What is the AAG and Where Does it Come From?

by Derek Kaden

What is the AAG? It stands for the Association of American Geographers, and it is the premier academic and professional geography organization in the United States. Since 1904, the organization has hosted an annual conference. This year, it’s being held for 5 days – April 21st to the 25th – in Chicago.

A Brief History of the AAG

Back in 1904, the AAG was founded by 48 people, 46 of which were men, and 2 women. All were “white”, which is not very surprising considering the time. In the beginning, much of the debate in the AAG and in the academic realm of geography revolved around this question: how does the environment influence us as humans? For example, how does the environment affect how people in Wisconsin behave, live, and work compared to people in the hills of Appalachia? One of those founding women, Ellen Churchill Semple, infamously argued that people living in harsh areas, like in Appalachia, were bound to be stupid because all of their time must have been spent on surviving and transporting goods up and down dangerous and steep hills. On the flip side, people living in flatter landscapes were expected to be smarter and more accomplished in life by societal standards of the time, because more time could be spent of creativity and not mere survival. This concept is called environmental determinism.

Semple, like many early geographers of the AAG, were influenced heavily by academic geographers from the recently unified German Empire. Semple was a student of Friedrich Ratzel (1844-1904), who is associated with a nationalistic idea called Lebensraum. This word is made up of the German noun “das Leben”, meaning “life”, and another noun “raum”, meaning “room” or “space”. It translates to “living space”, which a good handful of European countries – most infamously Germany – wanted more of.

Possibly one of the most accomplished geographers from the AAG also came from this early period, but a little bit later. His name was Richard Hartshorne (1899 – 1992). He was also influenced by the German School of Geography, particularly the lineage of Carl Ritter (1779 – 1859), who was the first Professor of Geography in Berlin in 1820, Ferdinand von Richthofen (1833 – 1905), not to be confused with the Red Baron who has the same last name, and Alfred Hettner (1859 – 1941), who was seen largely as a copy cat of von Richthofen. For Hartshorne, Geography was an “exceptional” subject because of the uniqueness of regions. To him, there was a beauty and complexity to how people across various regions of the world lived and behaved. One of my geography professors, Alec Brownlow, used a nice example that stuck to explain what “uniqueness of regions” actually means.

Take a look at this mosaic of a bee. If you zoomed in and compared some tiles side by side, they would look practically identical. There isn’t any uniqueness, because some tiles could be swapped we wouldn’t even know the difference. Bee

Now, compare the bee to this mosaic of Mario. No two tiles are exactly the same. If we swapped one tile for another, it would be obvious because each tile has its own unique design. For Hartshorne, this uniqueness of regions is what is so fascinating about Geography.

Mario

At the 1923 AAG Conference, Harlan Barrows, the organization’s president at that time, presented a paper calling Geography the “Mother of Sciences”. He essentially contended that fields like Astronomy, Physics, Anthropology, and Zoology, among others, branched off as little polyps from Geography. On one hand, he has a point. The word Geography comes from Greek, and it means to “write about the earth”. Writing about the earth applies to pretty much any subject, so it would make sense that over time other specialized fields like the ones I mentioned came into existence. His article is written sort of defensively, as if to tell all of the other disciplines in the world that “we were here first!” and “you all came from us”!

To me, the AAG president in 1947, John Kirtland Wright, offered the best explanation of what geography is in his presidential address titled Terrae Incognitaewhich comes from Latin meaning “unknown land”. In it, he talks about a term he came up with called geosophy, or the study of geographical knowledge from any or all points of view. This article laid the foundation for thinking of geography as an interdisciplinary discipline, instead of trying to narrowly categorize it as a “science”, a “study of regions”, a “study of landscapes”, or some other label.

However you look at it, geography is a diverse field – from cartographers, Java programmers, academics, and people who study why and where people feel afraid. An interdisciplinary discipline describes it best.

 

When is Easter Celebrated…And Where?

For Catholics and Protestants, Easter already happened this past Sunday. However, for Orthodox-Christians it is still to come. Why, you might ask? The reason has to do with the different calendars that Orthodox and non-Orthodox churches follow.

I learned from Kathleen Manning’s article that Pope Gregory XIII decided to implement a new calendar for areas under Catholic influence in 1582, because the old one – the Julian calendar – was 11 minutes too long. To fix this issue of time, Gregory zapped 13 days from the old Julian year which moved the official day of spring – the Spring Equinox – from April 3 to March 21. Now, you may or may not know (I didn’t until earlier today) that Easter always falls on the Sunday following the first full moon on or after the Spring Equinox. Since Orthodox churches follow April 3 as the Equinox, the timing of the full moon can make Easter land on a different day. Last year, for example, there was a full moon on April 15 – after the Equinox date on both calendars – so Easter was celebrated on the same day. This year, because of the timing of the full moon, Easters are separated by a week (the Orthodox one being on April 12)-meaning bonus celebrations for any families that might have a mixture of Orthodox and non Orthodox backgrounds!

