Going far beyond maps, as one might presume, “Geography is the study of human-environment interactions,” explains Soren Larsen, Assistant Professor of Geography at MU. The discipline as a whole covers activity ranging from physical geography (e.g., wind erosion and weather patterns), techniques (e.g., modeling air pollution with GIS, or Geographic Information Systems, to understand the interactions between humans and the environment), and something called human geography, a subfield that focuses on the political, economic, cultural, urban, and regional elements of human-environment interactions. Human geographers cast their eyes on “the impact of the environment on human behavior,” as well as “the impact of human activity on the environment.” Within human geography Larsen specializes in cultural geography. While traditionally that may have entailed mapping the distribution of various cultural traits to track changes over space and time, cultural geography today is much more process-focused, drawing heavily upon the methodologies and theories of anthropology, psychology, sociology, and philosophy.
“One of the most fascinating things I discovered in the course of my research,” reflects Larsen, is that both the Anglo and Cheslatta residents seem to use scales “in which they construct their identity for different purposes.” More specifically, he notices that, generally speaking, “when an outside force comes into the area . . . they call themselves Southsiders . . ., forming this unified front” against outside firms and corporations that tend to harvest the resources and then just leave. Their collaboration proved successful in preventing a new dam from being constructed, and “their success has bred more collaboration in these coalition politics.” Yet Larsen also noticed that when that outside force is removed, “they tend to fall back into their distinct little cultural groups”—Anglo and Cheslatta.