Geography Education
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Geography Education
Geography Education
Global news with a spatial perspective: Interesting, current supplemental materials for geography students and teachers.
Curated by Seth Dixon
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The Geography of Language

"Over the course of human history, thousands of languages have developed from what was once a much smaller number. How did we end up with so many? And how do we keep track of them all? Alex Gendler explains how linguists group languages into language families, demonstrating how these linguistic trees give us crucial insights into the past."

Seth Dixon's insight:

This TED-ED lesson is a quick primer into the geographic context of linguistic change and variability that we find all around the world. 

Tags: language, TED, regions, folk cultures, toponyms, historical, culturediffusion.

Catherine Smyth's curator insight, June 2, 4:45 PM

Not really primary geography but so interesting!

Woodstock School's curator insight, June 4, 3:05 AM

A good teaching tool for explaining the diversity of languages.

Adilson Camacho's curator insight, June 12, 6:38 PM

Geografia Cultural

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How Far Is It To The 'Boondocks'? Try The Philippines

How Far Is It To The 'Boondocks'? Try The Philippines | Geography Education |

Few know "boondocks" is a relic of U.S. military occupation in the Philippines.

Seth Dixon's insight:

I imaged that the term 'the boondocks' was of Asian origin, but I was surprised to learn how this U.S. military lingo was able to become a mainstream term.  The Tagalog word bundok means mountain and given the guerrilla warfare tactics, U.S. soldiers thought of their enemies as hiding 'in the boondocks.' This term spread throughout the military to mean an isolated region, but today the term has morphed from its military-based meaning of mountainous jungles to one that can also describe a sparsely populated rural America.  This is a fascinating article from NPR's Code Switch team that focuses on issues of culture, identity and race. 

Tags: language, toponyms, historical, conflict, culturediffusion.

Tony Aguilar's curator insight, October 13, 2013 12:06 AM

We have all heard the phrase living in the "Boonies" The boondocks was a word that was taken from a philipino word called Bundok, that meant the guerilla warfare they were experiencing from phillipino insurgents during the Spanish American War with the America. In this war which Teddy Roosevelt helped lead we gained US Puerto Rico and Guam as new Territories from the Treaty of Paris. The war was fought against Emilio Aguinaldo who was a master at guerilla tactics against American soldiers. This was a desperate war involving coloniazation or exerting our power as a country against other countries that ammassed a huge death toll. Now that we know the word boondok, is not an all American word that was popularized in the 1950's but it was actually taken from the Phillipino language during a time of fighting in the Jungle or the Sticks. But boondocks also refers to a people living around mouintainous regions. Just some food for thought.


How the Canadian Provinces and Territories Got Their Names

How the Canadian Provinces and Territories Got Their Names | Geography Education |
Here's a little more Canadian history on this Canada Day.    

Via AP US History, Mike Busarello's Digital Textbooks
Seth Dixon's insight:

I'm a little late for Canada Day, but the information about the origins of the names of all the Provinces and Territories is great information any time of year. 

Tags: Canada, toponyms, historical, trivia.

Kaylin Burleson's curator insight, July 3, 2013 8:42 AM

Like Seth said - a little late for Canada Day, but we can certainly use in our World Geography  unit on North America.   


Sara Kanewske's curator insight, July 12, 2013 7:07 PM


English Gallery's curator insight, July 17, 2013 6:04 AM

Great for a little extra look at toponyms

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The Names Behind The States

The Names Behind The States | Geography Education |

An infographic of the etymology and cultural origins of the names that made the United States of America.

Seth Dixon's insight:

I would dispute the accuracy of some of the alleged linguistic origins of the state names, so take this with a grain of salt (still it's a clever concept for an inforgraphic and shows some interesting patterns).  As with all long infographics on this site, you can "scroll down" on the image by putting the cursor in the top right-hand corner of the image and sliding on the translucent bar.

Tags: language, USA, infographic, toponyms, historical, colonialism.

Seth Dixon's comment, May 6, 2013 12:21 PM
@Carly, Texas is also inaccurate...
Francisco Javier 's curator insight, May 12, 2013 5:52 PM

The Names Behind The States | @scoopit via @APHumanGeog

Aulde de Barbuat's comment, May 18, 2013 4:08 AM
quite interesting, thanks. Unhappily, the link seems broken..Do you happen to have another one?
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England, Britain and the UK

England, Britain and the UK | Geography Education |

This is the short version of the differences between these interrelated places and terms; the long version is much more complicated than this. 

