Latitude and Longitude

“Latitude and Longitude” Series Artist Statement

When I was in grade school, geography class meant you might be asked to recite the capitals of every country, and be called up to name the rivers on a ‘blind” map. The globe was the big thing, and my favorite candy bar came with collectible pictures of Congolese “savages”. I read Jules Verne and knew all about parallels and meridians.

Much later, when I became a high school teacher, we no longer had Geography, we had Social Studies, which was all about humans, and the good and bad things they had done all over the brightly colored zones of the world map, but apart from the short periods of craziness called wars, it was mostly good things.(Invasions? not bad! After all, they brought civilization).

But I missed the old geography, the simple recitation of continents, capitals and rivers that I was so good at. And was amazed that geography proper was apparently a very young science, beginning in the mid 17th century when Amsterdam merchants needed practical information about countries and cities.

But of course, humans have always wondered about their world. Since the beginning, three questions have consistently been asked and much discussed in Western thought, from the Greeks to Rousseau – and still are:

– Is the earth a purposefully made creation?

– Have its various climates, relief and configuration influenced human culture?

– In their tenure, how have humans changed the earth?

The first department of Geography was established at the University of Chicago in 1903, ” to occupy the ground between geology and climatology on the one hand, and history, sociology, political economy and biology on the other”.

Since then, geography has moved well away from my childhood’s geographical lists, through a preoccupation with anthropology, all the way to earth science, ecology and physical geography, not merely of earth, but of a now somewhat more accessible universe.

But if I take my eyes from the recent images of our descent upon Mars, even our benign, protected mid-continent habitat seems wracked by extremes of weather, and the potential of unwelcome climactic change. Do we have dominion over all nature? Do we? and can we? and will we?

Longitude and latitude lines? Order and control over chaos. Geography, knowledge of our world, for good and bad, but, please, for good.

-Eve Alfillé

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