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Mapping Life: What’s New in BYU’s Geography Department

Geography is the study of places and features on the earth and the relationships between human, physical, and biological systems. Human systems include cultures, migration, politics, and economics. Physical systems include landforms, climates, and rivers. Biological systems include animal and plant species, ecosystems, and adaptations. Geography bridges the divide between the social, physical, and biological sciences, and geographers study these systems from a spatial perspective. This perspective focuses on the spatial dimension of these systems and seeks to answer questions such as “Where is it? Why did it occur here? What might happen next?” It is a big discipline, broad in its consideration of so many factors. Because it is so broad, and deals with things that seem to be relatively immutable, it may not seem like anything new ever happens in geography. But it does. Our geography department has been doing some neat new things:

Mapping Mormonism

Dr. Brandon Plewe recently completed the second edition of ‘Mapping Mormonism – an Atlas of Latter-day Saint History.’ This atlas was the result of a multi-year effort to spatially describe the church’s history since its inception in 1830. It has over 500 maps and figures that allow readers to visualize the growth and other characteristics of the church during this time. Mapping Mormonism has received the “Book of the Year Award” from the Mormon History Association and the “Best Atlas of 2012” from the Cartography and Geographic Information Society. In addition, the atlas has been positively reviewed in a number of outlets, including Cartographica, Library Journal and BYU Magazine. Further, the atlas was featured in a Deseret News article “Mapping Mormonism: Award-winning atlas tracks the LDS movement.”

Mapping Mormonism Plewe

Mapping Software

Geographic Information Systems, or GIS software, allows people to view, understand, question, interpret, and visualize the world in ways that reveal relationships, patterns, and trends in the form of maps, globes, reports, and charts. The president of a company in Florida, for example, can use the software to predict how much risk the company’s building and employees face if a hurricane approaches. Woodstock concert organizers in Poland use it to provide their attendees with interactive maps to and at the venue. Leaders in all sectors of government and across many industries use it for a variety of purposes. Faculty in BYU’s Department of Geography use it as one of a variety of classroom and research tools.

Woodstock Poland gis map
Photo courtesy of esri.com
Woodstock Poland
Photo courtesy of esri.com

Mapping Life

Geographers study human migration, the role of gender in state security, sacred places, conflicts between public and private forces in public lands, human/environment interactions, climate change, transportation networks, population change, water resources along the Wasatch Front, and many other themes.

How often do you use mapping or navigational tools? Which do you prefer?

This post was provided by Dr. Ryan Jensen, chair of the BYU Geography Department. Dr. Jensen has a BS in cartography and geographic information systems, as well an MS in geography, both from BYU, and a PhD in geography from the University of Florida. He has been a geography professor at BYU since 2005. He was served as an editorial board member of Applied Geography since 2008, and as co-editor of of the Earth Observation Section of Geography Compass since 2007. He has published over 50 peer-reviewed journal articles and authored or co-authored eight books.

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