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.
Larsen, who started out as an undergraduate English major, found himself writing about place, a sense of place, and the identities associated with it. Seeking to understand cross-cultural variations in terms of a sense of place led him to the discipline of anthropology, and it was through ethnographic research that Larsen finally reached geography. His past research projects have involved sharecroppers in the Tennessee River Valley, who were relocated by the TVA dams, as well as with the Cheslatta, “a small Indian band in British Columbia, Canada, that had been relocated from its traditional lands in 1952 in order to make way for a hydroelectric project that was being constructed by the aluminum company of Canada.” In each case, Larsen sought to understand traditional land use practices, naming practices, and what places mean to people of different cultures.