geography

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Should geography continue to be a part of the ACF distribution?

Yes
51
78%
No
14
22%
 
Total votes: 65

castrioti
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geography

Post by castrioti »

Greetings,

I've done a search of these fora for geography discussion, and can't seem to find much actual discussion on the boards specific to the unimportance or importance of the subject in collegiate QB. I've heard a lot of groaning at tournaments (especially NAQT) about how much of it there is, but don't have a record of what people are saying. I'd like to start a thread to bring out peoples' opinions. Basically, the question I have in general is:

G: Is there something wrong with geography as a required topic at packet submission academic tournaments?

Now, I'd like to ask the various camps who would respond to this some specific questions. For those who would answer in the negative:

N1: What makes geography worthwhile as a serious academic discipline?
N2: Do you like the way that geography questions are currently written? If not, what things would you like to see?
N3: What makes geography worthwhile to quizbowl?

For those who answer in the positive (yes there is a problem with geography as a required topic):

P1A: Do you see a root problem with geography as an academic discipline today? If so, what's the problem?
P1B: Do your opinions have more to do with how geography is approached in ACF or NAQT tournaments? If so, what's the chief issue?
P2: Is there something that could be done to salvage geography as it is currently written in the game (revitalization of clues...banning of answers, etc)?
P3: How would you propose to eliminate geography (what should it be replaced with, if anything)?

I'll answer these myself in a subsequent post.

Thanks,

--Wesley
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Post by castrioti »

My own opinions stand thus:

I do not believe that there is a problem with geography remaining a part of the ACF distribution. 1/1, or 0/1 or 1/0 is fine.

To answer my own questions:

N1: I believe that geography is important as an academic discipline because it attempts to understand patterns of humanity as they relate to the Earth. Land use and land shape has driven and continues to drive human expansion and settlement patterns, which in turn influence the spread and limits of culture and technology.

N2: I think that geography as it is written today could attempt to be more relevant and exciting to the average player. Action geography writing should be emphasized along with relevance. If you're considering writing about a great big, boring mountain in the desert, make sure it plays a role in ethnography, is useful for something or at least gives rise to something useful, or poses a threat of some kind. If it doesn't, it's just a surveyor's benchmark and probably makes a poor subject for a question (Mount Sunflower and Pico Mogoton are examples of what I mean).

N3: Geography is important to quizbowl because it forms a backdrop to many of the cultural questions being asked in other subjects. Yet can geography stand on its own, without references to other subjects? It's actually quite hard for me to disagree with someone who proposes using geography clues for the cultural (art, architecture), sociological (archaeology, ethnography) or historical (battles, strategic importance) questions rather than giving geography a distribution of its own because relying on other subjects to prop up geography's importance puts the subject on pretty weak ground, and can tend to turn it into a cross-disciplinary category. That's one danger. The other is using sole-geography clues by rote association, with no cause or effect relationship with what's being asked for, leading to the "stale clues" problem. If it's too hard for a geography question to stand on its own, perhaps it's not viable, yet this is the thing that I've most commonly heard as a remedy to the problem of geography: people keep suggesting bringing in things from other subject areas. While backing away from stale clues, people can have a tendency to put too much of another subject into geography (note: I don't think putting a passing reference to something that is important to another subject into your question is out of bounds, just don't get carried away).

The reason I do argue that the 1/1 can stand, that there's not a problem with having it there, is because I do not think that this puts the entire category beyond salvage. To defend geography, I resort to stating that in a good geography question the clues that are used are important (the clues are on features that have a significance; (the features) don't just sit there), and the clues stay on subject, while the question itself doesn't drone on like a list a features by association only, it tells how the features are in some way dependent upon or otherwise important to the thing being asked-for. This puts some action in the question. I think such a kind of action geography would lessen the "stale clues" problem without corrupting the subject too much.

Maybe people really are just bored to tears with geography as a whole and that won't work. I'd like to see what others think, though, before I state too strongly that people are just trying to get rid of something they're bored with, because I don't think that's all that's going on here.

--Wesley
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Post by Birdofredum Sawin »

Since I may have initiated this poll with my post about the modified JS Mill distribution, I'll weigh in. First, I should say that one main reason for our excising geography from the tournament was that none of us felt like writing it. In particular, I loathe writing geography tossups, whereas I enjoy writing trash; hence the switch. More generally, my sense is that there aren't a lot of geography partisans (though perhaps this poll will prove me wrong), and that if there are any NAQT is serving them well with its (to me, wildly excessive) geography quota.