Tags: Europe, political, unit 4 political, states, toponyms.

Ally Clark/Mayse Thao's curator insight, February 7, 8:09 AM

This is kinda like the video we watched where that guy who talks fast explained the uk. Oh and this is political

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Iran 'to sue Google' over Gulf

Iran 'to sue Google' over Gulf | Geography Education |
Google is facing legal action for not labelling the body of water separating Iran and neighbouring Arab Gulf states on its map service.


Who owns the legal rights to toponyms and the map?  Does anyone?

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100 Cities and Their Nicknames

100 Cities and Their Nicknames | Geography Education |
I like nicknames, they define us better than our names, they are clever and funny and they tell so much about our personality and sometimes, about our aspect, although this might be the worst case.

This is a good list...what does a nickname tell us about the city?

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How did Pakistan get it's name?

How did Pakistan get it's name? | Geography Education |

"The name of the country Pakistan has a fascinating history - it is essentially an acronym!  Prior to 1947, the country now known as Pakistan was a British colony. In 1947 the United Kingdom granted independence to the region under a new name, Pakistan. The name had been developed by a group of students at Cambridge University who issued a pamphlet in 1933 called Now or Never."

In a country with such great ethnic divisions, a common religion is a powerful nationalizing force.  As the capital city of Islamabad's toponym powerfully states (the house or abode of Islam), religion remains an important element of national identity for Pakistanis.   

Meagan Harpin's curator insight, October 15, 2013 6:13 PM

In 1947 the United Kingdom granted independence to this region and named it Pakistan. The name was created by a group of students at Cambrige University and used the names of their homelands. Punjab, Afghania  Kashmir, Iran ,Sindh, Tukharistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan is an acronym! 

Rebecca Farrea's curator insight, November 14, 2013 6:06 AM

It is interesting to learn how particular countries got their names.  Pakistan was a British colony until 1947 and it was given the name Pakistan as an acronym for the 8 homelands in the country.  Pakistan is so ethnically divided that religion is really important for the country to stay together.

Brett Sinica's curator insight, November 19, 2013 11:27 AM

When you take in the way that the British Empire controlled many colonies and tried to spread their culture to such diverse regions, it is no suprise that Pakistan was named essentially by a game of Scrabble.  I suppose the naming is somewhat creative and certainly unique compared to how other countries get their names, yet just picturing a group of colleagues naming a country is strange.  Though the U.K. did grant them independance, how independant were they really if they weren't even given the right to name their own land.

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Where The Streets Have Your Name – Now With Places And Things, Too!

Where The Streets Have Your Name – Now With Places And Things, Too! | Geography Education |

Make searching for places just a little more personal with you students...let them search for places with their own name(s) and make connections.  You know you want to try it!

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The Islands of Rhode Island

The Islands of Rhode Island | Geography Education |

"How many islands are in Rhode Island?"

Seth Dixon's insight:

I recently received this question and immediately thought that this is a great geographic question, but one that geographic tools can be used to find the answer.  I downloaded all the Rhode Island toponymns (place names) listed by the United States Board on Geographic Names and filtered out all the listed Islands (108 is the answer!!).  A spreadsheet of the data didn't help to visualize this data so I created this interactive mapOnly 1 of the locations didn't have coordinates, some are scarcely more than rocks, and this is only according to the the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, but this is the most complete map of islands in the state of Rhode Island that I could produce.  Additionally, here is an article about some sailors who sought to explore every island of the Narragansett Bay.  

Tony Aguilar's curator insight, December 8, 2013 1:17 AM

It is interesting that RI as a small state has alot of areas to discover with a map and a good drive. There are many islands near jamestown and Newport and also near Westerly that resemble the Jettey rock like formations that  also have lighthouses. There is so much to see and discover for its natural beauty. I am still amazed at the areas yet to discover in Rhode island. There are about thirty islands in Rhode Island Aquidneck is the largest, Conanicut is the second largest and Prudence ranks third

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What's in a Name?

What's in a Name? | Geography Education |

The Pentagon has upset patriots by labeling the body of water between Korea and Japan in an exhibition depicting various battles fought during the 1950-53 Korean War as "Sea of Japan" rather than "East Sea."

