Article

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

EARLY WORK

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.

MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK

“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.”

MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK

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.”

HOW DO YOU DEFINE GEOGRAPHY?

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

GEO-CONNECTION

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.”

SO, YOU WANT TO BE A . . . CARTOGRAPHER

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.”

GET INVOLVED

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.

Vocabulary

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.

Credits

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Writer

Stuart Thornton

Editor

Kara West
Jeannie Evers

Producer

Caryl-Sue, National Geographic Society

Source

Chesapeake Sea Level Rise and Storm Surge: Public Awareness and Response (CSSPAR)

User Permissions

For information on user permissions, please read our Terms of Service.

If you have questions about licensing content on this page, please contact natgeocreative@ngs.org for more information and to obtain a license.

If you have questions about how to cite anything on our website in your project or classroom presentation, please visit our FAQ page.

Media

Some media assets (videos, photos, audio recordings and PDFs) can be downloaded and used outside the National Geographic website according to the Terms of Service. If a media asset is downloadable, a download button appears in the lower right hand corner (download) of the media viewer. If no button appears, you cannot download or save the media.

Text

Text on this page is printable and can be used according to our Terms of Service.

Interactives

Any interactives on this page can only be played while you are visiting our website. You cannot download interactives.