maps – if you are lost turn on Google Maps and GPS.

Anecdotally I think most people love maps and in the UK we are spoilt with high quality mapping from the OS. Old maps appear in Pubs and rental cottages, new maps in estate agents and tourist information offices. I think we love maps. They are in our culture.

I’m not answering the question though, “Do we need to know about location”. Technology can be used to help us navigate and locate ourselves. It is an enabler, or should be an enabler, to our lives, helping us to find factual information quickly. If technology breaks down, then are we lost? If you are handed two maps with contradicting information how do you know which one to trust/use? Are you a curious person, do you need context from what you consume from the news? If you don’t know where you are or where things are, how can you tell if where you are heading is where you want to end up?

Without knowledge about location we are all just effectively stumbling around in the dark.

Do we need to know about location? YES!

Enjoy national map reading week (17 – 23 October 2016)

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