Seth Dixon's insight:

Earlier this week I posted on whether a group of islands off the coast of Argentina should be called the Falkland Islands or Las Malvinas.  There is some geopolitical significance to which name you ascribe to particular places.  Does it matter if I call the sea to the east of the Korean Peninsula the "East Sea" and if someone else refers to this same body of water west of Japan the "Sea of Japan?"  For many years the Sea of Japan has been the defacto name internationally and South Korean officials have lobbied (quite successfully) to bolster the legitimacy of the name within the media, publishers and cartographers and other governments.  Last summer, a worker in the South Korean government's Ministry of Foreign Affairs requested that I share some resources that state South Korea's position(see also this 10 minute video), showing their commitment to this rebranding effort.  Also see this GeoCurrents article on the subject in 2012, after South Korea's failed attempt to get international recognition.

Questions to Ponder: What other places have multiple names?  What are the political overtones to the name distinctions? What are other tricky places on the map where distinct groups would label/draw things differently?  Is the map an 'unbiased' source of information? 

Tags: language, toponyms, South Korea, historical, colonialism, cartography.

Justin McCullough's curator insight, October 17, 2013 7:16 AM

I agree with Peter Kim and others that are fighting to have the name changed to the East Sea. The term "Sea of Japan" was used in colonial times of South Korea. Now that those times are long gone, it I can understand why South Korea would want to get rid of anything related to that time period. This actually reminds of something that I'm going over in my colonial history class; the Pueblo Revolt (1680). During this time Indians revolted against the Spanish colonizers oppressing them and taking away their traditions, forcibly converting them to Christianity. During their revolt the Indians destroyed many of the Spanish institutions, especially those related to religion. They destroyed churches and even defaced the statues of the saints, and returned to their traditional practices.

This article also reminded of Sri Lanka changing the its colonial name on Government institutions from Ceylon to Sri Lanka. This happened not to long ago. The Island's colonial name (Ceylon) was dropped when they became their own country in 1972. However, the name Ceylon remained on many of the Government institutions (e.g. Bank of Ceylon or Ceylon Fisheries Corporation). However, in 2010 the name was dropped for good.  

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Atlas of True Names

Atlas of True Names | Geography Education |

The Atlas of True Names reveals the etymological roots, or original meanings,
of the familiar terms on today's maps of the World, Europe, the British Isles and the United States.

For instance, where you would normally expect to see the Sahara indicated,

the Atlas gives you "The Tawny One", derived from Arab. es-sahra “the fawn coloured, desert”.

Seth Dixon's insight:

This is a fun set of maps that forces us to reexamine the historical linguistic roots of place names.  Many toponyms have a complicated histories so the actual root of the name is not always a single straightforward translation as shown in these maps.  As you explore these maps, most readers will find something the they would dispute, correct, or want to see contextualized more but all in all, it is a fun set of maps.

Tags: language, mapping, art, cartography, toponyms, historical.

John Blunnie's curator insight, July 2, 2013 8:12 AM

True names give these maps a unique and historic twist.

Carol Thomson's curator insight, July 17, 2013 1:57 AM

I loved looking at the map of great britain.  I hope it grabs my pupils' attention as an introduction to maps.

Amy Marques's curator insight, July 31, 2013 4:19 PM

Great to see what the original names where! Especially for those that are similar to its current name and those that are completely irrelevant!

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Holland vs the Netherlands

"What's the difference between Holland and the Netherlands?"

Seth Dixon's insight:

This video is produced by the same gentleman that made the video that explains the difference between the terms Great Britain, England and the UK and another one that details why London is not the City of London. His style is to bombard you with facts which tell a rich story about the intricacies of place, power and culture.   

