[Geowanking] Idea for a Neogeographers meet Paleogeographers panel at Where 2.0

Eric Wolf ebwolf at gmail.com
Sun Nov 23 11:09:57 PST 2008

Rather than thinking of neo vs. paleo as divisive, I think it's helpful to
assume the perspective of the folks calling themselves "neo" geographers. I
believe, from their perspective that this "geography" which is mostly
embodied as web-based cartography is a new (or "neo") thing. But it's new on
two counts:

1. It's new to the practitioners. They are the amateurs in terms of
geography but they are NOT amateurs in terms of technology.

2. This technology democratizes cartography in a way not seen since
Guttenberg made it possible for more people to have maps. In that sense, it
is new or "neo".

Regards to Geography as a discipline: In the realm of academia, neogeography
does not mean to supplant Geography. But to simply say:

"There is a new field for geography to research. Nothing more and nothing
less in my eyes."

Is to underestimate the significance of democratized cartography. And for

"Mapping and spatial analysis methods didn't simply appear out of thin air
to become mashable through an API. "

It is admirable that you make efforts to get your software out as FOSS - but
that's actually not that common in academic Geography. So many academics
keep their software and data a closely held secret. They publish analysis
methods but only in venues that other academics participate in.  What
happens is methods and APIs do "simply appear out of thin air" as these FOSS
"hackers" reinvent the methods that are published in an inaccessible manner.
Even APIs get supplanted because the overly formalized, academic APIs like
OGC appear too complex (thus we get the Google API and the OpenStreetMap
API). Further, many FOSS "hackers" are brilliant thinkers with a strong
dislike of academia. They dropped out of college because the CompSci
department taught decades old material in a very slow pedagogy.

I believe is it very important for us Paleogeographers to wear the name with
honor and embrace the efforts of the Neogeographers. We do carry with us
much hard-fought knowledge and wisdom that the Neogeographers would benefit
from. But, at the same time, if we don't make it accessible in a manner THEY
get, then the Neogeographers will stumble their own way along backed by
Billion$ in Venture Capital and Millions of code contributors.

Geography has always struggled in defining itself. To throw up walls because
of a definition being given it by a massively productive culture would, I
think, be another blow against the discipline.


Eric B. Wolf                          720-209-6818
USGS Geographer
Center of Excellence in GIScience
PhD Student
CU-Boulder - Geography
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