Saturday, May 31, 2014

Inviting you to the annual meeting, and to the presidential plenary

Faculty and student colleagues in the semester system are well into their summer break/session, while those of us in the quarter system are in the final inning stretch.  Soon, it will be summer for us all, which means that it will also be time to take a break.

After the break, a new APCG year will begin with the annual meeting at Tucson, Arizona.  I invite you to a few days of All Things Geographic in the gorgeous desert setting.

And, come prepared with ideas that you can kick up over the summer, especially for the discussions that I hope will be in plenty at the presidential plenary.

The title for that session is Quo Vadis?

Back in 1935, when the APCG was chartered, the nature of higher education was very different from what we experience now. Well, "very different" is an understatement, yes. Scholarly exchanges and creating a community of geographers would have been quite a challenge nearly eighty years ago, as opposed to the ease with which we are now able to exchange ideas--in person, and via print and emails--and to create communities of like-minded people in the real and virtual worlds.

As much as the changes have been remarkable over the years, we can certainly expect a lot more to come in the next few years. Meanwhile, the nature of higher education is also rapidly changing. Technology, for instance, is facilitating, and forcing, new ways of thinking about teaching and learning. There appears to be a greater push for "professional" higher education than was the case even in the immediate years past.

In 2014, as we look ahead into the future, what would we like the APCG to achieve? What should the APCG's role be, in all these rapidly changing contexts, when it comes to the important aspects of exchange of ideas, the teaching of geography, and professional development, among other issues?  Hence, quo vadis?

I imagine that each panelist will have about 10 to 12 minutes of presentation time. After all the panelists complete their respective presentations, we will have enough and more time for the audience and the panelists to collectively think more about how we want to (re)shape APCG's future.  The APCG, and I, would immensely benefit from your participation.

For now, your response to quo vadis? is a simple one: you are going to Tucson, right?  See you soon.


Saturday, May 10, 2014

Geography and Mother's Day

"Pardon the randomness of this question.  Does India celebrate anything akin to Mothers' Day?" was the question from one friend in an email.  My neighbor, who has healthily rebounded from a Code Blue emergency when she was hospitalized, asked me yesterday whether India has something similar to Mother's Day.

In both these situations, I was tempted to launch into a spiel on the very concept of cultural diffusion that we discuss in human geography.  It was a wonderful opportunity to engage them on the constructs we use, like contagious diffusion, relocation diffusion, and hierarchical diffusion.

But, better sense prevailed. Especially when only a day earlier I had been reminded about effective teaching by Steven Pinker in this interview in the Harvard Gazette:
[Important] is an ability to overcome professional narcissism, namely a focus on the methods, buzzwords, and cliques of your academic specialty, rather than a focus on the subject matter, the actual content.
Pinker goes on to add this, in which we can easily substitute "the public" in place of "students" and "Mother's Day" in place of " the workings of the human mind":
What students are interested in is not an academic field but a set of phenomena in the world — in this case the workings of the human mind. Sometimes academics seem not to appreciate the difference.
Thus, when the two friends asked me about Mother's Day in India, I managed to focus only on the content and did not bring in any jargon whatsoever.  It was a presentation on "diffusion" but stripped of all things academic.

To me, this was yet another reminder of the advantages of being in Geography--to be able to discuss a wide variety of topics, from an informed position, because of the discipline's strength in the breadth of intellectual questions that are explored.

So, on this Mother's Day, engage your mothers, and your children, on all things geographic, but without the jargon. For all you know, that might turn out to be a memorable Mother's Day.

I wish you all a happy Mother's Day.  Special greetings to the latest mother in the group ;)

The family enjoying their time ... Willamette River, Eugene, Oregon