Mission, Cause and Credo

Mission

The American Geographical Society (AGS) advances and promotes geography in business, government, science, and education. Our goal is to enhance the nation’s geographic literacy so as to engender sound public policy, national security, and human well-being worldwide. 

Cause

Since 1851, AGS has been a leading advocate for geography in the United States and around the world.  We continue unabated in our efforts to advance geographical understanding.  The need has never been greater than it is today.

AGS stands for better analysis anddecision-making in business and government based on better understanding of how real world geography affects society, economics, infrastructure, and politics. 

AGS stands for better science and education based on explicit recognition of the spatial and temporal contexts that shape the real world and influence how it works.

Credo

Geography is to space what history is to timei.  It is a spatial way of thinking, a science with distinctive methods and tools, a body of knowledge about places, and a set of information technologies old and new.  For 2,500 years, geographic technology (cartography, geodesy, and navigation) led the advancement of earth sciences.  Today geographic information systems (GIS) are revolutionizing just about every aspect of society that involves locations, movements, and flows.  Far from displacing human intelligence, emerging information technologies demand more geographic expertise and understanding than ever was needed before.

Geography is essential to business.  “Location, location, location” is the mantra of business, and location is central to geography as well.  Real world geography drives economic activity, international trade, and many other determinants of profitability.  Location theory, physical and cultural geography, and GISii explain geographic factors affecting business decisions regarding supply and demand; location of manufacturing, wholesale, and retail establishments; and the geographic conditions (cultural and physical) under which businesses operate in domestic and foreign regions.  Geographic methods are key to understanding economic efficiencies in the spatial organization of resource extraction, manufacturing, transportation, and retail trade.  Decades ago “business geography” was a valued specialty at Harvard University and elsewhere; today it is rare in academia though many geography graduates still prove their worth in industry and commerce.  AGS advocates a bold revitalization of business geography in colleges and universities and strives to inform businesses of its value.

Geography is essential to government.  Because an informed public is vital to democracy, the current state of geographical ignorance has significant consequences for informed participation in international and even domestic affairs.  The Obama Administration has ordered domestic agencies to adopt place-based analysis as the norm, but the American educational system no longer produces enough geographically capable graduates to staff the initiative.

Geography is essential to science.  In the real world, space is vital.  Yet, for a century and a half, science has been dominated by specialized disciplines that routinely ignore geographic space.  That may suffice in laboratory sciences where each input variable can be isolated and studied independently.  It does not work in earth sciences where multiple, simultaneous interactions of physical and human variables are the rule, and the interactions themselves are the object of study.  Integration is the most pressing need of science today, and geography is the most integrative of all sciences.  Furthermore, we view geographic exploration as a form of basic research in geography as vital as basic research in any other discipline.  In particular, we urge greater exploration of Aquaterra, the shallow ocean floor that was repeatedly exposed and inundated during the ice ages.

Geography is essential in education.  A child growing up in China, India, Europe, Africa, and most of the rest of the world gets a geography course every year in elementary and high school.  Freshmen start college knowing that geography is a viable major with solid job prospects.  Bright, ambitious students can pursue geography degrees from Bachelor’s through Ph. D. in their countries’ most elite universities.  In contrast, a child growing up in the U. S. is lucky to get one course at any level.  Most of our college students discover geography in their junior year, if at all.  American students are limited mostly to state universities, and not all of thoseiii.  AGS urges a complete restoration of geography in elementary through graduate education, including revitalization in the Ivy League and other top-ranked private universitiesiv.


i. Ask any geographer, and he or she will tell you that geography is defined not by its content but rather by its methods and perspectives, always incorporating space and spatial relationships into the study of earth processes. Geography is about understanding people and places and how real-world places function in a viscerally organic sense. It’s about understanding spatial distributions and interpreting what they mean. Geography is one of the few sciences and humanities based on a dimension, space in this case. It relies on spatial logic in which locations, flows, and spatial associations are considered to be primary evidence of earth processes both physical and cultural. Its hallmarks are spatial analysis, place-based research, fieldwork, and scientific integration. Geography covers the gamut from human through physical entities and processes.

ii. The U. S. Department of Labor has identified geotechnology (prominently including GIS) as one of the top three growth industries, along with biotechnology and nanotechnology.

iii. To be perfectly clear, this self-inflicted folly is uniquely American. Moscow State University, alone, has more geography departments (15) than all of the top twenty private and top twenty public U. S. universities combined (14). Recently, in the United Kingdom geography had the lowest unemployment rate of any discipline. Prince William has Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in geography, with honors.

iv. Federal and state funding for geographic education, development, and research must be increased by at least two orders of magnitude, partly to solve the labor shortage in GIS and partly to educate the general public. These funds are needed to fulfill six modest principles: i. Every elementary and high school student must have the opportunity to learn basic geography and experience GIS technology, ii. At a minimum, every freshman should reach college knowing that geography is a viable major with solid career prospects after graduation, iii. Every college student must have access to a full geographic curriculum—thematic, regional, methodological, and technological—within the set of college destinations among which he or she normally would choose. iv. Scholarships must be available to support the best and brightest students who choose to pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees in geography, and v. Research grants must be available to encourage substantially increased geographic research, including fieldwork, both foreign and domestic, by faculty and students.