Geographic learning in the U.K.: Part 1

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Cabinet_room_1 One of the Cabinet War Rooms(figures are wax likenesses–not real
people!) Image courtesy of John Caban.

You may have noticed an absence of my signature here these
last couple of weeks. Out on a vacation to the United
Kingdom, I experienced the characteristic London drizzle, and much more.
Crossing back over “the pond” (British
expression referring to the Atlantic Ocean that separates Europe from the
eastern coast of the U.S.),
I felt quite rejuvenated! The great thing about “doing geography” for a living
is that even when you travel and are “on vacation,” you still learn and build
up the geographic repertoire! I gathered plenty of material for the blog during
my trip. In the next couple of entries, I will recount a few geographic
experiences and observations from the U.K.

Lesson 1: World
Geography & History, Military Geography.

Imperial War Museum:
Cabinet War Rooms and Churchill Museum

Nestled beneath the streets of London are a series of [once] secret chambers
that served as “command central” for the British Military during World War II.
Here, Winston Churchill and his cabinet of top officials and advisers met to
plan and execute military strategy. These advisers often lived full time in the
underground recesses.

My favorite room was the main command and control station: the
“Central Map Room.” This room, plastered with maps on all four walls, served as
the hub for strategic decision-making. The Central Map Room was not the only
room replete with maps–Winston Churchill’s own bedroom was similarly outfitted.
Imagine Churchill gazing at his maps as he lay awake, leaping up now and again
to rearrange push-pins representing advances and fortifications!

Of course, I was far from shocked that maps were integral to
top-level strategy during World War II. Warfare almost always involves carrying
out operations in space–spatial thinking–often
in “foreign” environments. Thus, strategists must take tactical and geographic
factors of terrain, climate, and cultural landscape into careful consideration,
particularly in a war of scale as massive as World War II. Beyond the maps, the
events of World War II had lasting effects on world geography today — people,
cultures, environments, politics, etc. World War II profoundly illustrates the
history-geography connection.

History and military buffs and travelers over the age of
nine or so will find the Cabinet War Rooms and Churchill London Museum intriguing, educational, and ripe for discussion and research. So if you’re
ever in London,
I highly recommend paying a visit! You can also visit the War Rooms online.

 If you found this journey into U.K geography
interesting, gear up for “Geography Lesson 2″–coming soon!

Sarah for My Wonderful World

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2 responses to “Geographic learning in the U.K.: Part 1

  1. Hi Sarah
    I enjoyed your first entry! Now for a question. Today we have satellites in space as well as airpalnes to make map making easy and accurate. How were maps made before we had space views?
    Uncle David

  2. David–
    Great question! No doubt, it was much more difficult to make maps prior to the advent of modern technologies like remote sensing. In the “old days,” cartographers used compasses, sextants, and mounting telescopes, along with triangulation, geometry, trigonometry, physics, and other engineering/surveying tools and techniques to chart angles and distances over land and water. These calculations were then combined with visual sketches and photos to create maps. It’s astonishingly impressive, I think, that early cartographers were able to produce such accurately rendered representations given the limitations.
    Learn more:
    1. Cartographic history
    Wikipedia article(note the section on “technological changes”): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cartography
    National Geographic book “Mapping the World: An Illustrated History of Cartography”: http://shop.nationalgeographic.com/product/747/2695/107.html
    2. Surveying
    Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surveying
    1879 USGS Land Surveys of the West(perhaps the most famous, ambitious American land surveys utilizing the “old technologies”): http://west.stanford.edu/cgi-bin/pager.php?id=54

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