The daughter of a German immigrant, Dr. Elizabeth J. Leppman recalls a steady stream of international visitors to her childhood home in Moorestown, N.J., which sparked her early interest in geography. After beginning her career as a cartographer with Rand McNally, Leppman traveled and published widely. She currently teaches geography through Walden’s College of Undergraduate Studies and edits the online journal Geography of Religions and Belief Systems.
HOW HAS THE STUDY OF GEOGRAPHY CHANGED IN RECENT YEARS?
Geography today is not your father’s geography. Geography no longer is simply about teaching the location of countries, states, or cities. Students must grasp the far-reaching effects of the “hows” and “whys” of location. For example, Southwest Asia and Northwest Africa are among the world’s largest sources of petroleum, which has all types of implications for the rest of the world.
WHY IS GEOGRAPHY INCREASINGLY IMPORTANT TODAY?
Whatever your field, geography gives you a greater understanding of the world in which you live and function. In the work world, you must interact with an increasingly diverse group of people who bring different experiences and perspectives. We begin Walden’s World Regional Geography course with a discussion of each student’s home area—their place in the world—and then relate their own experiences to the broader geography of the region.
ONE OF YOUR AREAS OF INTEREST IS THE GEOGRAPHY OF RELIGION. WHY IS THIS FIELD SO SIGNIFICANT?
The geography of religion asks a number of important questions: Where are belief systems found? Are religious beliefs still spreading in certain areas? Are they colliding? How is religion expressed in the landscape and buildings? What is sacred space? We are all familiar with the conflicts between the Christians and Muslims that have been occurring for centuries, although the zones of contact have shifted. An understanding of religion is critical to international relations and can provide insight into possible solutions to these conflicts. Closer to home, an example of this type of spatial conflict is the controversy about building a mosque and Islamic center near the site of Ground Zero in New York City.
HOW DOES AN UNDERSTANDING OF GEOGRAPHY ENHANCE OPPORTUNITIES FOR SOCIAL CHANGE?
The World Regional Geography course gives students a “physical” foundation for understanding cultural and environmental differences, beginning on the streets where they live. It raises their awareness of how world geography is linked to vital historical movements, such as civil rights and women’s rights. They gain an appreciation of how the demolition of historical buildings in their own neighborhoods can affect an area’s landscape, or “footprint.” This awareness and understanding is critical to promoting any kind of positive social change.