By the way: While I know "geography" is an academic discipline, I can't imagine that it has much in common with the tossups on rivers, mountains, and countries which fill up the geography distribution at qb tournaments. As always, I don't think that there need be any significant correlation between the academic discipline (whatever it is) and the game, but once you note that qb "geography" is really just "general knowledge about features of the Earth's surface" you might wonder how much of it we actually need. To my mind, the emphasis on geography is a vestigial feature of the bad old days of the game, when people wrote lots of questions out of almanacs and such.

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Post by castrioti »

By the way: While I know "geography" is an academic discipline, I can't imagine that it has much in common with the tossups on rivers, mountains, and countries which fill up the geography distribution at qb tournaments.
You're exactly right here. You're also right that it doesn't need to be. In universities, geography is mainly about modeling human or other trends in a given region. I doubt that there's a class where you'll learn what the highest point in the Oachita Mountains is. I asked question N1 or P1A because I heard the following question at a tournament 2 years ago, and heard some people joke about the first part (about it not being a serious academic discipline) at that tournament and elsewhere, when it had nothing to do with that question, and wanted to know how many people believe that this is true, and why:
3.FTPE answer these questions about the theory of political geography:
1.In the late 19th century, this British geographer tried to make geography a serious academic discipline. The author of Britain and the British Seas is a landmark of British geographical literature, and he is most famous division of the globe in the Eurasian “heartlandâ€
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Post by ValenciaQBowl »

I don't reckon I'm a geography partisan either, but I'd hate to see it go away completely. Questions on "features of the earth's surface" seem as justifiable to me as questions on 19th-century economics or Hussite generals. As with any subject, the key is writing them pyramidally and creatively, rewarding actual travel or at least close attention to the Globe Trekker show (which rules, btw).
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Post by grapesmoker »

I don't have any problems with names of places being asked about as such. What I hate is questions like, "this river is x miles long and flows through y province blah blah." It's like bad biography. I would like to see geography questions focus on the historical or cultural (or whatever) significance of a place instead of being a description of physical features.

Also, that bonus on Mackinder is incredibly hard. Mackinder probably needs to be the third part of a bonus. Asking about his book, however well-known it might be among geographers, is probably not appropriate even at a high-level tournament.
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Post by Ethnic history of the Vilnius region »

grapesmoker wrote:I don't have any problems with names of places being asked about as such. What I hate is questions like, "this river is x miles long and flows through y province blah blah." It's like bad biography. I would like to see geography questions focus on the historical or cultural (or whatever) significance of a place instead of being a description of physical features.
The ACF Question writing supplement says: "The geography category is for pure geography; if a question is a geography-history hybrid, it should be counted against the history quota. "

I agree with you that "bad biography" geography questions are undesireable, but history hybrids appear to be verboten as far as the ACF geography distribution goes.
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Post by MikeWormdog »

I think I agree with most of the people here that questions about lame islands and insignificant political entities should be few and far between. The idea that "geography must be non-historical" seems to be another remnant from bygone times. It also serves to over-compartmentmentalize the distribution, leaving out good question topics because they don't fit into a neat definition.

This is not only evident in geography, but in lots of distributional fields. You can't just cram everything into "history" if it happened a while back (historical geography, history of science, historiography, etc. ), unless you expand the history distribution (which I'm not advocating).

Instead, I think the geography distribution within a packet should pick up things that might go neglected by history, social science, and even fine arts. Questions on cities, their landmarks, or historical ethnic groups (e.g. a question on the Lombards or Etruscans) could all be put into geography. Architecture/buildings get the short shrift in fine arts, but they could also fit into geography. Even a question on Balboa or Bougainville could conceivably fall into geography, since their most significant exploits involve the exploration/discovery of unknown geographical entities.

By the way, I might put the Mackinder question (though it seems really hard) into social science instead of geography, just as I might put a question on the Annales School into social science rather than history. I think it would depend on the packet.

Also, since European and American topics are highlighted in history, literature, art, etc., why shouldn't they be highlighted in geography? Would this make it more palatable?

