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Source: (consider it) Thread: Geographic knowledge and complexity of geopolitical events
Ian Climacus

Liturgical Slattern
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quote:
Where is North Korea? ... Just 36 percent got it right.
...
...respondents who could correctly identify North Korea tended to view diplomatic and nonmilitary strategies more favorably than those who could not.
...
Geographic knowledge itself may contribute to an increased appreciation of the complexity of geopolitical events. This finding is consistent with – though not identical to – a similar experiment Mr. Dropp, Joshua D. Kertzer and Thomas Zeitzoff conducted in 2014.

NYT Article

First-up: let's move past, except when relevant, the rather shocking lack of geography knowledge in this US sample and not criticise our cousins across the seas. I may know where NK is, but ask me about the -stans and I know I'm stuffed so I am loathe to comment and paint a target on myself.

I'm interested in discussing the conclusions. The first is above,
Geographic knowledge itself may contribute to an increased appreciation of the complexity of geopolitical events..

Surely a matter of correlation does not equal causation? Or am I dismissing it too readily? I can think of many other factors [more educated people know, more politically-engaged people know...]? Or have I spectacularly missed the point?

2. This spatial illiteracy, geographers say, can leave citizens without a framework to think about foreign policy questions more substantively.

I'm less dismissive of this, but still troubled. It seems simplistic. But maybe it is. It is important to know the general neighbourhood. But the follow-up seems to be clutching at straws:

"The paucity of geographical knowledge means there is no check on misleading public representations about international matters"

Surely knowledge other than geography is a bit more important? I admit it was one of my favourite subjects at school, and helped me greatly, but I doubt it shaped my economic and political views. I know they are not saying other views do not come into it, but this seems to be to be placing geography higher up the tree than it ought to be.

Thoughts?

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Gee D
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Is North Korea not to the north of South Korea or have the PTB interfered with that also?

I agree about most of the stans, but do know where Pakistan is. And I'm old enough to remember when that was West Pakistan and there was an East Pakistan as well. Also confusing are the various West African countries - is Ghana west or east of NIgeria, let alone states such as Mauretania. From there, move to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo. Most of these confusions arise from European colonisations with boundaries drawn regardless of the older groupings.

[ 21. May 2017, 01:36: Message edited by: Gee D ]

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Pangolin Guerre
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Well, as soon as the term "geopolitical" is used, geography is inextricably part of the game. The article has the escape hatch "may contribute." I would have said "does contribute", the stronger claim.

Let's suppose the US is in some way offended by something done or perceived to have been done in a remote (for an American - quite local to those who live there) part of the globe. The prevailing sentiment is, Let's go kick their ass. Very few people have an intimate knowledge of X-istan, nor of its address. They also don't know that it's contiguous to an ally of the US, Y-istan, but with whom the relationship is complicated by interests at cross-ish purposes. Kicking X-istani ass has broad popular support, in complete ignorance of the cross currents at the neighbour's house. The administration says things like, Oh, Y-istan is not a concern, and most people, not knowing where Y-istan is, shrug, and ask When are we going to get on with kicking X-istani ass? Welcome to the next morass.

This scenario is built assuming a lack of acquaintance with geopolitics, a lack of appreciation of the spatial distribution, and that ignorance being what allows the people to shrug and go along with the next expeditionary engagement. A knowledge of geography might not have contributed to your thinking about economics or politics in a substantive way, but has inescapably helped to provide a framework for thinking about such problems, or should have done. And, by that, would help you understand how kicking X-istani ass might complicate American-Y-istani relations.

A more concrete example is the Israeli/Palestinian swamp. It's incomprehensible without taking into account biblical geopolitics, patterns of current water consumption, the implication of road configurations (and check points), etc. And even then, understanding this knot doesn't undo it. Or Macedonian nationalism vs Bulgarian nationalism. Or the Hungarian presence in Romania. Or Chinese roads through disputed Indo-Pakistani territory. The ramifications of these problems cannot possibly be understand in any meaningful way in the abstract - the geography is essential.

Knowing where things are is much simpler, cognitively, than understanding a particular political problem. Without knowing the geography, there is no spatial framework to help frame the problem. My Russian/Chinese history course in high school had a map component on most if not all tests. For good reason.

[ 21. May 2017, 02:44: Message edited by: Pangolin Guerre ]

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Og, King of Bashan

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At least in my brain, curiosity about where countries are on a map goes hand in hand with curiosity about what is happening in those countries.

I will say that the more familiar I am with where a place is on a map, the more likely I am to follow a story that is happening there. And I suspect that it works the same way for people who haven't spent the better part of their lives staring at maps. So there's probably something to it. But for me, it's essentially the same obsession.

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Lamb Chopped
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My geography is somewhat sucky because I never had it in school (the geo teacher got sick and we had two years of world history instead). As a result, I tend to know certain areas I'm interested in very well, and others I look up at need. I do think geography matters, but I'd totally add things like "do they have mountains?" and "what kinds of rivers/lakes/oceans do they have?" and "How does all that affect travel, food supply, etc?" It gets a lot less easy to be a superior jackass about African poverty if you know anything about their climate problems and the lack of navigable rivers, etc. And a lot easier to understand the mess around Israel when you see how the land masses fit together and how land movements from ancient times on down more or less had to funnel through that tiny bit of land.

