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Volume 17, Number 2

 Volume 17 (2015) Number 2

Geography, History, and True Education
Walter A. McDougall


A Message from the Editor

“Geography, History and True Education”

In an earlier issue[1] I wrote about my concerns relating to the sharply increasing dichotomy between school geography and university geography. At the university level we seem to be reinventing ourselves as geoscience and our tools are in the broad basket called “geospatial technology.” Gone or going is regional geography, human geography as well as basic map reading and use. GIS is the new tool of choice. From 2006 to 2012, 26 percent of all the jobs offered in the AAG’s Jobs in Geography called for some type of specialization in GIS. Process oriented physical geography appears more and more in the list of faculty specialties in the AAG Guide to Geography Programs and many departments have changed their name to Geoscience. So what? Change is the constant with which we live. A study of the history of geography shows that the current “change” is but the most recent, following a long list of identity modifiers such as location, place, resources, commercial, environmental determinism, quantitative, post-modern, social, feminist, Marxist, etc., all of which have to some extent redefined or reoriented our discipline.


Through all of this, school geography has remained remarkably stable. Since 1916, geography K-12 has been part of the social studies and, as such, its existence continues to be tied to history, civics and economics, with sidebar attention paid to sociology, anthropology and psychology. The emphasis has always been on humans and the social studies have been designed to help create good citizens for the future.


The formal definition of the social studies, adopted by the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) is, “…the integrated study of the social sciences and humanities to promote civic competence.” (NCSS, Expectations of Excellence). Further, NCSS stresses that, “social studies promotes knowledge of an involvement in civic affairs.” Civic issues are by nature multi-disciplinary and thus require students to pursue a multidisciplinary education.


One might argue that history and geography are the two most important subjects included in the social studies, and that one cannot be sensibly understood without the other.


In 2001, with a small grant from the Fordham Foundation, the Gilbert M. Grosvenor Center for Geographic Education, produced a combined history/geography curriculum guide called, “Time and Space Convergence: A Joint U.S. History-Geography Curriculum” (Boehm, Saxe and Rutherford). [2] The U.S. History framework was chronological with important geographical concepts inserted when appropriate. For example, the Civil War years were buttressed with commentary on unequal resources between the North and the South, disparity in manufacturing capacity, and substantial differences in transport systems, use of the land, ports and hinterlands, all matters of geographical significance and all matters that were capable of making history more robust and realistic.


As part of that project, a number of essays were commissioned involving geography and its place in the social studies curriculum. One essay, written by an historian, has lasting value because it emphasizes the symbiotic relationship between history and geography. Walter A. McDougall, in “Geography, History and True Education,” states brilliantly the logic behind coexistent geography and history. He makes a strong case that the two subjects simultaneously bring insight into civic issues, and by so doing creates a strong argument in support of a social studies program in which geography and history, taught together, result in true education.


McDougall’s essay, reprinted in this issue of Research in Geographic Education, will remind geographers of their responsibility to teach traditional geography, to give focus to historical events and to social and civic issues. His essay is a vibrant reminder that the changes taking place in university geography have not made their way down to school geography and perhaps never should.



Richard G. Boehm

Jesse H. Jones Distinguished Chair in Geographic Education

                                                                Editor, Research in Geographic Education







[1] Boehm, Richard G (2015). “On Matters of Concern”. Research in Geographic Education. Vol. 17, No. 1, pp. 15-19

[2] Boehm, Richard G., David Saxe and David Rutherford. (2003). “Time and Space Convergence: A Joint U.S. History-Geography Curriculum. Grosvenor Center for Geographic Education.