In Chicago, there are thousands of immigrants from countries with predominantly Christian Orthodox backgrounds. Check out the Christian Orthodox Countries map below, and whether you’ve celebrated it already or not, happy Easter!

Christian Orthodox Countries Map

Christian Orthodox Countries Map

 

One of My Favorite Geographers

by Derek Kaden

Lidia Matticchio Bastianich is her name. You might know her from one of her public television cooking shows, like Lidia’s Italy.

Lidia_Bastianich

She is a chef, writer, restaurateur, entrepreneur, mother, grandmother, and as I would add, a geographer too. In almost every one of her episodes, she takes us to a different region in Italy and cooks meals with ingredients that are particular to those regions. In Sicily, dishes are cooked with a bit more spice than other areas because of an abundance of Peperoncino (dried red pepper flakes), and couscous is also a staple there; the volcanic soil around Naples creates excellent conditions for large vegetables to grow; Puglia – the “heel” of Italy – grows a lot of durum wheat, which supports pasta and bread production in surrounding regions; and places along the Adriatic coast, including the one where Lidia is from, use a variety of sea food – scampi, shrimp, bluefish, sardines, clams, and mussels – in their cooking.

Lidia was born in February 1947 in Pola, Italy, a city on the Adriatic in a region called Istria. This region changed many governmental hands in the last hundred years. After World War I, it was given to Italy by the defeated Austrian Empire. In the summer of 1947 it became part of Yugoslavia, and since that country’s dissolution in the 1990s Croatia administers the area today. Lidia’s hometown now goes by Pula (you can translate that word into Romanian if you dare), and she takes us there in a few of her episodes.

Istria_Today

Current administrative boundaries on the Istrian Peninsula

To me, one of the best moments in her show had nothing to do with cooking, but it made me think about geography and how places are important in all of our lives. In the episode Briny as the Sea, which can be streamed for free on Hulu, Lidia shares recipes she remembers from her childhood. Then, the camera cuts from her New York City kitchen to the Istrian Beach – the same one she played on as a kid – and she says, “this water, these rocks, regenerate me every single time. And when the stresses of today’s life get me, I just pack up and I come to my water, I come to my rocks”. It was a beautiful moment.

I have learned a lot from watching her show – about Italy’s regions, political history, when foods are in-season, and of course good recipes and cooking techniques. I completely recommend for you to watch it, either for free on Hulu or on the public television network Create.

Surface Temperature Differences in the Great Lakes

By Derek Kaden

Have you ever heard someone say that the water along Illinois’ or Wisconsin’s beaches is colder compared to Michigan’s? How could that even be possible? I mean, the air temperature in Chicago and Benton Harbor in Michigan could be the exact same, but the lake temperatures in these two places could be completely different. Why?

The answer has everything to do with geography.

All water is propelled by the wind. In the Great Lakes region, the dominant winds – called the Prevailing Westerlies – generally move from the west to the east. They travel in this direction because the Earth rotates counterclockwise. Therefore, the Westerlies push lake water away from the western shore and toward the east.

One important characteristic of water is that the colder it gets in temperature, the heavier it gets as well. Warm water is lighter, less dense, which means its molecules are more spread out. Therefore warm water rises to the surface, while cold water sinks to the bottom. Fresh water is at its densest when it is at a cold 39.2°F. This means that the water at the bottom of the Great Lakes – or any lake that extends deeper than the pycnocline (1,000m) – is always going to be 39.2°F! Learn more about lakes, differences between fresh and salt water, and the ocean in this blog post.

When the wind pushes water away from Chicago’s shore, the water it pushed needs to be replaced. At the same time, the water being pushed toward Michigan’s shore needs somewhere to go. This movement of water is called upwelling and downwelling.

Chicago’s shore experiences upwelling, meaning the water being pushed away by the wind gets replaced by the dense cold water from the bottom of the lake. Downwelling is the reverse of this. In Michigan, the warm surface water gets shoved to the bottom, leaving no chance for the cold water at the bottom to rise.

Take a look at these pictures I drew which help to illustrate the point:

Upwelling

downwelling

The fluctuation in temperature is greatest between late spring and early fall. In these months, the surface temperatures on Lake Michigan can vary by as much as 15 or 20 degrees between the western and eastern shores. The same goes for any of the other four lakes. During the winter, the lakes’ surface temperatures are pretty much as cold as at the bottom. It’s either frozen (32°F) or just covered in cold dense water. Take a look at these temperature maps produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA).

The first one is from spring of 2014. Notice the warmer surface temperatures beginning in the middle of Indiana on Lake Michigan. They go on past Muskegon.

spring

The same fluctuation can be seen in the summer. The biggest difference is on Wisconsin’s shoreline, between Milwaukee and Green Bay (light green), compared to shoreline north of Muskegon (brown and red). Both of these regions are at basically the same latitude, but the difference in water temperature is up to 15 degrees! This is upwelling and downwelling in full effect.

summer

 

The trend continues into the fall.

fall

 

And by winter, the fluctuation subsides and we’re left with a combination of cold dense water and…ice.

winter