“Oh, you study Geography, how *awkward pause* …interesting!”
“What can you do with a degree in Geography?”
Or my personal favourite:
“Isn’t Geography just the study of capital cities and the art of colouring in?”
As if. It doesn’t get much more cliché than that.
Aside from the hollow if not slightly pretentious definitions which imply that Geography is simply too broad to define, you could argue that Geography is what you make of it. Your interests may lie within the field of economics, human development, environmental science or urban studies. The subject accommodates all of this; a list which is far from exhaustive.
From a mere six weeks at university, already I feel as if the subject I signed up to study surpasses all my prior expectations. A Level now feels as black and white as yesterday’s Evening Standard. The academic alien that is Harvard referencing is now an academic necessity. On behalf of Geography undergrads everywhere, this article serves to prove a point: Geography fulfils a purpose within the academic and professional world which expands far beyond the realms of colouring inside the lines of a world map (ha, ha…).
The legitimacy of Geography has long been contested, therefore it is no surprise that many are confused as to its relevance today. As bold or brash as it may be, disapproval of the subject’s legitimacy comes with a pinch of ignorance as to what the subject actually entails. I see what some have historically seen as a downfall (look into the quantitative revolution and reductionist methods in Geography if you have way too much spare time…) as an asset. Geography is the magpie of the academic world, ‘stealing’ themes from across the social sciences and humanities, culminating in an infusion of what is current in the physical and human world around us. In the past, academics have struggled with the idea that Geography tries to take on too much – too many concepts, too many departments. However, what is so special today is that what it means to be a Geographer for one, may be entirely different for what it means to another. Yet both people are connected by a broader overview, a shared school of thought.
Okay, so it is a little unrealistic to aspire to be a researcher-teacher-geomorphologist-political scientist-campaign manager come weather analysist. But the point is that Geography truly gives you so many options, dependant on the pathway you choose to follow. The generic notion of Geography as purely the geography of place is one that ought to be abolished. It provides the breadth to study a range of topics but the depth to specialise in any one of them, and that to me is the beauty of it.
I am in the early days of my degree and I do not doubt that what I have yet to learn shall exceed all that I have learnt so far, but what I am yet to learn is the very thing in question. What we study today, whether it be global warming, globalisation or neoliberalism, is unlikely to be the same as what was studied generations ago. But just as Geography’s past has shaped the present, and so the present will shape Geography’s future. And I for one anticipate how it comes to be.