GSC is Going Green!

The Geographic Society of Chicago is Going Green!

We’re proud to be a 2017 sponsor of the Village of Wilmette’s Going Green Matters initiative. Going Green is designed to encourage residents of Wilmette and the Chicagoland area to consider their impact on the environment and change what they can to make their community more sustainable. Some of these ways include:

  • LED lighting
  • Energy-efficient homes
  • Solar energy
  • Active transportation
  • Clean, green cars
  • Natural yards and native habitat
  • Parks and open spaces
  • Storm water management
  • Water conservation
  • Edible gardens and smart food choices
  • Waste reduction and recycling

Learn more about the Going Green Matters movement here.

To promote this movement, Go-Green Wilmette and the Village of Wilmette will be hosting a Going Green Matters community event on Sunday, March 12. The Geographic Society of Chicago will be there – will you?

The event is FREE and will be held at Michigan Shores Club (911 Michigan Avenue) in Wilmette from 12pm – 4pm. This fair will include exhibits such as:

  • Environmental Graphiti Art Exhibit by artist Alisa Singer
  • Native Plant Sale
  • Raffle and Auction Prizes
  • Household Battery Recycling
  • The Geographic Society of Chicago’s Geosphere!

The event is for all ages and has something for everyone! For questions regarding the event, contact


We hope to see you there!

February Travelogue: Belgium and Luxembourg

The next travelogue in our 2017 Winter Series is tomorrow!

Join us tomorrow at 1pm in Chicago Cultural Center’s Renaissance Room to hear Ralph Danielsen’s presentation on Belgium and Luxembourg. More information about the talk can be found below:

“Belgium & Luxembourg are a perfect microcosm of the best of Europe, with a long history right up to and especially including last century’s world wars.

We’ll visit some of these battle sights and somber monuments, as well as the world’s most beautiful town squares, marvelous medieval towns, imposing castles, ancient art, and dramatic architecture. Highlights include EU capital Brussels, Bastogne, and bewitching Bruges.”

We will see you there!

The Electoral College Explained

by Emily Speelman

The United States is in the last leg of the 2016 Presidential Election and, as November 8 approaches, “The Race to 270” is on. But what does this phrase mean? How does is apply to the everyday voter? And what role does geography play in this race?

“The Race to 270” refers to the number of votes a presidential candidate must win in the Electoral College to secure the presidency. There are a total of 538 members in the college and, to become president, candidates must earn 50% + 1 of their votes. Electors are appointed by their state and the number of electors is equal to their state’s number of representatives in Congress, giving each state a minimum of 3 (accounting for two senators and at least one representative in Congress per state).

Image from National Geographic:

Image from National Geographic:

Rather than voting directly for their desired candidates, citizens cast their ballot to the electors, telling them who to vote for. Based on this popular vote, the state’s electors put all their votes toward the majority candidate. Even if the candidate wins by only 51%, state’s “winner-take-all” policy dedicates that all the state’s electoral college votes can only go to the majority winner.

This applies to all states except Maine and Nebraska, who use Congressional Districts to determine electoral votes. Maine has four electoral votes and two congressional districts: the winner of each district gets at one vote and the statewide winner automatically gets two of the four. Nebraska, with its three electoral votes, has a similar system: the statewide winner gets two votes and the district winner gets the third. It is possible for the votes to split, which is important to note in a close election like this years.

