All Literature Begins with Geography

(Photo Credit: Ashwin Ravi, submitted through  My Shot)
Our friends at Google Maps Mania, citing Robert Frost, remind us that, “all literature begins with geography.” And it’s not just the physical world that inspires poetry, prose, history, drama, and spoken word. Geographies of the mind inspire stories as well. I first thought about geography’s role in actually creating literature while reading Ricardo Padróns “Mapping Imaginary Worlds,” in which he gives the history of the map of Treasure Island:
I this case, the map came before the adventure story. Robert Louis Stevenson drew it with his father and stepson, and only afterward thought to write a pirate story to go with his treasure map…. The island itself, that perfectly possessable geographic object, displaces the treasure as the reader’s object of desire. 
What Padrón is saying is that cartography is a way to imagine and explore the subjective world  of art, not just the positivist world of science. 
But geography’s role in literature has other facets: deconstruction and comprehension. Not only does literature begin with geography, but geoliteracy is an important tool to unpack and interpret great writing. The Alliance for the Study and Teaching of Adolescent Literature at RISD(ee) recommends mind mapping as a way to improve reading comprehension and dissect stories. Another fun way to map text is with wordle, which creates an artistic representation akin to a tag cloud. 

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For the Glory of Geography



geobee_homepage-logo.gifThis morning, the finals of the National Geographic Bee were held at NG headquarters here in Washington, D.C., as once again, the capital city became the site of a middle school brain drain. So, am I smarter than a 10-yr-old (the youngest age of the Bee finalists)? Well, let’s find out. The final question was:
Timiş County
shares its name with a tributary of the Danube
and is located in the western part of which European country?
My answer: No clue! Well okay, I could make an educated guess. Hungary? The correct response: Romania. Looks like this college grad’s knowledge of world geography pales in comparison to the arsenal those whiz kids are packin’!


The Bee was entertaining and enlightening, as any event hosted by quiz show legend Alex Trebek is destined to be. For instance, when questioned as to why he failed to qualify for the 2008 finals following a berth in 2007, Kennen Sparks of Utah matter-of-factly replied to Trebek–whose greatest accomplishment of the morning was pronouncing the contestants’ names correctly, mind you–“I got nervous.” Good answer!


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Guest Blogger Kerry Jones: Geography Envy

Kerry Jones is a homeschooling mom of two teenagers and a freelance writer who writes chiefly about educational and assistive technology–particularly for homeschoolers. You can read more of her articles and check out her blog by visiting her website.

I stink at geography.  That’s not an exaggeration.  I never laugh at those derisive news stories about children (or adults) who are unable to tell you the capital of Nebraska or figure out whether Slovakia is in Europe or Asia.  For some reason, the geography I was taught in school simply never “took.”  Most likely because I never took a personal interest in the subject, but also because it was always taught with so little creativity.  My geography education basically consisted of filling in blank map outlines and memorizing mnemonic devices that would help me remember that People Attack Irritating Stinging Ants (those are the five oceans, by the way: Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Southern, Arctic). 

When I began homeschooling, I was determined that my children would never come near a blank map outline or memorize a single acronym.

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Rumsey Historical Maps in Google Earth

Just this week, Google Earth released a fascinating new Featured Content layer: sixteen historical maps from the David Rumsey Map Collection. Scanned at very high resolution, the maps show more detail as you zoom in closer. You can see the world as it appeared to cartographers in 1790, follow Lewis and Clark’s 1814 journey, visit the New York of 1836, time-travel to 1710’s Asia, and … Continue reading Rumsey Historical Maps in Google Earth