The Future of Geography

October 3–4, 2019

This conference is closed to the public.

As Geography Departments are dramatically disappearing from universities across the US and geographic knowledge is diffusing itself and taking on new forms, this conference identifies a set of urgent questions pertaining to the future of geography: Where and how is knowledge related to space, geography, and mapping currently produced, articulated, and preserved? Which forms will geography most likely take on in the years to come? Who “owns” geographic knowledge and how is it used? How does the current distribution of geography departments worldwide inform and transform our idea of the world, its centers, and peripheries? What shape will virtual geography most likely take in the near future? Geography is morphing into something new—what will its future look like?

Geography, once at the core of school curricula, has turned into an “inter-discipline,” often with no stable academic home. Despite the popularity of geography departments outside the US, the number of geography departments in the US is dwindling, while their distribution has dramatically shifted: from the East Coast and its orientation toward the transatlantic and Europe, to the West Coast and the Pacific Rim. Geography has come to subtend a plethora of diverse disciplines while it is still considered a tool that not only structures, but also drives and produces knowledge. The unprecedented interest in and expanded use of cartography, GIS, and mapping across disciplines—as well as the rising importance of border studies over the past twenty years—suggest that geography has not disappeared, but rather taken on new forms and formats. It has expanded from a discipline predominantly anchored in social sciences into a field of study equally attractive to and productive within other disciplines ranging from the humanities to the hard sciences. The specific cartography of US Geography Departments is symptomatic of a shift in the production and prioritization of geographic knowledge and calls for a deep analysis of its overarching impact on our conceptualization of a world which is at once globalized and fragmented. In a time when the words “place,” “space,” “territory,” “border,” “migration,” and “border-crossing” are used on a daily basis—within and without academia—the centrality of geography remains (and will remain) critical. 

This conference isolates three central pathways which investigate the urgency of an ever-expanding geographic knowledge and spatial thinking for the future: 1) metageography, 2) epistemology, and 3) politics. Each of these headings encapsulates pivotal aspects of geography that look into the future articulations of the discipline. This conference asks how the social sciences, the humanities, and the exact sciences impact our understanding of regional, national, and world geography—and how geography, in turn, transforms traditional disciplinary methodologies and theoretical frameworks. Designed as a two-day global conference, “The Future of Geography” brings together scholars from across the world whose research studies different (often less-studied) areas and continents from an interdisciplinary perspective. Each day, six to seven scholars convene to critically engage with the proposed theme and contribute to the central stakes of the conference. A publication of the outcomes of the conference with a major US academic press such as MIT Press is envisaged under the working title “The Future of Geography: Metageography, Epistemology, and Politics.”

See also: Conferences, 2019

Conveners

Tom Conley

Abbott Lawrence Lowell Professor of Visual and Environmental Studies and of Romance Languages and Literatures, Harvard University.