Just knowing location on a map is okay, but knowing the practical challenges that a landscape throws up to the people who live in it--or invade it--is much better.

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Ian Climacus

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Pangolin: thanks very much for the examples. That helps me to see how it could. I understand how me knowing NK is next to China helps me understand relations with MK, but I think political and economic and historical issues loom much larger. But I may be mistaken. I am not as dismissive as I was earlier today.

Og and Lamb Chopped: good points. And I generally pay more attention to areas I know.

[ 21. May 2017, 05:08: Message edited by: Ian Climacus ]

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lilBuddha
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quote:
Originally posted by Og, King of Bashan:
At least in my brain, curiosity about where countries are on a map goes hand in hand with curiosity about what is happening in those countries.

Or, just that people who are likely to care are the same who are likely to seek knowledge generally. That those who don't know are more likely to be happy in their ignorance.

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cliffdweller
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quote:
Originally posted by Lamb Chopped:
My geography is somewhat sucky because I never had it in school (the geo teacher got sick and we had two years of world history instead). As a result, I tend to know certain areas I'm interested in very well, and others I look up at need. I do think geography matters, but I'd totally add things like "do they have mountains?" and "what kinds of rivers/lakes/oceans do they have?" and "How does all that affect travel, food supply, etc?" It gets a lot less easy to be a superior jackass about African poverty if you know anything about their climate problems and the lack of navigable rivers, etc. And a lot easier to understand the mess around Israel when you see how the land masses fit together and how land movements from ancient times on down more or less had to funnel through that tiny bit of land.

Just knowing location on a map is okay, but knowing the practical challenges that a landscape throws up to the people who live in it--or invade it--is much better.

Yes-- this. The "why is this important" question is vital.

Conversely, the infamous dearth of geography in American curricula simply adds fuel to the myth of American exceptionalism. We all learn the states and memorize the state capitals in elementary school-- what else is needed?

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Pangolin Guerre
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This discussion brings to mind a couple of conversations ongoing during my university career. Giving economic or politics (I'm assuming, perhaps unfairly, "politics" in its classical sense of partisan, competitive, "top-down" politics and inter-state relations) a privileged position over geography (in the sense beyond knowledge of borders and capitals) ignores the fact that we must interact with our physical environment, and for all its being tacit in no way diminishes its exigencies. The media coverage of the refugee crisis in the EU focuses on the Syrian civil war, but that's only the most immediate and dramatic cause. Before the Syrian civil war, there was already a crisis of economic migrants into the EU from west and central Africa, one important root cause being the desertification of the Sahel. When you treat geography as a secondary consideration, you miss how desertification of the Sahel can have an impact on French, Italian, and Spanish elections.

Maps themselves are not completely objective. There are obvious problems like disputed territories, but also disputed identities. (Are Rusyns distinct or a Ukrainian ethnic subgroup? Depends who drew the ethnographic map.) Boundaries and identities may claim to be descriptive, but they can just as easily be aspirational. "Just look at the map!" becomes an underpinning 'argument' in a political dispute which ignores, by default or by will, that a map itself can and and often is itself a political claim.

Geography (physical and human) exists not as an area of study subordinate to politics and economics, but as equal to them in a web of varities of human experience.

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Jay-Emm
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It's a handy proxy for concern and other knowledge.

So you'll get some people who have vast personal experience but never actually plotted it, or got the scale wrong, and some who'll have learned all the names for a quiz but have no meaning. But in most cases, if they can draw the map and subdivide it they probably know a fair bit (like me on the UK), if they have to think to point it out on an unlabeled bounded map (like me on Eastern Europe), they probably know one or two facts and big picture things but it's mixed in with out of date info and a little bit of well intentioned prejudice. If they point in the wrong continent, then...

In addition it ties in the mountain/river/history knowledge. If you remember Vienna was attacked by the Turks, then you can guess Bulgaria may well have been occupied. Though of course there are false 'friends', you might guess the wrong story for Switzerland's involvement in WW2 (but you at least know where to start).


LC, Geography lessons do cover those principles you give, almost more than the naming.
Geography revision (for Brits)

[ 21. May 2017, 18:09: Message edited by: Jay-Emm ]

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no prophet's flag is set so...

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Nope. You may not blame your schooling for lack of basic knowledge. Particularly those who've been to university. There is basic knowledge that it required to be a human in a nation and in the world. So learn it now. Your responsibility. Full stop.

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Lamb Chopped
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Yes, sir. (Not) right away, sir!

Got to shift these bills first.

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Er, this is what I've been up to (book).
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simontoad
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I like history and politics more than geography. I had that reinforced while listening to a podcast where the host kept going off on tangents about how the particular place he was talking about was formed, geographically. I like knowing about rivers and ranges, but magma flows under the earth leave me strangely cold.

