Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Why Geography Matters … But Is So Little Learned

Why Geography Matters … But Is So Little Learned

It is nice to be popular, or at least to teach popular courses. But the downside of large classes is that the only students I get to know are those who come to visit during my office hours. Thus, I was taken aback one day years ago when an anonymous face from the lecture hall appeared at my office accompanied by a large dog. The student was blind.

He was there to ask for my help because, while he could understand the domestic factors in the foreign policies of nineteenth-century Britain, France, and Russia, he had trouble visualizing their strategic relationships, since he could not read a map. I pulled out a map of Europe and guided the young man’s finger in tracing the coastlines of the continent and the location and boundaries of nations. I described mountains and rivers, along with where and how large the countries were, and tried to convey how slowly sailing ships and horses traveled so he might imagine how steam transportation revolutionized warfare. His memory was extraordinary, and soon he displayed a better feel for geopolitics than many, perhaps most, of my students.

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