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Fall 2003
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"Crossing Borders"
A quarterly column by Doug Richardson,
Executive Director, Association of American Geographers

Geography's Big Tent

Doug RichardsonI greatly welcome the opportunity with this new quarterly column in ArcNews to initiate a new dialog between the Esri user community and the Association of American Geographers (AAG). I have long felt that the field of geography, including GIS, has much to gain from stronger links between the different sectors of our discipline, between those in academia and those working in the public and private sector. These links are ever more important as we move into the new century and new millennium in which the understanding and solutions that geography and GIS together so powerfully provide are also so dramatically needed.

This integration and coordination across the sectors is now occurring every year at conferences held by Esri and AAG. Many AAG members regularly attend Esri's annual user conference, as I do. It is a tremendously stimulating and exciting meeting that brings together the growing edges of geographic technology and applications in a myriad of ways.

Similarly, research and applications in GIS and the new geographic technologies are increasingly the focus of many events and sessions at AAG's annual meetings. Researchers from universities, government, the military, and private companies mingle and interact at both Esri and AAG meetings, exploring creative new applications of geographic science, technologies, and knowledge. Advances resulting from this collective interaction and effort now find application across the full range of the needs of society.

a big tentIn 2004, AAG will celebrate its centennial anniversary. As we approach this milestone, it is appropriate that we collectively consider from whence we have come and contemplate where we are headed, honor our traditions as we celebrate the next 100 years, and learn from the past as we prepare for a dynamic future. These are the dual tensions that will increasingly occupy our thoughts and dialog as we plan for our association's centennial celebration in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from March 14–19, 2004. I'd like to invite the Esri user community to join us in this process of assessment and celebration of geography and its current vibrancy.

Plans are already underway for an extraordinary centennial celebration at AAG's annual meeting. However, we need your ideas, input, and energy to fully realize the opportunity that our centennial offers to examine geography's evolution, its current status, its revolutionary new technologies, and its future trajectory or trajectories.

I invite you to participate in this unique opportunity by developing sessions, papers, and presentations. Many AAG specialty groups, including the GIS specialty group (the largest AAG specialty group), and our regional divisions have major centennial activities planned for 2004. Our journal editors are examining special features that commemorate geography's accomplishments and challenges. This centennial meeting will be one of the most memorable gatherings in geography's history.

Other special areas of focus for the centennial celebration will range from archival research and exhibits on prominent AAG figures from William Morris Davis to Internet projects such as AAG's Places On Line and the Geography in America Timeline. Two centennial books, WorldMinds and Geography and Technology, will be published and distributed free to all attendees of the annual meeting. Centennial issues of AAG's journals will also be published and available at the meeting.

The Centennial celebration in Philly will also feature the "Gaia Gala"—also known as the Geography Party of the Century and the AAG's 100th Birthday Party—an event not to be missed. "Geography as Art—the Earth Exposed," an exhibit by geographer Stephen Young, will also run concurrently with the centennial meeting at an art gallery in Philadelphia, and a new musical piece composed especially for the AAG's centennial will be performed on the opening evening of our meeting.

To accommodate a meeting of centennial significance, AAG is returning to Philadelphia, the site of the founding of AAG, and has extended the meeting by an extra day. Geography's relevance to the world (our research laboratory, our classroom, and our most important "client") has never been greater. As we approach our centennial, it is also clear that geography's strength lies in both its diversity and its unity. Join with us as we assess and celebrate the past 100 years of geography at AAG and as we plan for the future. To learn more, or to register for the meeting, visit We hope to see you there!

In conclusion, I would like to extend a special thanks to Jack Dangermond for his longtime support of geography and AAG and for his friendship over the years. I truly appreciate the opportunity to work with each of you and to establish an ongoing dialog with the remarkable Esri user community and AAG through the vehicle of this column in ArcNews.

Feel free to direct any questions to me (e-mail: and let us at AAG know how we can best be of assistance to you.

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