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Golden Key
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simontoad--

The magma flows would really warm you up, if you met them in person!
[Biased]

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simontoad
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[Big Grin]

One thing about travel, it does help with geography. I had to drive from Avignon to Cremona once, all because a tyre issue had delayed us and we had to catch up on our bookings. I never realised before just how broken up was the terrain around the French-Italian border. I just assumed that it would be flat around the coast, but no. It was very very hilly. I'd like to see what its like in eastern Turkey, where the Byzantines and Arabs fought.

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Og, King of Bashan

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I will say that there is a difference between what most folks think "geography" means and what you will learn in a university Geography class. My obsession is more for the first; I don't think I would have studied Geography as a major had I gone to a school that offered it.

I suspect that the article is talking about the first sense rather than the second. In understanding history or current events, it can be helpful to have a broad understanding of where places are, terrain between two places, languages spoken in various places, religious groups in various locations, basic information about resources, etc.

A friend studied Geography in school, and did a research project on what conditions lead to different kinds of snow, and where you might find those conditions. That might apply to a very specific historical theory, but is probably beyond the meaning of "geography" in the article.

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simontoad
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[scoobie-doo voice] bwa bwa bwa? there's an article? [end scoobie doo voice]

Oh yeah. I think I read it like I was Trump.

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Leaf
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Lamb Chopped: you may find Sporcle a fun and addictive source of geographical knowledge. Find out where all those missionaries go to, or come from, in Africa! [Big Grin] Be prepared to wonder where San Marino is! The little islands of the world still tend to stump me, but I like Sporcle for a fun "test your knowledge" quiz.
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Lamb Chopped
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Heh. I used to be quite good at missionary countries in Africa. Former USSR republics, now-- [Ultra confused]

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Er, this is what I've been up to (book).
Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!

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simontoad
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quote:
Originally posted by Leaf:
Lamb Chopped: you may find Sporcle a fun and addictive source of geographical knowledge. Find out where all those missionaries go to, or come from, in Africa! [Big Grin] Be prepared to wonder where San Marino is! The little islands of the world still tend to stump me, but I like Sporcle for a fun "test your knowledge" quiz.

Bookmarked for Ron. Later Ron.

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Hilda of Whitby
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My husband got a second master's degree in geography (undergraduate degree and first master's degree were in geology). His interest was geographic information systems (GIS), since he is a scientist and was going to use his geography degree to change his career and thought that a thorough knowledge of GIS would be helpful. Most of his fellow students were more interested in the "social sciences" applications of geography--human geography and the like.

DH got a job working in a U.S. government agency using digital data from satellites to produce maps used by the armed forces. Not just digital maps, either; the Defense Dept. still uses hard copy maps because out in the boondocks, internet access can be quite iffy.

DH said that he learned a whole lot about geopolitics from his job, and even got to do some international travel, as his agency worked with similar agencies in other countries. Also, his undergraduate degree in geology was quite helpful, as he could more easily identify geologic landforms and things like petroleum refineries. He retired in 2015 and said it was the best job he ever had. He couldn't tell me a whole lot about his work, since everything was ultra top secret, but what he could me was really interesting.

I've always loved geography myself. When I read, I look at maps frequently to get an idea of what the place I'm reading about looked like. I have a beautiful framed map of the city of Munich from the 1600s; a prized possession.

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simontoad
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What a job!

Err, that map from 1600... a print?

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Gramps49
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When my second son was around 10 he took a great interest in geography. Every year after that we gave him a geographical almanac partly as a joke, but also to encourage him. He too went on to get his Masters in Geography with an emphasis on Urban Renewal. He now works for Portland Metro. He just became a manager of a project to extend the metro into some of the outlying suburbs.

Before he graduated my wife and I found some turn of the 20th-century geography readers (1910) which would have been used in the eighth grade. It had the names of two girls with the same penciled into the fly cover of the books. We gave them to him on this graduation.

He later did some research on the girls. He found they were twins who lived came from a Mennonite community to the northwest of Spokane. The ended up marrying a set of twins from a Mennonite community outside of our town. They were buried in the cemetery in that community's church. We went out there to find them.

The deal of it is, in 1910 those eighth-grade readers were quite detailed for their time. I would say those young girls knew more about their world then than most Americans today. Americans have become so geocentric I don't think they can name the country to the North of the countries south of Mexico.

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simontoad
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Great story Gramps. I wonder if they have descendants nearby.

Edit: It's stereotypical to regard Americans as insular and/or dumb. I took calculus and astronomy when I was a high school exchange student in California in 1983/4. Now, I wasn't a natural at maths or science, but I simply could not do those courses. I had to change subjects.

[ 29. May 2017, 05:44: Message edited by: simontoad ]

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Hilda of Whitby
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quote:
Originally posted by simontoad:
What a job!

Err, that map from 1600... a print?

Yes, a print--really lovely. I bought it at an intimidatingly ritzy art/print gallery in Munich in 1984. I could have gotten it colored but I preferred the black and white. I guess more accurately this is a "city view" rather than a street map, but I've seen similar items called "maps".

And here it is. Mine's a print; this is an actual copperplate engraving.

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simontoad
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That is superb! And I love the 'detail tool' on the website you linked too.

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Human

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