Monday, April 7, 2008


One thing the article about geographic space I discussed a couple posts ago didn't discuss was what exactly "geographic space" means. I'm going to take my own stab at it, pointing out that it has to do with scale. Geographic space is space described at a scale within which humans can move, and within which there are features which are static from a human perspective.

The scale of the geographic space has a minimum... a soft minumum, but you wouldn't describe the contents of a microscope slide as "geographic," except in a metaphoric sense. On the surface of the earth, there is no limit, but geography stops when we get only a few miles above the surface of the earth. There are planetary geographies, but again these are chiefly concerned with the surfaces of the planets.

Permanence is the other feature of geography. In geographic terms, we think of deserts, mountains, rivers and oceans as relatively fixed features. Of course we may describe their development over time, but we don't, for example, look at the condition of the grass on our lawn at any given moment as "geographic," but we do think of the more-or-less permanent fact of that lawn as geographic. In a street map, we don't show where the cars are at any given moment (unless these precise positions are the "foreground" action of the map), though when driving on that road we may find the cars' positions very important.

What I'm getting at is that geography (and cartography to the extent it is the visual arm of geography) is very specifically human in scale. An ant's geography would be more like a gardener's plan, and to a geological feature, much of what we describe would be as transitory as traffic on a street is to us.