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Re: geography

Post by recfreq »

castrioti wrote:P1A: Do you see a root problem with geography as an academic discipline today? If so, what's the problem?
It doesn't reflect what is taught at undergrad institutions, namely modeling of human dynamics, demography, some ethnography, some sociology, some geology, very little on actual pieces of land, may be some landscaping instead. Even with all that, it's a minor social science.
castrioti wrote:P1B: Do your opinions have more to do with how geography is approached in ACF or NAQT tournaments? If so, what's the chief issue?
No, geography seems to be around b/c it's enjoyable to have some questions on the topic. It's hard to justify that the geography that comes up in ACF or else where is "academic" like the other topics, but it's still a topic people like to answer questions on, just like literature. It's just a coincidence I suppose that lit is taught in school and geography isn't so much. But on the other hand, if ACF is a purely academic tournament, then it shouldn't have geography. On the other hand, ACF has trash, so by that standard, it should also have geography; neither is academic.
castrioti wrote:P2: Is there something that could be done to salvage geography as it is currently written in the game (revitalization of clues...banning of answers, etc)?
More social science, i.e. theoretical, if that's possible. I don't know b/c I've never heard such a geography question. But since people seem ok with the way things are, why change it? Let's just keep geography as something QB likes, but keep in the back of your mind that it's not academic.
castrioti wrote:P3: How would you propose to eliminate geography (what should it be replaced with, if anything)?
How about putting geography in social science and asking for 3/3 social science within which no more than 1/1 should be from one social science (e.g. linguistics, psych, econ, geography).

Note: I don't want to sound like I'm against geography, and I actually enjoy getting questions in it the few times that I do, but it's just not academic, and let's just not fool ourselves into saying it's academic (may be it was academic in HS, may be we can claim _that_.) On the other hand, Andrew, if you need people to write some geography, I could probly write a few for you out of a pinch.
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Post by grapesmoker »

The Shock Master wrote: The ACF Question writing supplement says: "The geography category is for pure geography; if a question is a geography-history hybrid, it should be counted against the history quota. "

I agree with you that "bad biography" geography questions are undesireable, but history hybrids appear to be verboten as far as the ACF geography distribution goes.
Well, there are a lot of guidelines that haven't been revised in a while. I would totally support doing away with the above-noted restrictions.
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Post by No Rules Westbrook »

Oh, look, a topic I actually know something about and can comment on substantively. Somewhat predictably, I'm going to be the defender of "pure" geography.

My main argument would be simply that geography is knowledge. It's knowledge about stuff. And, if you say that stuff isn't "academic"...well, then, what is it? It's certainly not pop culture. What I'm truly tired of is that people seem determined to define academic as "that which is taught in undergrad institutions". I'm not saying that what comes up in college shouldn't be an indicator of what's important enough to write questions on. But, question distribution should not aim to be a reflection of undergraduate curriculum, or any other curriculum. People should be rewarded for knowledge...and, there is an awful lot to know about geography (and, I mean "pure" geo - i.e. islands/rivers/mountains/etc). 1/1 is the right distrib to reward this knowledge. If you say that's not interesting or important, why, what's your standard? Those things are existing physical features of the Earth, they are places where things happen every day (if only the wind blowing).

Just like I dislike when too much literature starts seeping into history, for example, I don't like questions that are merely disguised as geography (something that happens a lot, I presume because many don't care for geo on its own). If you're going to mix in clues from another discipline on a geo tossup, you should try to give the geographical clues first (at least the ones that aren't pure giveaways). Anyone who thinks sticking to pure geo forces you to use stale clues doesn't have a big enough globe. There are plenty of clues. Now, of course, there should also be questions on things like historical peoples and land change, etc. (i.e. how geo is taught in schools) but this is clearly a much more limited area in terms of askable topics (Ainu tossup, anyone?). Same thing with explorers.

As far as how geo questions are actually written, I agree that there are way too many questions that chuck out useless clues like "river is x miles long, contains y amount of water, and is home to z species of fish." Questions on countries or regions should not expound on chief agricultural products or GNP estimates. Geo questions are painfully easy to write, and should just stick to clues that have names - like tributaries and cities.
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Post by canaanbananarama »

Meadow Boy writes:
No, geography seems to be around b/c it's enjoyable to have some questions on the topic. It's hard to justify that the geography that comes up in ACF or else where is "academic" like the other topics, but it's still a topic people like to answer questions on, just like literature. It's just a coincidence I suppose that lit is taught in school and geography isn't so much. But on the other hand, if ACF is a purely academic tournament, then it shouldn't have geography. On the other hand, ACF has trash, so by that standard, it should also have geography; neither is academic.

I don't see how geography in its quizbowl sense is necessarily not academic. I've taken several classes from various disciplines (history, political science, oceanography) that include map quizzes which usually ask for students to name basic physical features, countries, etc. These quizzes can range from 5% to 20% of a final grade, and usually at least one lecture out of a relatively small number will be focused almost entirely on a basic geographic overview of the region discussed in the course. I've certainly spent more time in classes discussing geography than mythology or economics or social sciences.

