Author Nicholas Crane explains why geography is so important
Author and broadcaster Nicholas Crane’s love of geography was inspired by his childhood in East Anglia. He tells Rachel Banham why geography has never been more important.
If Nick Crane hadn’t become an author, geographer, cartographic expert and TV presenter, he would surely have made one of the best teachers of his subject ever.
His latest book, ‘You Are Here: A Brief Guide to the World’, is a celebration of the vital role of geography in our understanding of the big issues facing humanity and the planet today.
Nick says: “I wrote it because I feel very strongly that geography matters more than ever before at the moment because we are facing a set of global challenges that are all geographical.
“We need to address them with great urgency and we can only do that if we have a greater level of geographical knowledge among policy makers.
“So what I’m arguing for is that geography should be supported at a much greater level all the way through schools and university and that it should be given greater weight in policy making circles, whether it’s business or government.”
Nick is known for presenting the BBC TV series Map Man and Coast, among others. He served as president of the Royal Geographical Society from 2015 until 2018.
You Are Here is a distillation of a lifetime’s work and it is aimed at everyone.
“It’s written, I hope, in a very accessible way,” Nick says. “It’s written, in a sense, as a set of stories. I’m a geographical storyteller and I hope everybody from all sorts of backgrounds will find it interesting because it’s actually about our home, our world.”
Nick grew up in East Anglia and still returns to visit relatives in the region.
“I grew up with an Ordnance Survey map and a bicycle, so for me geography starts with being an explorer of your own neighbourhood,” he says. “One of the reasons you’ll see the front cover of the book with a map on it is that that’s where geography starts - with inspiration. It’s exploring your own neighbourhood naturally.
“If you look outside your own front door there are geographical stories about vehicles that are going past, the layout of the footpaths, the direction of the road, the kinds and the species of trees that you can see, the types of houses that have been built architecturally – each one of those is part of a geographical story.”
You Are Here is the shortest book Nick has written but it was also, he says, one of the most difficult to write, since in many ways it has the most in it.
“I hope it reads very easily because that was the intention. And also I was very keen to hang on to the storytelling, to make the stories roll along,” he says.
“I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, but really what motivated me to do it now is the urgency.”
You Are Here puts the case that we are all geographers, human beings who care about the places we think of as ‘home’ - our habitat. And yet we have lost touch with the connection between our actions and the state of the planet.
“I think we’ve become more connected to more of the globe, but we understand less about the way our own neighbourhood functions and indeed greater community functions. So we’ve broken those connections and we’ve become less good at it,” Nick says.
“I think it’s very important to rediscover our inner geographer and you can just take one example . . . Before the age of smart-phones if you go further back, a couple of thousand, four thousand, years before the age of farming - when in Britain we were hunting and gathering. People understood then if you over exploited a resource, if you ate all of the berries off all of the shrubs and the trees there would be no more food until the next year, until the next season. Whereas nowadays we behave as if somehow the natural resources are going to automatically be replenished if we consume them all. We now know that we are consuming the planet unsustainably.”
We are being confronted by a daily barrage of geographical
We behave as if somehow the natural resources are going to automatically be replenished if we consume them all.
stories on climate change, geopolitics, population growth, migration, dwindling resources, polluted oceans and environmental hazards.
Nick speaks of the importance of addressing the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which he says are all geographical challenges.
He says: “We need more geographers. We can’t sort it out without geographers, so we need students coming through primary and secondary school picking up geography for GCSE, taking it on to A-level and then to degree level.
“Everybody of every age is completely critical for the future of the planet because we’re all voters, if we’re adults, and if you have a vote then you are part of the future.
“I hope that people are going to vote next time we have elections with an understanding of geography, of where people and places are and how they relate to each other. That’s really important.”
Nick’s book amply makes the case that never has geography been so vital. We have, he believes, reached a point in our collective geographical journey where knowledge is the best guarantor of the future.
“For me,” he says, “geography is the most exciting subject in the world - and it’s what keeps us human.”
I grew up with an Ordnance Survey map and a bicycle, so for me geography starts with being an explorer of your own neighbourhood.
Nick began his life-long love of exploring the countryside as a boy with a bicycle in Norfolk.
Nick regularly returns to East Anglia and has been involved with many projects to promote enjoyment of the region. Here he is at the opening of The Crag Walk at The Naze in Walton on the Naze.
TV presenter Nick Crane, pictured in Cringleford, near Norwich, during one of his return visits to the area where he spent his childhood years. INSET: You Are Here, A Brief Guide to the World.
You Are Here: A Brief Guide to the World, by Nicholas Crane, is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in hardback at £12.99.