When I was in Istanbul last October, I discovered They Might Be Giants’ Here Comes Science kids’ album. Yes, let’s just get it out there that I was in Istanbul and instead of wandering the night market in Kadıköy I actually spent an evening watching an animated DVD about science. I want to say it was raining, but even if it hadn’t been, this album was worth it. I’ve never really been a TMBG fan, but their series of kids’ albums is pretty catchy. See, for instance, “I’m a Paleontologist” below. (The subject matter seemed most fitting—and I can’t resist the idea of paleontologists as rock stars, or for that matter, that pun—but I also highly recommend the aptly named, “Science is Real.”)
I’ve been thinking about this lately because I’m taking geomorphology this semester, and it’s the first physical science class I’ve taken in at least a year. The best part of it is that our labs never involve geeky safety goggles or white coats. Oh no, we take our learning to the field, and you better believe my geologist classmates come dressed in flannel. These kids aren’t hipsters, just dedicated observers of aeolian dunes and river deltas.
When people ask me what I study, I usually just tell them geography. For one thing, geography needs every cheerleader it can get. And for another, most people in America don’t really know what geography as an academic discipline entails, and they’re usually confused enough that it spares us both the awkwardness of them trying to start a conversation about it, unlike when I mention my other major, history. (“Oh yeah? I went to a museum once.”) But if they’re curious and ask me what that means, I often struggle to explain that it straddles both physical science and social science, that its like a cross between geology and anthropology, but with its own set of methodologies and attention to spatiality. (“Oh yeah? I memorized all the state capitals once.”)
I prefer the human side of geography and have done most of my coursework on that end of the spectrum, but I am thoroughly geeked by the physical science I do learn. Lectures about fluvial processes and block-faulted terrain make my heart sing, and the trappings of field research—the stadia rods, rock hammers and weather-proof notebooks—are seductive indeed. Especially seductive, since this is such a pun-able topic, if you know anything about plate tectonics. Ha! Sorry, I’m no geneticist, but I think my sense of humor runs in the family.