More social science, i.e. theoretical, if that's possible. I don't know b/c I've never heard such a geography question. But since people seem ok with the way things are, why change it? Let's just keep geography as something QB likes, but keep in the back of your mind that it's not academic.

This is a horrible idea. Geography as it stands is a pleasantly accessible category-turning the distribution into theoretical geography would ruin that. See the above theoretical geography bonus for proof.

Out of curiosity, is it possible to write a good geography tossup where the answer is something absurdly simple like "France" or "India", like the memorable George Washington ACF-style history tossup? Has this ever been tried? It seems odd that when I write geography questions, considering only country-based tossups, I would write almost 100% of my questions on Balkan countries as opposed to Western and Central European countries. I suppose it would be much more difficult given the limits of the answer space-I don't recall ever having seen a tossup on a major world power outside CBI.

As far as physical vs. historical geography, some kind of balance would be ideal. Physical geography questions have their merits, however, and should not be excised in favor of the latter category. For physical geography questions, I would prefer to see things of historical and global significance get asked about even if the clues are only geographical features, etc. Antarctican geography seems to me to be just as relevant as a bonus on geographic features of Venus-a bunch of arbitrary names given to uninhabited wasteland. Superlative things with no real historical or global significance could be lessened as well; no more tossups on the Ob/Irtysh or Yenisey Rivers simply for the giveaway the "seventh longest river in the world", I've crossed both and couldn't say a damn thing about them. They probably have one major city on their banks, that's it.


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Post by Matt Weiner »

I think there's a place for 1/1 properly written geography in ACF/academic tournaments. I don't really have any insights as to why besides what's above; I think it's okay to write a tossup on a river that talks about, e.g., the cities it passes by, because that's important context for knowing about the politics and history of those cities. Just no go-to-sleep clues like length in miles. Just emotionally, I don't like playing or writing geography, and I found a lot of agreement at CO last year, which is why I think we can do away with it there, just for that one tournament, just for that one group of players. But I don't think there's any need to purge it from normal tournaments.

(I do think NAQT has far too much and should think about dropping to 3 or 4 total geography questions in a packet instead of the current 6 to 10 or whatever it is.)
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Post by recfreq »

Superracist writes:
I don't see how geography in its quizbowl sense is necessarily not academic. I've taken several classes from various disciplines (history, political science, oceanography) that include map quizzes which usually ask for students to name basic physical features, countries, etc.


Yep, and I think I'd like geography even more if it's more historical / political / oceanographical. Just hear too much pure physical distance / arrangement / direction nonsense, that to be honest, just test the fact that you know what the map looks like.

Actually, I even believe that QB should try to be more interdisciplinary, so that different topics can occur in a question. In this case, a bonus with answers of geography, person, work as literature as answers, say. I think it promotes interdisciplinary research, and I justify it with the trend toward interdisciplinary research in the universities, which is taking over. Also, questions that touch on many disciplines, esp TUs, seem the most fun to play on.
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Post by Important Bird Area »

Even though I actually am a geography partisan, I'd like to say that I agree with almost everything written above. 1/1 of well-written, almanac-free, geography (including "hybrid" questions) should be entirely appropriate in an academic distribution. Just use substantive clues (not "with a land area of XYZ square miles, it's about the size of Idaho...") and stop writing about insignificant things like the Vinson Massif. Bad geography questions exist; the solution is to stop writing bad questions, not to reduce the geography distribution. It's the geography equivalent of abolishing "straight out of Benet's" questions and "his father was a Ruthenian copper miner, and prior to his education at Gottingen..." biography bowl. (I still think there's a happy medium between the ACF distribution and the widely-acknowledged excess of geography in NAQT, but I'm not exactly surprised that my attempts to write mACF distributions with 2/2 geography sank with no trace.)
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Post by Birdofredum Sawin »

There's one general reflection that comes to mind from reading these posts about geography. It's useful to remember that the distributions we have grown accustomed to were created arbitrarily. At some point in the distant past, a handful of people decided that the ACF game should have four times as much history as social science, that geography should be (a small) part of the canon, that there should be twice as much literature as fine arts, etc. Now, I happen to be fond of this distribution for the most part, and inasmuch as it has become the customary pattern it shouldn't be changed lightly. That said, I don't think we're obliged to maintain the distribution in the exact same form for all perpetuity. And the best way of seeing whether alterations might improve the game is to experiment with various distributions. I, for one, would be happy to play at an ACF-style tournament at which, say, each of the lit, hist, and sci categories were reduced to 3/3, with an additional question given to each of fine arts, rmp, and soc sci; or an NAQT-style tournament at which all the geography and general knowledge questions were replaced with questions on academic subjects.

