• Real-World Geography: Nathaniel Kelso

    Real-World Geography: How people use geography and the geographic perspective in their everyday lives and real-world careers.

    Illustration by Mary Crooks

    By Stuart Thornton

    Friday, January 21, 2011


    During his childhood, Nathaniel traveled up and down the West Coast with his family, which helped spur an interest in geography. “We took a bunch of trips in the summertime to national parks and the American West,” he says.

    After high school, Nathaniel worked for the Redwood Community Action Agency in his hometown of Eureka, California, where he worked on a project that mapped local bicycle routes. “It’s one thing to look at a map when you are on a trip and do some route planning, but it’s a total different experience to make that map and share it with other people,” he says.

    While attending Humboldt State University in Arcata, California, Nathaniel took anthropology and computer science classes before majoring in geography. “The last couple of years I honed in on geography and cartography specifically, kind of visually communicating geographic concepts,” he says.


    “It’s exciting to figure a topic out and then help other people understand that topic by showing them the spatial patterns on a map. A map, like a picture, is worth a thousand words. It’s a really powerful way for me here at the Washington Post to help the reporters and editors get their stories across. You can say something in so many words, but if it’s accompanied by a visual executive summary of the same thing it goes a long way in helping the reader comprehend the story at hand.”


    Deadline pressure. “I work in a deadline environment, so there is a very quick turnaround time. Probably the most maps I’ve made in a day are seven, where [I was] just cranking a map out every hour.”


    “Cultural geography is about people and place, and physical geography is about nature and place.”


    Nathaniel says most of his work at the Washington Post is related to geography. “I make maps, so every day it’s about geography,” he says.

    As a cartographer at the Washington Post, Nathaniel utilizes the latest technology related to geography. “When I draw a map, we are using databases that are in a geographic information system (GIS),” he says. “That kind of computer technology allows me to make maps quicker and more accurately and more consistently.”


    Nathaniel suggests taking an Introduction to Cultural Geography course, an Introduction to Physical Geography course, or a Global Awareness course at your local college or university. “All basic 101 classes give different angles into geography,” he says. “They’ll either whet your appetite or satisfy your curiosity.”


    Nathaniel recommends that you go geocaching, a game where you use GPS coordinates to locate and hide containers. “You are getting out of your house exploring,” he says of geocaching. “Geography is about exploring.”

    Go to http://www.geocaching.com to learn more about geocaching.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    anthropology Noun

    science of the origin, development, and culture of human beings.

    Encyclopedic Entry: anthropology
    cartographer Noun

    person who makes maps.

    cartography Noun

    art and science of making maps.

    comprehend Verb

    to understand fully.

    coordinates Noun

    a set of numbers giving the precise location of a point, often its latitude and longitude.

    deadline Noun

    time or date by which something must be completed.

    geocache Noun

    container used in a treasure-hunting game of hidden objects (geocaches), usually found using a GPS device.

    geographic information system (GIS) Noun

    any system for capturing, storing, checking, and displaying data related to positions on the Earth's surface.

    Encyclopedic Entry: GIS (geographic information system)
    geography Noun

    study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.

    Encyclopedic Entry: geography
    Global Positioning System (GPS) Noun

    system of satellites and receiving devices used to determine the location of something on Earth.

    hone Verb

    to improve.

    map Noun

    symbolic representation of selected characteristics of a place, usually drawn on a flat surface.

    Encyclopedic Entry: map
    national park Noun

    geographic area protected by the national government of a country.

    physical geography Noun

    study of the natural features and processes of the Earth.

    route Noun

    path or way.

    spatial pattern Noun

    arrangement of data over a specific area.

    technology Noun

    the science of using tools and complex machines to make human life easier or more profitable.

    West Coast Noun

    Pacific coast of the United States, usually excluding Alaska.

    whet Verb

    to stimulate or arouse curiosity.

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