Course Objective and Subjects
The primary objective of this course is to provide you a ‘working understanding’ of the contemporary nature of Geography, which means I am interested in considering Geography as it is practiced. My department expects this course, Frontiers in Geography, to be a ‘capstone’ experience, although none of us really knows what that means. It can be interpreted in a variety of ways and the faculty of our department have tried many of them while teaching this course, based to a great extent upon their own respective personal and academic histories, styles, personalities, and general sense of what is important and what is not. None of them are wrong.
The route I have chosen is a ‘working understanding’, which it is hoped, will complement and supplement what you have been studying for these last few years.
I begin with the simplest of questions—What is Geography?—and then provide a set of fundamentals that will help answer the question, thus providing a ‘working’ understanding:
It is a set of concepts
It is a frame for study
It is a discipline
It is a university subject
It is a job
1) Concepts. In this section we provide an overview of the nature of the discipline—“what are the fundamental precepts that define Geography?” To some extent this is a summary and gathering together of ideas that surround what you have been doing for the last few years as a Geography major. At the same time it is my opportunity to stress my favorite geo-concept: Place, perhaps along with space, its little stepsister.
2) Frame. We use these concepts to help frame our study of geographic processes, especially in terms of the patterns of human activity. Such a framing will help illuminate the essences of these processes. For the purposes of this class we will focus primarily on ‘place’ in research focused on the example of tourism. The focus of your final capstone paper and most of your readings will be here, therefore, on the subject called “A Geography of Tourism”, framed within the concept of place.
3) Discipline. We will discuss Geography as a contemporary academic discipline in terms of its history, associations, journals, and departments.
4) University. The heart and history of a discipline begins with the university. Here we will talk about the contemporary nature of the American University, especially in this contentious political and economic era; issues of note at the national, state, and UT levels will be discussed. We do so to understand the home of Geography, but we will spend time on issues that may not have immediate relevance to our discipline.
5) Job. Several of you will be disappointed that this course is not centered on getting you a job. In fact, we won’t spend much time on the subject at all. Why? Because basically it is not within my purview; the truth be known, I don’t know much about that subject, which is true of most of my colleagues. This goes back to our subject of the University (above); more on that later. But we will not ignore it. We will work on your resumes, discuss ways you can aggressively engage the lousy market out there, consider issues of cover letters and interviewing, and we will bring people into the classroom who can help provide us some practicalities of the search. We will also discuss graduate school. Here I can help much more, although if the past is any predictor fewer than five or six of you will be immediately interested. We’ll play that one by ear.
The discussion of these five issues will be linear in the most general sense, but because they are often so closely intertwined we will integrate them at times. Also, I cannot assign a specific amount of time for each subject—although the system often asks that I do—because we reserve the right to spend more or less time on individual subjects as we see fit, once we are there. No worries; it will work.