If we play the JS Mill and everyone pines for the missing geography, we'll have a better sense of its importance to the game. On the other hand, if nobody actually minds its absence then we'll have evidence for the claim that geography is dispensable. And as for theoretical arguments about the significance of "interdisciplinary research" or "geography as an academic disclipline" or, indeed, about any aspect of the game: as interesting as they may be, they can't help but be vacuous. There just isn't any theoretical explanation for the presence of geography in the game, or the fact that (e.g.) literature is represented in the game four times as much as geography. The distribution was cobbled together, and people have stuck with it, and many of us have grown to like it: that's the whole story.

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Post by Nathan »

quick sidenote to Jerry:

actually, The Geographical Pivot of History is pretty well-known and would certainly be a suitable part of a historiography bonus. In fact, I daresay that that title is more gettable than McKinder himself.
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Post by grapesmoker »

Nathan wrote:quick sidenote to Jerry:

actually, The Geographical Pivot of History is pretty well-known and would certainly be a suitable part of a historiography bonus. In fact, I daresay that that title is more gettable than McKinder himself.
I don't know under what circumstances "The Geographical Pivot of History" could possibly be well known outside of a narrow community of specialists. It is certainly not well known, even if you happen to know about it.

I have no problem with this work being the third part of a bonus at a nationals-level tournament. The McKinder bonus I think is too hard even for that; it's either 10 points for finding your ass on NATO or 30 points if you're familiar with McKinder and his work.
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Post by Nathan »

the bonus is too hard for most tournaments..but I disagree that it is a 10 or a 30. a lot of people who have taken a class dealing with historiography or have read in the field will have run across the Geographical Pivot of History...it's not that far off in eminence from Turner's frontier thesis (actually, outside of the U.S. its certainly more well-known). but I think people are more likely to remember the title than the historian. (course, it's also useful to puncture the bubble of non-historians who think that Jared Diamond is some kind of genius.)
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Post by solonqb »

Actually, who was responsible for the current ACF distribution? By which I mean who first set it out in stone? Was it that guy from Georgia who came up with the 20/20 format (whose name I don't recall at the moment, Dr. Robert something).
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Post by wd4gdz »

grapesmoker wrote: Also, that bonus on Mackinder is incredibly hard. Mackinder probably needs to be the third part of a bonus. Asking about his book, however well-known it might be among geographers, is probably not appropriate even at a high-level tournament.
I'm currently taking a 1000-level geography class here at Florida State. When we weren't learning the location and capitals of the fifty U.S. states (seriously), we were learning about Mackinder, Spykman, and geopolitical ideas (world island, heartland, and rimland). I don't know about other schools, but it seems that if you take a geography class, you'll probably talk about Mackinder.
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Post by grapesmoker »

Nathan wrote:the bonus is too hard for most tournaments..but I disagree that it is a 10 or a 30. a lot of people who have taken a class dealing with historiography or have read in the field will have run across the Geographical Pivot of History...it's not that far off in eminence from Turner's frontier thesis (actually, outside of the U.S. its certainly more well-known). but I think people are more likely to remember the title than the historian. (course, it's also useful to puncture the bubble of non-historians who think that Jared Diamond is some kind of genius.)
You just proved my point for me. "People who ahve taken a class" in the field will get 30, everyone else will get 10. I don't know how many people read geographical historiography for fun, but I am guessing that number is small. Also, "well-known outside the U.S." is a poor argument when it comes to a game played almost exclusively in the States.

This:
I'm currently taking a 1000-level geography class here at Florida State. When we weren't learning the location and capitals of the fifty U.S. states (seriously), we were learning about Mackinder, Spykman, and geopolitical ideas (world island, heartland, and rimland). I don't know about other schools, but it seems that if you take a geography class, you'll probably talk about Mackinder.
proves my point.

