GeogBlog: How a geographer views the world:

"Geography tells what is where, why, and what of it."  (Isaiah Bowman)

What do Geographers study?                                                                                                                         People    ( ~  Human Geography);                                                                                                   Environment  ( ~ Physical Geography);                                                                                                              Places    ( ~ Regional Geography).

What characterises the Places ?                                                                                                           What kinds of places are they? How are they perceived?                                                                              How are they shaped and defined (are they small or large, compact or scattered, isolated, bounded or transitional, uniform or varied, etc)?                                                                                                       How are they similar to, or different from, other places?                                                                  

Where are the Places?                                                                                                                              Absolute location: position (fixed, unique) on the Earth's surface: latitude and longitude, co-ordinates, grid references, postcodes, etc: eg London: 0 degW 51 1/2 degN.                                 Relative location: position vis a vis other places (variable according to need or circumstance, or over time): eg 'near to ...' , 'north of ...' , 'ten minutes walk from' ... , 'in the country/region of ...' etc.         Cf  site (fixed) and situation (relative).             

Why are they where they are, and like they are?                                                                   Attractions (pull factors) and constraints (push factors) set by environment, site, and situation;       Their accessibility to and from other places;                                                                                           Their available resources: physical and human, natural (inherent) and acquired;                 Historical factors: perceptions of individuals and groups, past decisions etc;                             Chance; (is there such a thing? or are there unknown/unknowable reasons?).

What is the significance of their location in that Place?                                                                How do the people there interact with each other, their environment, and with other people and places?                                                                                                                                                             What have been the effects of those interactions?                                                                                    How have the places changed over time? Why?                                                                                              How can (or should?) we plan to manage geographical change?                                                   

How do Geographers find out about Places?                                                                     Through travel, guidebooks and travellers tales, by exploration and discovery, journeying and observation;                                                                                                       From Atlases and Maps, and from gazetteers, sketches, photographs;                             From the Internet and Web: satellite images, remote sensing, Google Earth, news media, Wikipedia, etc;                                                                                                                 By research in libraries, museums, archives, books, documents, censuses,  etc; Through Fieldwork: data collection in the field (observation and recording, surveying and sketching, measurement, questionnaires etc);                                             In the Laboratory: by means of statistical analysis, cartographic analysis, hardware and computer modelling, experiment, etc.  

         As even Bowman's simple definition 0f Geography at the top of this page makes clear, there is obviously more to being a geographer than just the literal translation from the Greek: “writing about the world”, interesting though that may be. Any interested and literate traveller can presumably describe what is to be found in different places, especially in this age of the instant exchange of digital images. What makes the geographer’s view of the world distinctive and important is contained in the second and third parts of the definition: an explanation of why those things are to be found there (which is likely to stem partly from the environment of the place, and partly from decisions people have made in the past), and the significance of their location in that place for those who live there, those who visit, and for other places with which they are connected – in short, the interaction of location, place, and people. 

 What makes a Geographer?                                                                                     How do we best describe or find out about where things are? We use maps, grids and co-ordinates, distances and compass directions, and, increasingly, GPS, all generally recognised as the domain of the geographer. However, it is a matter of common experience that people vary considerably in their ability to follow directions (eg left and right, east and west), to orientate themselves (knowing which way to turn), to judge distances (when parking the car for example), and to read maps (translating symbols on a two-dimensional piece of paper into a three-dimensional image of the world). These skills largely depend on a kind of ability called spatial awareness, which appears to be innate and passed on in the genes in the same way as, for example, musical or linguistic ability.

Because places are so complex, being the sum of a bewildering array of characteristics and processes, explaining that complexity requires a considerable breadth of knowledge, and understanding of a wide range of causes, connections and interactions. Whilst most academics and scientists are presumably expert at analysing particular sets of data within their own field, one of the geographer’s main concerns is synthesis of a wide variety of data and concepts from different fields. Spatial awareness, the understanding of location, a sense of place, and breadth of vision are all fundamental abilities in geography, distinctive enough to suggest that there is some measure of predisposition in the geographer’s makeup. A predisposition doesn’t necessarily imply an imperative of course, nor is it likely to be sufficient in itself to make someone into a geographer: interest needs to be generated, facts, ideas, and skills have to be acquired, and the right opportunities need to be present.                          

How do I fit into all of this? I have always had an intense curiosity about the world, and have developed a strong ‘sense of place’ (an awareness of what makes places unique); I am inspired by landscape, views and vistas, and want to experience the environments (physical, economic and cultural) that underpin them; I am fascinated by maps, and have a well-developed ‘eye for the country’ (the ability to translate a horizontal, unidirectional landscape into a multi-perspective view of the world); I enjoy travel, but am not content with sight-seeing – I want to explore, to experience, and to seek to understand. Above all, I want to share my geographical enthusiasm, experience and insight with others, and I hope all of this is evident in these web pages.

               A Challenge:  Where are you, Geographers?

         Geography (the interaction of location, people and environment) must obviously underpin much debate in social science and the humanities, and is likely to be an important component (or at least a useful starting point) in the study of many aspects of the natural sciences: geographers are therefore in a unique position to comment on the world’s current issues … BUT ...

