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Dr. Bob Maher Reflects on Geography Education at COGS

It was 1980 when I joined the Nova Scotia Land Survey Institute (NSLSI) to teach Scientific Computer Programming (SCP) with Bruce Peveril. Bruce was primarily responsible for computer languages. I was responsible for the applications. The administration at the Institute had recognized the need for computer technology in their current programs.

Over the next few years, we added Business Computer Programming, Computer Graphics, GIS programming, and Business Geographics. By 1986, we had three departments: Computer Programming, Cartography and Planning, and Surveying. It was time to change the name from Land Surveying to Geographic Sciences, thus the College of Geographic Sciences (COGS).

In terms of content, there was recognition that there was new software for GIS and Image Analysis. Edward Wedler was teaching Remote Sensing, along with Manou Akhavi. It was important to be able to customize the software. The relationship with the private sector included ESRI, DIPIX, and later PCI. The second realization, reflected in the curriculum, was major cooperative projects with industry and government partners. These projects demonstrated the application of technology to real-world problems, including Forestry, Geology, Statistics Canada, Health Sciences, and more.

The emphasis was on geographic science, and less on technology. Over time, there were changes in the academic community; Surveying, with its link to the University of New Brunswick, became more aligned with Geomatics Engineering.

My background is a Ph.D. in Biogeography under Dr. Michael Goodchild at the University of Western Ontario and later teaching at the Memorial University of Newfoundland in the Geography department. Geographic Science encompassed Physical Geography, Human Geography, Cultural Geography, Historical Geography, Economic Geography, Fisheries Geography, and Cartography. Through John Wightman, Vice-Principal at COGS, we were connected to Roger Tomlinson,’ Father of GIS ‘ in Canada.

After the Centre of Geographic Sciences (COGS) became part of the Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC), the emphasis was more on technology and less on the landscape. Surveying remained focussed on property boundaries. I left COGS and joined the Dalhousie EMDI project in Indonesia, subsequently, joined ESRI in California and later the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, working with Sir Sanford Fleming College on GIS education with Tim Easley.

When I returned to COGS in 2000, the emphasis was on Applied Geomatics research. This was a period when the focus shifted more toward technical employment skills.

What is the situation at COGS today?

a) are there still three departments? Computer programming? Cartography and Planning? Surveying?

b) do we still teach the application of geographic technologies to a wide range of landscape issues?

c) what has happened to the use of GIS technology in municipal planning, health planning, agriculture, forestry, and biodiversity studies?

d) do students still undertake projects with business and government agencies on the best application of these computer-based technologies to the landscape (seascape)?

e) what has happened to our knowledge of the landscape? To the different cultures and species who share this landscape? What are the impacts of climate change?

Postscript

We were at the Bookmark on Spring Garden Road, Halifax. Heather bought me an early Christmas present. Barry Lopez, posthumous book of essays,’ Embrace fearlessly THE Burning World’. Last night, I read the essay, ‘An Intimate Geography’. At the same wonderful store, I found the Harry Thurston poem ‘Icarus, Falling of Birds’, photography by Thaddeus Holownia.

’On the night of September 13th, a flock of songbirds on their migratory journey south was attracted ‘like moths to a flame’ to a hundred-foot-high flare at the Liquified Natural Gas Plant in Saint John, New Brunswick. The result was tragic, with 7500 to. 10,000 birds of twenty six species – being killed by the heat and the flames’.

References

Barry Lopez. 2022. Embrace Fearlessly THE Burning World. Essays. Random House.

Harry Thurston. 2022. Icarus, Falling of Birds. Photography by Thaddeus Holownia. Anchorage Press.

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