Every subject worth studying has corners that need to be filled and core tenants that need refreshing once in awhile. This is more true of some disciplines than others, and geography definitely has a lot of corners and a lot of central facts that students often find difficult to keep straight.
Not only is geography study largely dependent on hard data, it requires precision and carefulness as students navigate landforms, cultures, national boundaries, bodies of water, cities, etc. Having good reference tools at hand is essential when poring over maps or trying to match capital cities to their nations.
One of the most important (but rarely mentioned) of these is a gazetteer. Strictly speaking, a gazetteer is a directory attached to an atlas, but more broadly it's a resource that provides information about the physical features, demographics, and geography of a given region. Gazetteers always include maps, and the information provided is keyed to the map for easy reference.
Atlases often contain much of the information included in a gazetteer, but much more condensed. An atlas is indispensable when studying a particular region, as it usually includes detailed maps of both the land itself and the human imprint. The emphasis of a good atlas is maps, though other information is usually included.
Hold up! many will doubtless cry at this point. Why not just use the Internet? Everything you could get in a gazetteer or atlas is on the Web, and probably more of it. It's a fair point. Nevertheless, we think books are still a better medium for instruction than a screen, especially when studying geography.
The supremacy of the printed page becomes immediately obvious when studying a map. Online, maps are only as big as the screens they fill, and if you've got an iPhone, stylus, or notebook, that's not very big. To see a map of India, for instance, you're only able to look at a small portion at a time, moving the map around till you find the region you're looking for.
And how do you mark up an online map? How do you internalize place names and roadways just by staring at a digital image of them online? The best way to familiarize oneself with geographical data isn't just to memorize lists of stuff, it's to interact with the material and look at itin context, relating the various elements to one another.
It's true that geographical information often changes. And, with the political instability of the Southern Hemisphere right now, changes often take place every hour on the hour. Yet significant changes don't happen often enough to make what's published obsolete, especially material published within the last year or two.
Reading the printed word and studying printed maps also reminds us that the information we're absorbing isn't transient. Borders may move and peoples disperse, but there's more to geography than merely the political and cultural elements. Because anyone can and does edit much of the content found on the Interwebs, it takes on an insubstantial character in the minds of many students, especially those whose world is largely bounded by social media and devices.
Whether you need an encyclopedia to bone up on country facts for a report, an atlas to help understand the movement of Allied forces during World War II, or a book about famous landmarks to get better at trivia, we commend our selection of geography references to you, hoping that they'll pique your interest as much as they help you complete school assignments.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.
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