Tags: Netherlands, political, toponyms, historical

Emily Ross Cook's curator insight, March 5, 2013 7:03 AM
This is awesome! Learn something new everyday!
Brett Sinica's comment, April 22, 2013 5:56 PM
I have seen this video previously, and this being my second time, it is much easier to understand this time around. He tells the story of one great kingdom and all areas that are under its control or influence. With the expansion of many European countries within the last couple centuries, I can understand how people can get culture and people mixed up, even though they’re from the same place to begin with. It reminds of the Arabs, or Arabic people. They don’t necessarily come from one country or one language or one religion. They represent a vast group of people and each of them differ or relate in certain ways. At times understanding these different groups can be a challenge, but in the end that is what makes them more unique and interesting.
Zakary Pereira's comment, April 30, 2013 12:54 PM
Well this video was fairly interesting actually. Funnily enough, my Canadian friend made me watch the Great Britain video about a month ago and so when I saw this was made by the same person and I always seem to confuse Belgium/Netherlands/Holland it seemed like something I should think about doing. The video was very informational and the narrator went over many factual things including the simple question of: Where is everything? The video mainly focuses on physical geography of people but also goes on to explain that the ‘Dutch’ living in the Caribbean are actual ‘Europeans’ because they belong to the Kingdom of the Netherlands which belongs to the European Union which by the transitive property makes them Euros.

I liked what Brett said, that cultures and groups of people typically get categorized together as one when they really aren’t and it is important to acknowledge their distinctions and understand the different groups and cultures of people.
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What is in a Name?

What is in a Name? | Geography Education |
Issues in Focus East Sea...


Does it matter if I call the sea to the east of the Korean Peninsula the "East Sea" and if you call the body of water the west of Japan the "Sea of Japan?"  Absolutely.  When dealing with matters of diplomacy, a name reflects how a country is viewed.  For many years the Sea of Japan has been the defacto name internationally and South Korean officials have lobbied (quite successfully) to bolster the legitimacy of the name within the media, publishers and cartographers.  What other places have multiple names?  What are the political overtones to the name distinctions?  To watch a 10-minute video on the history of the name, see:  

Don Brown Jr's comment, July 3, 2012 5:19 PM
This issue seemed to be largely overshadowed by China’s claims in the Philippines. While changing the name of the Sea of Japan may have no immediate tangible impact on either country, it will certainly have a symbolic one and could possible pave the way for a claim to exclusive water rights within the area in the future. If a valuable resource such as oil is discovered in this disputed area then perhaps Russia, China or even the US will also get involved?
Seth Dixon's comment, July 5, 2012 6:55 AM
Symbolic value is South Korea's main aim, to minimize Japan's (their former colonizer) dominance in the region.
Lamar Ewing White III's comment, August 23, 2012 2:20 PM
Of course it matters whether you call it the East Sea opposed to calling it the Sea of Japan, just like it matters if you call the Mississippi River the Central River or something lame like that. I feel like Japanese citizens would take much offense if someone tried to change the sea's name. It is traced back to Japanese history and heritage which kind of gives them the right to have it named after them. I use the Mississippi River as a comparison because it also traces history and heritage and has every right to be named after the state. Also, (and this might be off subject), if we changed the name of Sea of Japan it would probably take a generation to get the name remembered as "East Sea". It would only create confusion just like if we changed the name of the Mississippi.
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Silly placenames: welcome to Dull, twinned with Boring

Silly placenames: welcome to Dull, twinned with Boring | Geography Education |
Yes, there really are villages called Dull and Boring. But if you lived in one of them, would you see the joke?


In the greatest toponym pairing of all time, Dull (Scotland) is now the sister city to Boring (Oregon).  That's a match made in Yawnsville.  And yes, there are more scandalous toponyms also discussed in the article. 

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A Rio Runs Through It: Naming the American Stream

A Rio Runs Through It: Naming the American Stream | Geography Education |

Displayed is a map originally produced by Derek Watkins.  This map is a fantastic combination of physical and cultural geography.  While most flowing bodies of water will be called rivers or streams, the lesser used terms (brook, fork, bayou, run, arroyo, etc.) show a striking regionalization of toponym regions.  What do these patterns indicate?  Why are in those toponyms found in those particular places? 

cookiesrgreat's comment, February 2, 2012 2:10 PM
this is one of my favorite maps. intertwines language, geography, communications and history into one piece
cookiesrgreat's comment, February 2, 2012 2:12 PM
This is one of my favorite maps. Combines geography, language and history
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Daily Show: The Amazing Racism - Geographical Bigotry

Wyatt Cenac reports on racially charged geographical names in America.


Discretion is advised since there is some offensive language in this comedy sketch.  Yet underneath is a serious point about racially insensitive toponyms and their legacy in the United States (recently in the news with Gov. Perry in Texas).  Geographer Mark Monmonier tackles this topic in his book, "From Squaw Tit to Whorehouse Meadow: How Maps Name, Claim, and Inflame."

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