While this sounds pretty straightforward, there are some problems with this system:

  1. Unequal voter power: As previously mentioned, a state’s number of electors is determined by its number of representatives in Congress. With each state getting a minimum of one, the number of house representatives are decided by a state’s total population. By giving each state three electoral votes (to account for the two senators), voting power is unequally distributed amongst the population, which can have a big impact on the election. Votes from states with lower populations (such as Vermont and Wyoming) have more power representation in the Electoral College than their population calls. They receive electoral votes that should belong to states with bigger populations, like California and Texas. Therefore, the individual votes of these smaller population states are giving more weight in determine who their state’s’ electoral votes go.
  2. Problems with a winner-take-all system: The winner-take-all system can greatly misrepresent the popular vote. With this system, the majority candidate in most states gets all of their electoral votes, no matter how much or little they won by. Therefore, the candidate needs to win states votes more than people’s votes.  This can make a massive difference when the nationwide popular vote is calculated, potentially swaying the election results. This occurred in 1876, 1888, and 2000, where the candidate won less than half of the popular vote, but won the election due to the Electoral College’s rules. To see this explained, CGP Grey made video exploring it here.
  3. Missing American Votes: There are a huge amount of American votes missing from each election. Why? This is because US territories are not allowed to vote in the election, with the exception of the District of Columbia (which was only granted in 1964). The territories of Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands, and US Virgin Islands are not granted Electoral College votes because they are not states. They are, however, US citizens and over 4 million people live here (which is more people than live in the city of Chicago!).

While the Electoral College has its problems, every vote counts in an election. The deadline to register online or by mail in Illinois is October 12 so make sure you are registered and make your voice heard on November 8.


Questions about how to vote in Illinois? Click here for a video explaining IL deadlines, absentee ballots, and more!


For more information on the Electoral College, see the videos and articles below:

A Breakdown of the Electoral College:

How the Electoral College Works:

The Trouble with the Electoral Collage:

History of US Elections:

A COOL Summer

Hello Backyard Geographer readers! My name is Emily Speelman and I am the Social Media Intern for GSC for the 2016-2017 year. I’m excited to share what we’re doing at the Geographic Society with you. While I am new to this position, I’ve been working with the Geographic Society since June through a program called COOL Summer Learning Experience in Waukegan, IL.

COOL is a six-week program for kids ranging from 3rd to 8th grade that focuses on environmental science and teaching sustainable practices. The program’s goal is to enhance students’ skills in science and learn more about the environment around them. This summer’s theme was “Our Footprints on the Earth,” teaching students about their ecological footprint and how they can minimize their footprint through responsible utilization of resources such as soil, water, and air. There were usually 40-55 kids in attendance each day throughout the summer, split into three different classes (3/4, 5/6, 7/8).

My role at COOL was the GIS/GPS Intern. Two days a week, I helped plan and lead GPS-based activities. I worked closely with the teaching staff to show students how to use GPS units (Earthmate PN-40s), explain how GIS/GPS are used to study the environment, and execute GPS activities that expanded on their classroom material. After collecting data in the field, students brought it into ArcOnline to create maps showcasing their results. These maps were used not only for everyday classroom work, but also for their final program at the end of the summer.

We spent the summer studying a variety of topics and traveling throughout the surrounding area to study phenomena such as pollution, water quality, and neighborhood plant life. Some of my favorite projects we worked on were: collecting water samples at Bevier Park and Waukegan North Beach; walking around the neighborhood cleaning up and marking different types of litter; studying carbon footprints by country through ArcOnline; and visiting Illinois Beach State Park to collect soil samples. These projects connected information from the classroom into interactive, exciting projects to show students how ecological consciousness can be incorporated in their everyday activities. I loved spending one-on-one time with the students, getting to know them as they learned and grew this summer.

One of my key takeaway from this summer was how important GIS/GPS is for younger generations to learn. I was amazed at how enthusiastic and excited the students were about it: the students loved working in ArcOnline. They search through the maps, customizing them to properly show the data they collected. The students caught on quickly, often moving on to the next step of a project without needing guidance. The same goes for the GPS units. Since GSC has worked COOL for a few years, some third and fourth year students already had experience and were able to assist others when collecting data on site. They gladly accepted the work at hand and everyone got a chance to operate the units.

I had a great time working at COOL this summer. I was constantly amazed by the students’ ideas and willingness to work on class projects (even though it was their summer break!). Some of their final projects, data and maps created by students, can be seen below:

3rd/4th Final Project5th/6th Grade Final Project