Again, I want to stress that I am NOT against bonuses on Mackinder, his works, or historiographical geography in general. On the contrary, I think that's great. More of that, less physical geography is what I prefer. But there's a way to introduce those topics, and that way is by making them the 3rd part of a bonus. That bonus we're discussing could have been made better by making, say, heartland the middle part, and either Mackinder or the book the last part. One easy part, one part you can figure out, and one hard part sounds like a good combination to me.
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Post by Nathan »

well no. I said "historiography" not the nonexistent field of "geographical historiography"...

with that said, there are a lot of people in qb who do a fair amount of reading in history or international relations or the like...they'll usually have come across references to his argument (which is why 20 is perfectly plausible for that bonus -- if memory serves, that's what I got...the thesis is more memorable than the author).

but anyway, it seems kind of pointless to debate relative obscurity...
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Post by Matt Weiner »

Mackinder has been asked about for a long time. I don't really like the idea that things become easier once they are "introduced" for several years (it gives something of an unfair advantage to people who have played a long time), but if we're operating under that premise, then that bonus is rather easy.
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Post by wd4gdz »

Matt Weiner wrote:Mackinder has been asked about for a long time.
Correct. A quick search shows a tossup on Mackinder from the 1996 Terrapin Invitational. The last words in the tossup are The Geographical Pivot of History.
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Post by cvdwightw »

Literature and history have been long discussed as not "reflect[ing] what is taught at undergrad institutions" (quote from Ray). Still, they are accepted as a vital part of the academic canon, to the degree that in an average tournament questions in these disciplines may be up to 50% of the total tossups or bonuses. To me, it seems that the reason is that the topics asked about provide the background to the work done in the academic world, at a level accessible (to varying degrees) to non-specialists. Many undergraduate history courses at UCLA (and presumably elsewhere) devote a significant portion of exams to identifications - what is this thing and why is it important?

I would argue that pure geography serves a similar purpose. Pure geography, much like works of literature, is not the actual thing being taught in the classroom, at least not at the college level. However, it is the level at which what is taught to specialists intersects with what non-specialists can be expected to understand. I cast my vote with those who think pure geography has a place in the game.
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Post by Captain Sinico »

Birdofredum Sawin wrote:I, for one, would be happy to play at... an NAQT-style tournament at which all the geography and general knowledge questions were replaced with questions on academic subjects.
If only someone had the power to make that happen...

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Post by Mr. Kwalter »

cvdwightw wrote:Pure geography, much like works of literature, is not the actual thing being taught in the classroom, at least not at the college level.
I am curious. What, if not "works of literature," is taught in literature classrooms at the college level? Certainly there is some literary criticism being taught (although that's very much in decline, especially in undergraduate classes), but aside from that I'm pretty sure we still read books.
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Post by Mr. Kwalter »

Like many others, I would be willing to change my stance on geography yquestions (from "excise them from the ACF dist") if they were written differently. For instance, the following is from the course description of the ONLY physical geography course offered at UT-Austin (the lowest intro course in the department):
Physical geography is the science that examines the spatial distribution of the Earth's natural environment, with an emphasis on understanding the underlying processes.
In my opinion, if you're going to write physical geography questions, don't write them on specific mountains, rivers, lakes, etc; rather, write them on non-specific physical features of the Earth. The rest of the courses in UT's geography department are ALL on the way humans interact with their environment. This includes both demographics and urban geography, both of which in my opinon contain plenty of fine geography question answers. Basically here I am lobbying completely against "pure geography," as I find it far to trivial to be called academic. It's simply not what's taught in classes.
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Post by castrioti »

In my opinion, if you're going to write physical geography questions, don't write them on specific mountains, rivers, lakes, etc; rather, write them on non-specific physical features of the Earth.
Careful; if we put this into practice, especially along the lines of underlying processes then what we're actually doing is changing physical geography into geomorphology, which is more properly a subset of earth science. You'd only be able to write a few questions per tournament in this way before you'd be forced into writing in a way that would blur the line between the two subjects. That, and almost nothing would be canonical right-off.
The rest of the courses in UT's geography department are ALL on the way humans interact with their environment. This includes both demographics and urban geography, both of which in my opinon contain plenty of fine geography question answers.
Here I agree, but I still don't think we have to toss out all specific physical features (but a few do need to go). I think that the focus should be on the interaction you mention, but that interaction is a two-way street, with humans influencing the environment and the environment driving human trends. I think the clues could go both ways as well. Take a physical geography question on a specific river, the Orange for example. Instead of taking your clues from random islands in the flow which are not important, minor tributaries and distributaries, small towns along its bank, and other things that happen to have a name but not much else, the focus of the (specific and relevant) clues could instead be placed on the value the river has to humans. Some physical geographic features ARE important. What features of the river are most important to humans? Are there named rapids or narrows or falls that prevent navigation, thus hindering trade with a specific part of a country and depressing the economy there? Do they allow/hinder irrigation to something that is important? Create artifical lakes? Is it useful for hydroelectric power? If so, what and where are the major plants, stations, or features that allow them to be there? Is a specific, named ecosystem threatened by something humans are doing along it? Does it flood? If so, what and where are the major floodplains? This is not limited to simple physical clues, either. To use one of your examples, demographics: does it create conflict between or support the activities of ethnic groups living on its banks? What allows them to live there? Does it serve as an important national boundary? Don't just mention the ethnic groups, use clues that are germane to how the river is important to them/effects them. Use these as clues. Not all of them are well known. And after all, at the university level it is not all theoretical, as with any other subject there are key widely used examples from specific physical features that are used to point out the interactions.