          Where are the GEOGRAPHICAL inputs into the debates on, for example, Scottish independence, the ’Northern Power House’, Brexit, or the Refugee Crisis; and on wider issues of environmental change, distribution of resources, social justice, geopolitics, and so on …?

                Come on, Geographers – let’s hear from you!!

. . . .  __+__  . . . .

As a geography teacher, one of my favourite methods of teaching was always by means of the Field Lecture: encouraging pupils and students accurately to observe, describe, and explain the features of the landscape and environment around them.  I have fruitfully used and developed  that technique in my retirement through the medium of Guided Walks in various localities in which I have lived and worked over the years.                                                                                         Here is an example of one such, from 2014:

Notes for the 'Lost Effra' Walk  (Dulwich Festival, Sunday May 18th 2014):

(In italics are the features pointed out and explained at each location)

(Please note: this map was not produced by a geographer, and certainly not by me!  MK)

                                                                                                                                                                        Each numbered location above was about ten minutes walk from its predecessor (including ‘look-sees’ and short talks, but not refreshment breaks or performances ).  Most of the Walk was on pavement or gravel tracks, but waterproof footwear was recommended in Dulwich Woods, between Sites 8 and 11. The only steepish uphill stretch was on Grange Lane, up to the Golf Club. The weather was sunny and very warm.                                                                               

1. HERNE HILL GATE, Brockwell Park. (Rly stn, buses, shops). MEET 12 Noon:
Introduction: Effra basin, background and methods; ‘Herne Hill gap’, flooding problems.             
2. Half Moon Lane, Winterbrook Road: Street name, housing and railway development.

3. Burbage Rd sports grounds: ‘Dilwyhs’, view south.   

4. Gallery Rd, Dulwich Hamlet. (Parking, P4 bus, cafes, shop; N Dulwich rly stn 400yds):  Edward Alleyn’s ‘College of God’s Gift’, Dulwich Picture Gallery.

5. BELAIR PARK. (Parking, W Dulwich rly stn, buses, toilets, playground, info).
FLOODTIDE PERFORMANCE and PICNIC at approx 1PM: Belair House and Lake, flood scheme information boards.

6. Dulwich Common, Dulwich College, College Rd. (P4 and P13 buses):
View south to Crystal Palace; Mill Pond and drainage problems.                        

7. Dulwich Tollgate, Grange Lane. (Sydenham Hill rly stn 400yds):
ditches, culverts and drains.                                         

8. Dulwich and Sydenham Hill Golf Club, and ‘The Fort’ (Parking):
Views north and north-west, London Clay, springs; Dulwich Woods, Great North Wood.

9. Railway Tunnel Portal. (Info, 363 and 202 buses on Sydenham Hill 200yds):
LWT Nature Reserve, Bat Sanctuary; slopes and spring sapping, Ambrook source of Effra; Dewy Pond.

10. Cox’s Walk Footbridge. (Buses, toilets, café, Museum, shop at Horniman Gardens - 300yds):
Info, view north, Effra dry valley, ditches and drains, Crystal Palace High Level Railway, Lordship Lane Stn and Camille Pissaro.

 11. The Grove/Harvester (closed), South Circular Rd. (Buses, shops, food outlets):
View south and south-west to Crystal Palace, drainage ditches, Dawson’s Heights springs.

12. DULWICH PARK. (Parking, café, toilets, playground, info, etc):
Dulwich Court Farm; probable stream course; Boardwalk and Lake drainage inflow; views.                    
FLOODTIDE PERFORMANCES on the Boardwalk (3pm), and at approx 3.30 pm by the Lake.

13. Rivulet: Lake outflow and river channel toward the Old College Gate and College Rd

14. DULWICH PICTURE GALLERY and CHRIST’S CHAPEL: FINISH of Guided Lost Effra Walk here at approx 3.15 to 3.30. (NB: the last Walkers terminated in Dulwich Park (#12)!  

The full walk was about  3 ½ miles.  The Walk was very successful and well received; however , it was heavily oversubscribed, so I arranged another 'Lost Effra Walk' in  the early autumn for  those who were unlucky first time around, thus setting in train a series of 3 or 4  'Effra Walks'  between spring and autumn each year.

         I led a different Effra Guided Walk in October 2015, meeting in Upper Norwood at 2pm, and finishing in Forest Hill at about 4.15pm.  We visited an Effra source in Westow Park, admired the views of London from the Crystal Palace Triangle, then followed the summit ridge between the former High Level Railway Terminus and Paxton's Crystal Palace site. We paused to view the entrances to Charles Barry's's elaborate Subway and his Railway Tunnel, and then proceeded along the Sydenham side of the Effra watershed to join the Green Chain Walk above Wells Park. We viewed the steep wooded site of the former Upper Sydenham Station and a second tunnel portal, then dropped down into Sydenham Hill Woods. This led us to the source of the Ambrook, an Effra headwater still flowing. The Walk continued along the old railway trackbed to the Cox's Walk footbridge, where we turned uphill again alongside the railway cutting that ends in Lapsewood Walk, the site of the now vanished Lordship Lane Station. We ended at Horniman's Gardens, Museum, and Nature Trail, alongside the easternmost Effra springs.

Email me if you are interested in future Walks of this kind  : the next is planned for spring 2018:   There is no charge, but a Charity donation is invited.