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What geography means to me

What geography means to me

Ashraf Hutchcraft

Ashraf Hutchcraft is a second year undergraduate student in EUC's Geography program. He is an EUC peer mentor and Chief Communications Officer of the EUC Student Association (EUCSA). In July 2021, he undertook a Dean's Changemaker Internship Placement at Las Nubes, Ecocampus in Costa Rica where he managed the project's social media presence. He is currently co-hosting Changemakers - The Podcast dedicated to exploring the ideas and themes that the pervade the philosophy of the EUC. The podcast aims to delve into select environmental and urban issues such as climate change, racism, climate justice, urban development, among others Asked why he opted to study geography, he elaborates:

I originally wanted to be an engineer, but then I thought that I wanted to do more to make a difference in the world. I wanted to understand the spaces and places we inhabit, and more importantly why we change them, i.e., move from one place to another. With this understanding, I can build a better picture of how to serve migrant populations in a manner that respects them and the future they want to have.

To me, geography is the study of people and places.  But more importantly, it is the study of the meaning that people give to places.  Because the places themselves are, in a social sense, little more than landforms or neutral physical entities.  But people, through our thousands of years of civilisation, have given theses places meaning, and those meanings have powerful impact on humanity.

A field, for instance, is just a field, but humans could make it into so many things: a farm, a house, a mine, a nation, etc.  Even physical geography, which we usually take as scientific and “factual,” has meaning ascribed to it. Even maps are not “neutral”.  They were created with an intent, and I am always thrilled to learn the intent behind a map, and what meaning it gives to the places it represents.

In my preferred specialisation, Migration and Displacement, understanding the meaning of places like what is called “home”, why people leave a place for another, and so on, is a critical part of the subject.  Deciphering meaning allows us to understand why movement occurs on such a global scale, and what we can do to properly understand this movement.  By understanding people and their attitudes, we can also make policies that better address migrant needs.

So that is what geography is to me -- it’s not just about studying maps and memorising capitals -- it’s about understanding why we have created the world we have created.  It’s about learning the meaning behind all the places that we’ve made, and how those stories and meanings influence the way we’re shaping the world today.  It’s also about trying to figure out where we go from here, and what stories and meanings we want to carry on into the future.

This article is written in celebration of Geography Awareness Week (#Geoweek) from November 15-19, 2021; November 17, 2021 is also #GISDay.

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