I'm not trying to introduce "the only formula" that will work, just pointing out a few ways to emphasize the academic nature of geography within quizbowl as geography is truly taught at the university without throwing specific geographic features out of quizbowl altogether. I hope that this shows that it can be done.

--Wesley
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Post by setht »

I have an intense dislike for the majority of the geography questions I hear in typical tournaments. These geography questions are almost invariably questions on specific features/places (River X, or Mountain Y, or Island Z) full of clues mentioning nearby features/places (tributaries, other mountains in the same chain, nearby islands, etc.). Sometimes they even have those clues we all love to hate (average rainfall in the river basin in centimeters per fortnight, average density of mountain in slugs per foot cubed, average water temperature 10 feet off the coast of the island on the Rankine scale).

I hate hearing these questions unless I'm playing on a team with Jeff Hoppes, in which case I try to think about something else for 5 seconds while he answers the question. I get the impression that many other people (probably a majority of the players at, say, ACF Nationas, and perhaps even a majority of the players at ICT) feel similarly. Sadly, we can't all play on teams with Jeff Hoppes all the time.

I think Andrew and Jeff have both made good points in this thread: the distribution of quizbowl questions should largely reflect what people want to hear, and if people want to hear (good) geography questions, the proper response to the prevalence of bad geography questions is not to throw out the geography portion of the distribution, but to figure out ways to get everyone to write good geography questions. Personally, I think geography should be no more than 1/1 per round in ACF and ACF-style tournaments, and I'd be fine with seeing that slip to 0/1 or 1/0.

I don't have too many suggestions on how to improve the quality of geography questions. I think we should remove the restrictions on using historical/cultural/artistic/whatever clues in geography questions. I think people should also try writing geography questions that aren't more of the "name the river/mountain/island" type. If you think that quizbowl ought to have anything to do with what people learn in classes, a quick look at a large geography department (I looked at UCB) suggests that cultural/developmental geography and physical geography are large components of the curriculum (both undergraduate and graduate courses, as well as past/current research). I'm surprised that UT-Austin has only one physical geography course; I don't know if the contrast with Berkeley (which has approximately 15 undergrad physical geography courses) indicates that UT-Austin's department is far from the norm, or that Berkeley's is far from the norm.

If you feel that quizbowl doesn't have to reflect what's taught in classes, but probably should reflect the sort of background that an interested non-specialist would need to acquire to understand what's going on, I would argue that physical geography questions on basic landforms/geomorphology/physiography, climatology, meteorology, oceanography, biogeography and the like are much more in line with that goal than questions on specific rivers/mountains/islands (note: questions on specific rivers/mountains/islands might contain more appropriate background material for political/developmental geography, if the clues are selected appropriately).

If you feel that quizbowl should reward knowledge of any form, no matter how it's acquired, I suppose one can justify a tossup on a river with clues naming tributaries, countries flowed through, cities on the banks, etc., with no indication of why any of this matters. This kind of knowledge, I think, is not likely to be acquired in a class (at least, most of the early to middle clues on obscure tributaries and tiny villages located nearby are probably not going to be mentioned in any class), nor by reading books. I conclude that this sort of question rewards knowledge earned by spending inordinate amounts of time gazing at maps and memorizing lists of tributaries and tiny villages. I acknowledge that this is knowledge of a sort, but I fail to see why this sort of knowldege should be rewarded any more than the knowledge I have gained through hours of memorizing logarithm tables--they both seem almost entirely useless and devoid of interest. Hopefully no one actually feels that this sort of knowledge should be rewarded.

In conclusion, I have no problem with keeping some space in the distribution for geography questions, although I wouldn't mind seeing that space shrink a bit. I also have no problem with questions on particular features or places, as long as the questions have clues that seem important and/or interesting--far too many geography questions feel like they were written because "we had to have some geography". I think the quality of geography questions could improve relatively painlessly if people would expand what they are willing to write for the topic.

Clearly we should all start writing what I like to call "solar system geography." I look forward to tossups on surface features of asteroids, but not on discredited solar system geography topics like names of Martian canals.

