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Fall 2007
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"Crossing Borders"
A column by Doug Richardson,
Executive Director, Association of American Geographers


Sachs and Chomsky to Address AAG Boston Meeting

Doug RichardsonTwo of the world's leading public intellectuals—Jeffrey Sachs and Noam Chomsky—are scheduled to participate in the Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting in Boston, Massachusetts, to be held April 15–19, 2008. "In terms of the power, range, novelty, and influence of his thought, Noam Chomsky is arguably the most important intellectual alive today," wrote Paul Robinson recently in the New York Times Book Review. Jeffrey Sachs has been cited in the New York Times Magazine as "probably the most important economist in the world." Sachs is the only academic to have been repeatedly ranked among the world's 100 most influential people by Time magazine.

Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, will deliver the Opening Session keynote address at the AAG meeting on Tuesday, April 15. Sachs, who is also professor of sustainable development and professor of health policy and management at Columbia, is widely known for his work as an economic advisor to governments in Latin America, Eastern Europe, the former Yugoslavia, the former Soviet Union, Asia, and Africa. He is also special advisor to United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. From 2002 to 2006, he served as special advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and director of the UN Millennium Project. He has worked extensively with international agencies and private foundations on problems of poverty, hunger, and disease control—especially HIV/AIDS—in the developing world.

Sachs' research interests include the links of health and development, economic geography, globalization, international financial markets, emerging markets, economic development and growth, global competitiveness, and macroeconomic policies in developing and developed countries. He is author or coauthor of more than 200 scholarly articles and has written or edited many books, including New York Times best seller The End of Poverty (Penguin, 2005).

Jeffrey Sachs' Opening Session keynote address will provide an apt beginning to a meeting during which the topics of geography and global sustainability will be pervasive, necessary, and inescapable themes.

I am also delighted to announce that Noam Chomsky, institute professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has agreed to join us at the AAG meeting in Boston for a special session, which I have organized and will host, entitled A Conversation with Noam Chomsky, scheduled for Friday afternoon, April 18, 2008. This special session will be a conversational interview, followed by an opportunity for audience participation through a question and answer period.

As most geographers know, Chomsky has written and lectured widely on linguistics, philosophy, intellectual history, contemporary issues, international affairs, and U.S. foreign policy. A small sampling of his numerous publications include Syntactic Structures; American Power and the New Mandarins; For Reasons of State; Cartesian Linguistics; Language and Mind; The Political Economy of Human Rights (with E. S. Herman); Knowledge of Language; On Power and Ideology; Language and Problems of Knowledge; World Orders, Old and New; The Common Good; Profit Over People; New Horizons in the Study of Language and Mind; and Understanding Power.

Chomsky's work on the nature of human language and communication has profoundly transformed the field of linguistics and greatly influenced science and philosophy more broadly. New York Times Magazine writer Daniel Yergin characterizes Chomsky's "formulation of 'transformational grammar' as one of the major achievements of the century. His work has been compared to the unraveling of the genetic code of the DNA molecule." Yergin notes that Chomsky's linguistics theories have influenced "everything from the way children are taught foreign languages to what it means when we say that we are human." The "Chomskyan Revolution" has also generated intellectual reverberations across many disciplines, including geography, anthropology, education, psychology, computer science, and genetics. Chomsky is one of the most frequently cited scholars of all time.

Chomsky is also an impassioned critic of American foreign policy and of corporate and governmental power. His now classic book on the role of intellectuals in American society, American Power and the New Mandarins, greatly influenced the debate on the Vietnam War and continues to prompt examination of the complicity of intellectuals in implementing policies of entrenched power to this day. Its arguments resonate strongly today in the context of a new war.

Chomsky studied linguistics, mathematics, and philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania (U-Penn) and Harvard and received his Ph.D. from U-Penn for his original and groundbreaking dissertation entitled "Transformational Analysis." He has received literally hundreds of prestigious scholarly awards, honors, prizes, fellowships, distinguished professorships, and honorary degrees. It is our great honor to have him join us at the AAG's Annual Meeting in Boston. I hope you will enjoy A Conversation with Noam Chomsky.

The AAG's Annual Meeting in Boston will also feature a major Jobs in Geography Career Fair, with hundreds of current openings for GIS and geography jobs of interest to Esri users in the private, public, and academic sectors. Students and midcareer job seekers will have an opportunity to meet directly with many of those doing the hiring. In addition, many sessions and workshops will focus on careers and how to prepare for and get the GIS or geography-related job you want.

The meeting will also include more than 4,000 presentations covering the latest research in GIScience and geography; an International Reception; and a Gala Opening session with live music, dancing, good food, and drinks. You can also explore the rich cultural and physical geographies of Boston and New England through dozens of field trips and special GIS workshops. We hope you can join us to see old friends and make new ones, experience a new and expanding universe of geographic research and GIS applications, and perhaps find your place in this exciting new realm.

Doug Richardson
drichardson@aag.org

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