The Geographical mind


A few days ago my daughter was surprised to get the news that she had been accepted to study Geography at my old alma mater – Queen’s University, Belfast.   Its a good 5 weeks until her final A Level results are released but the university have already guaranteed her place – but then, everything is a bit crazy in these COVID times!

This got me thinking about how I might have influenced my 2 kids over the last 18 years.   Parenting is a fairly odd process – you never really know or can measure the depth of the influence that you have on your kids until the damage is well and truly done.   Both my kids have always been naturally gifted at Geography.  Its not like we sit around of an evening and discuss urban theories or having drawing practice to see who can draw the best annotated diagram of a waterfall eroding.   Its just one of those things that they must have picked up over the years.

Equally, I have always been fascinated when one of my students continues on with Geography at university and beyond.   I always remember that in my previous school there was one class that Mike Bennett and I taught where all 9 of the students in the class went on to do a geography degree (and of those – 2 have attained PhDs in Geography and 2 are Geography teachers).   I should also add there was one young lad in this class who did leave school to do a History degree but found it did not suit him and he started on a course in geography the year after.   I can’t work it out for sure but I know of at least 10 former students who now teach Geography and have actually taught alongside two of them!

Equally, some of my friends who are also very talented geography teachers have kids who have not gone into the field of geography.   So – what is it that stimulates someone to take on their ‘geographical mind’ and to pursue that as a course at university and into the world of work?    What is it that makes some people engage with the study of geography and others well  . . .  not?

I came across an article online by Prof Doreen Massey called  ‘The geographical mind’  which got me thinking about this.  However, the article was not necessarily what I was thinking it might be.   Massey argues that a ‘lot of our geography is in the mind’ and she argues that ‘we carry around with us mental images, of the world. of the country in which we live, of the street next door.’

I’m not quite sure that she goes far enough.

A proper sense of geography is a way of thinking.   It’s a deep sense of questioning.  It’s seeing a landform and trying to work out where it came from.  It’s looking out a window and trying to imagine what it might look like with all the vegetation and soil stripped away.   It’s looking at what could be.  It’s looking at what has been in the past.  It’s looking for the crack, the changes, the things that seem to be out of place.   It’s looking for connections.   It’s looking for answers to things that don’t make sense.  It’s looking at how people live in a non-judgmental manner and trying to understand the processes that led them to be like that.   It’s looking for the complicated answers – beyond the simple, beyond the stereotypical.   It’s about discovery.  It’s about wide-eyed wonder – but from getting a sense of fulfilment as much from a strange smooth rock on a beach as from solving a complex challenge.  It’s about interactions.  It’s about people.

It’s a process.  It’s about always looking down, and round and up.  It’s about a fascination with our world and trying to make sense of it.

What are the amazing things about Geography for you?   What are the things that make you a ‘natural’ geographer?   What do you do to try and get people to engage with geography . . . what are your geographical secrets?


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