-Seth
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Post by Mr. Kwalter »

castrioti wrote:I think that the focus should be on the interaction you mention, but that interaction is a two-way street, with humans influencing the environment and the environment driving human trends.
setht wrote:I think we should remove the restrictions on using historical/cultural/artistic/whatever clues in geography questions.
Much agreed. I think both of these statements together encapsulate what many would like to see done with geography questions. Geography IS important, but it's important because of the way it influences anthropology, history, etc. I think you may run into objections when you include literature and art clues in geography questions, because that is much less related to actual human interaction with the feature in question. It is a fine line to be sure.
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Post by No Rules Westbrook »

I just want to reject the contention that memorizing maps is equivalent to the randomness of something like memorizing logarithmic tables. The latter involves an arbitrary memorization of things that first require inputs (just like a CBI question that might ask you to figure out which president has the most A's in his name); the former is a knowledge of places that actually exist on Earth. To say "mere map memorization" (which is actually a fair estimation of what I think geography should be) makes it sound silly and random, but it's not...maps are dynamic, vary in detail, and contain highly probative information relevant to history, science, etc.

There's talk of what standard to apply for deciding when questions are important. Perhaps, I'm suggesting this: imagine a hypothetical person who is interested in what we call "academic" material but has never heard of that word or any academic institution...what would he consider to be important factual information? Not logarithmic tables certainly. And, for those of you that complain about small cities/tributaries coming up, it's almost impossible to write good true geography questions that don't have them...and, that's not a bad thing. The alternative is to throw in information that's clearly not geog or to give info that is useless - like "there is evidence that people once hunted animals here and there are plenty of trees too". I think people tend to lose sight that, no matter how you justify it, it's all about memorizing shit, and that's fine. When someone buzzes on the 15th most famous work of an obscure author, noone complains that such a work shouldn't come up because few people read it or know about it.
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Post by Important Bird Area »

Seth raises a couple of points that I would actually like to dispute.

"I conclude that this sort of question rewards knowledge earned by spending inordinate amounts of time gazing at maps and memorizing lists of tributaries and tiny villages."

Guilty as charged on the first point. On the other hand, I cannot remember ever memorizing a list of tributaries or villages. I've seen Seth's bookshelves, so I know his reading lists and mine don't overlap very much, but I've learned a lot of this kind of information from books. To take a prominent example, volume one of Fernand Braudel's Mediterranean will not help a quiz bowl player answer many history questions, because Braudel's ideas of history differ sharply from traditional political and military emphasis of the qb canon. Yet it seems not unlikely that a player will be able to answer far more questions on Mediterranean geography after reading Braudel than before. A more trivial example as follows: In the playoffs at the 2004 Chicago Open I answered a tossup on the Loire before the FTP when it mentioned a tributary, the Indre. Not because I'd memorized a list of tributaries, but rather because I'd read Jeremy Knight's "The End of Antiquity" (link) which discusses, among other things, the early development of the Christian church in the countryside on the banks of the Loire. (It seems Seth was thinking about something else at the time, just as I regularly catch on my sleep during physics tossups when playing on a team with Seth.)
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Post by AndySaunders »

In looking at the distro for the Michigan MLK this year, I got an idea: Why not include geography in with "Social Science"? I know that the Department of Geography is in the Faculty of Social Science here at Brock; why not lump geography in with social science? I figure that while geography does have its place; it should be seen about as much as economics, political science, or law.

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Post by Ray »

I agree with Ryan.

Just as literary analysis is grounded in knowledge of texts, much of contemporary macro-level social science is grounded in a knowledge of geography. If we accept that the study of, say, international politics is as worthwhile an academic pursuit as critical analysis of literature (and I hope that isn't too controversial), we should test our knowledge of geopolitically significant things just as we should test our knowledge of plot details and characters from texts.

Obviously, your final exam in an undergraduate geography course isn't going to ask you to identify the capitals of African nations and longest rivers of each continent, but a final paper for an undergraduate literature course isn't going to ask for a plot synopsis of The Leopard. In quiz bowl, we've judged that the latter is worth knowing; why is there such a strong prevailing sentiment that the former isn't?
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Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed »

I'm all for the diversification of social science, where I think the quizbowl cannon is bizarrely and arbitrarily narrow in scope, but I think Geography would fit bes elsewhere: interdisciplinary.

Think about it. A geography tossup can contain all sorts of clues. It can contain physical geography. It can contain History (past rulers, past battles, etc.), it can contain Political Science (President has a pocket veto, Supreme Court is appointed by the Council of Magistrates), Anthropology (so and so tribe lives here), Linguistics (hmm, what language family do these city names seem to belong to), etc.
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