Can you combine GIS/Cartography with Area Studies?

August 9, 2015 at 7:07 pm  •  Posted in Education, Geography by  •  2 Comments

Dear Justin,

I’m hoping you could give me some advice! I’m an undergrad studying Turkey. I’ve been building up a double major in Computer Science but I really don’t enjoy programming to any huge extent. I don’t want to be a software engineer. I like the skills, just not the end goal. My advisor has recommended that I segue off into something like GIS and Cartography because I’ve focused my CS classes on visualizing data. I have the chance to take geography courses at a school in my consortium, but I have no expert at my school to talk to about where that might lead. That’s why I’m messaging you, though I understand if you’re busy or don’t want to respond!

I have two questions if you do have the time:

1. I’m really interested in Human Geography as it applies to area studies. This statistical blending of social sciences and maps to better understand human phenomenon is fascinating. I don’t know if that means I want to study historical GIS, cultural geography, religious geography or what, but I do know that if I were to study geography it would be through the lens of the Turkey and through the medium of visualizing data. Is it possible, do you think, to focus geography in that way? On an area of the world? And while it seems like many human geographers do so, could something like that with the proper statistical and spatial background lead into Geospatial Analysis instead of purely human geography research or teaching positions?

2. What is a good way of getting a feel for what types of Geography fields I like? Do you recommend any specific books or courses? I have the time to devote a year or so to Geography classes and I have both technical (GIS/Statistics/Remote Sensing/Cartography) and Human/Physical geography courses available to me. I just feel like there’s so much I don’t know and no one to ask, so I have to do the legwork on my own. Any advice on how to start that process would be really appreciated!

Thank you for your time, and the resource of your blog!


Dear M.,

I like what you’re doing and where you’re headed. Turkey is a fascinating place with an incredibly important strategic location. And it will make for a superb lens through which to make sense of a variety of topics in human geography, economics, intl relations, etc.

I would keep going with the cs degree. It will open lots of doors. And dont worry. You won’t be stuck working as a software engineer your whole career. Or even for one day if you prefer not to. You’ll also avoid the unemployment line and your parents basement.

Yes, you can focus on Turkey. There are many human geographers who specialize in a particular region. You will want to add some sort of thematic specialty if you continue along the academic route. So maybe economic/political geography or human-environment. But that can wait until grad school.

As far as selecting geography classes don’t worry too much. Just take classes that seem interesting to you. Or take classes taught by the best professor(s). Visualization of data is the future in many fields so keep pushing to learn as much as possible.

In today’s economy careers are created or discovered. Planning ahead for specific jobs no longer works unless you want to be a surgeon or a patent attorney etc. So just do your best to find things that fascinate you and learn everything you can about them. In 10 years you’ll look back with amazement as seemingly disparate experiences and formal study topics come together to make you perfect for a unique and dynamic (and probably lucrative) role in the economy.

Wishing you the very best,


  1. Rich Quodomine / August 11, 2015 at 9:48 am / Reply

    I’ll second Justin’s statement. I started out as a Business Administration major, then switched to Geography – it’s a passion, not just a major. Turkey is a fascinating mix of many cultures having succeeded each other over time. So, there’s much to do in historical, religious, economic and land use geographies.

    Here is my suggestion: go see the whole nation, anything you want. Find something fascinating or fun, and write it down. Draw it. Map it. Whatever. But go experience it while you’re a student. Be fascinated and interested. Don’t judge it, experience it. You may find yourself on a path you never knew existed.

    • Justin / August 11, 2015 at 10:41 am / Reply

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Rich!

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