I want to learn more about geography
June 6, 2015 4:23 PM   Subscribe

I've never taken a geography course but wish I had. My spouse feels the same. What resources can you recommend for us? Open to online courses, The Great Courses DVDs, films, books, anything really. I'm familiar with Sporcle but that doesn't really teach. Already have maps (including a world map shower curtain) and globes around the house.
posted by Morrigan to Education (13 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
This is probably not what you had in mind, but I like this old Krugman essay on transportation costs and geography.
posted by sudo intellectual at 4:34 PM on June 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

You might enjoy this Penn State MOOC - Maps and the Geospatial Revolution - whenever they start a new session
posted by the agents of KAOS at 4:36 PM on June 6, 2015

I've seen The Geography Coloring Book used as a college textbook. I can't find a preview of it that shows how diverse the maps are and how good the keys are, but the table of contents is available. You might also play some GeoGuessr, drawing both on physical geography and human/cultural geography cues to make your guesses.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 4:53 PM on June 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Read international news. The Economist is great for learning about countries around the world.
posted by LoveHam at 5:08 PM on June 6, 2015



World Landmarks
Identify Countries on the Map
World Capitals
Flags of the world
posted by lemniskate at 5:11 PM on June 6, 2015

Geography is my worst subject. I need a context otherwise it's in one ear and out the other.

I'm getting better by
- travel
- leafing through The Economist
- read international news; look up the city and country in question
- play trivial pursuit but only the geography questions
- put up a large world map for easy reference
- watch historical movies; pause as needed and look up where the characters are
- play this Google maps game; they drop you off in some random streetview and you have to figure out where you are. It's addictive!!
- kids books (10yo) are a great reference. I got a book on Eastern Europe and it helped me understand mountain ranges, key rivers etc.
- Pick one country a month and read about their history and geography.
- international music. Look up where the artist is from.
- be curious about what makes a people / a culture. Geography impacts history a great deal, and history is where we come from. Imagine life without planes or cars and then geography becomes terribly relevant.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:04 PM on June 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

My family's dining room table has a glass overlay, and we slipped a large (4'x6'-ish) world map underneath. Also, get a subscription to National Geographic!
posted by gemutlichkeit at 6:23 PM on June 6, 2015

Ken Jennings' book "Maphead" is great.
posted by Mallenroh at 6:46 PM on June 6, 2015

Getting the facts right is one thing, but really understanding is another and much more rewarding. Travel helps immensely with this, but you can do this in your town, or digitally/on a screen as well.

- Travel to a neighbouring country, preferably one with a significantly different heritage to your own. How did people choose to lay out their cities? What are countryside villages organised around - a religious building, a common green, an economic centre like a square or market? How do you know the capital of the country is the capital - wide boulevards leading to monumental buildings, the role the place plays as a transport hub, the number of skyscrapers? New York and Washington DC look different for a reason, but so do, say, Bangkok and Chiang Mai, or even Delhi and New Delhi.

- There's so much to see with online satellite maps. Zip around the Quebec/Maine border near the Saint Lawrence river and look at how fields and land parcels are laid out differently - the same thing is visible in what was French Louisiana. What political or cultural causes were there for this difference? Or look at a post-automobile city - Palm Springs, say - and compare it to a pre-automobile or even carless one, like Venice or the old town of Krakow in Poland. What were people's solutions to moving around? How much distance did designers assume people would cover in a day? Could you really live your whole life in just one part of the city?

- Visit an area in a place with different topography to where you are normally. Imagine it accommodated the same number of people as live where you are based. Would there be enough space? Enough water, enough surrounding land and resources and transport to support it? How would density need to change? Hong Kong, where I live, holds an amazing 7.2 million people on only about 25% of its total (very mountainous, sub-tropical) land area, but nearly all of our water and a lot of our power comes from over the border in China, apartments are tiny, and the density is insane. I mean, there are basically as many people in Hong Kong as in Ireland and New Zealand combined. That has an incredible effect on what our communities and our countryside look like.

- Watch the 1966 film The Battle of Algiers. The French sent in to quell what they see as a rebellion cannot initially deal with the casbah as a space: they can't control it, they can't penetrate it, and things don't go well for their attempts at taking it over. Their weapons and their style of warfare are not built for the casbah. The local revolutionaries, though, born and raised in the casbah, have an intimate knowledge of the space, and it assists them in their struggle. Even today, many formerly-colonized cities in places like Algiers - Marrakesh, Cairo, and Delhi among them - have a "new city" grafted onto the "old town", and the layout of each might as well be the story of the city's history. Are there any similar places near you? If you are in suburban north America, how are the suburbs built in the 1920s near you, when far fewer people had cars, different from those built in the 1950s, 1970s, or 1990s?

- Consider the invisible geography around you. Where are your farmer's markets? Where are your school district boundaries? How can you "see" these places? What evidence is there that they exist at all?
posted by mdonley at 7:10 PM on June 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hi there. I have a PhD in geography. Geography is so much more than just maps and globes. I am terrible with knowing countries and famous rivers and I have no sense of direction. Geography is about the why of where. Why is this city oriented this way? Why do these birds nest here and not there? Why do these grapes grown here make this kind of wine? Etc etc etc. Partly because it's so broad, geography isn't as much of a focus in school any longer.

Jared diamond's guns germs and steel, and collapse, are probably the widest known geography books today. David quammen is good for biogeography. History channel has a series on why the states have their shapes - also geography-related. Tobler's law is commonly thrown around in geography - good to look him up.

Start looking at everything around you and putting a geography lens on it. Why is your city shaped the way it is? How has that shape affected and been affected by different ecoconmic and racial groups? Are there spaces that feel safer for some groups more than others? Go to your local botanic garden and start asking yourself why plant in the same area have the same shapes and colors and functions. You can do this at a zoo as well.

Why are the shops located where they are? Store placement has geography as well - how close other gas stations are to one another, competing chains' proximity, etc. How do goods get from their place of origin to where you are now? Who is involved along the way? How are their economies affected?

Is this all very broad? Yes! But that's what makes geography so exciting and why it should be so approachable to everyone, even though it isn't. We are all geographers at heart! It just takes a new way of asking about things - why is this where it is? Questioning it all, looking for patterns, being curious - all good hallmarks of geography!
posted by umwhat at 6:56 AM on June 7, 2015 [8 favorites]

I was always pretty good with geography, but at some point, as an amateur, I wanted to take my knowledge to the next level and I started in what I think turned out to be an ideal place: I used Memrise to memorize the location, capital, and flag of every world country, and the location, capital, and flag of every US and Mexico state.

This knowledge in and of itself isn't necessarily that useful unless you play bar trivia, but it provides context every time the news or some movie or whatever references what was once an obscure place that I would otherwise have glossed over. For example, knowing where Qatar is and hearing about the whole FIFA/World Cup thing, I better understand the how and why of the whole human labor trafficking deal and by extension the general shape of region-level geopolitics in the Northern Indian Ocean.
posted by cmoj at 8:02 AM on June 7, 2015

When I was an undergrad, I had a professor who required us to memorise every country and capital and location for the entire world. It was old-fashioned memorisation, but I still know it. Here are her geoquizzes - that's how we studied and how we were tested.

Thanks for posting this question - got some really great resources for my own classroom...
posted by guster4lovers at 11:37 AM on June 7, 2015

I've read Maphead and enjoyed it. We've decided to order this Great Courses DVD set, which I didn't know about when I posted the question. I have Jared Diamond's works on my to-read list.
posted by Morrigan at 4:50 PM on June 15, 2015

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