George Eliots Old Grandfather Rode A Pig Home Yesterday.
Mnemonics are great for trying to remember our 4th grade spelling words.
But actually deciding what that word geography means is a bit trickier.
Sure, we memorize state and world capitals [because everyones impressed if you can
rattle them off - like the capital of Canada? Ottawa.] Or we learn that rivers flow downhill
or that the US imports more than 3 billion pounds of bananas from Guatemala each year.
And those are cool factoids, but thats not all Geography is.
Geography helps us answer bigger questions like "what's the story of the Earth?", "how do humans
change their environments?", and "why, of all places, did that huge mountain form there?"
There's a lot to cover in this series because geography encompasses all 4.5
billion years or so of the Earth's history and even makes predictions about our future.
So were going to do our best to highlight the weirdest, most awe-inspiring parts.
Im Aliz Carrre and welcome to Crash Course Geography.
Lets take a closer look at that last factoid I threw out and... go a little bananas.
It might come in handy at a trivia game to know the volume of the US-Guatemala banana trade,
but there must be more to the story. Like, why Guatemala? And why bananas?
In geography, we use those questions to better understand the connections
between us and the physical world. So today, lets start in Guatemala.
We think of the land now called Guatemala as part of Central America,
a region between North and South America that's covered with dense rainforests
and incredible biodiversity. To look just at Guatemala,
wed jump between 1345 and 1748 north latitude and 8814 and 9213 west longitude.
We could even give the absolute location, or geographic coordinates, of different
geographic points of interest in Guatemala, from Volcan de Fuego to the Mayan ruins at Tikal.
From there we might notice the physical environment -- like the climate,
the landforms, or the rivers and waterways. Guatemala is a mountainous country with both
recently active and long dormant volcanoes that have provided rich, fertile soil.
With soil like this, it seems like theres no shortage of options for what would grow,
It turns out, to be successful, bananas need to grow at a temperature between 20 and 35
degrees celsius -- Guatemalas tropical regions range between 18 and 35 degrees. Bananas need
about 170 centimeters of rain a year -- most of Guatemala gets between 70 and 200 centimeters.
And bananas need well-drained soils rich i n potassium -- Guatemala's volcanoes
spew rocks rich in iron, magnesium, and -- you guessed it -- potassium.
What were doing here is identifying the space, or the features and relationships that occur in a
given area. Basically its the cold, hard facts about a specific location on Earths surface.
We need to pinpoint where were interested in,
before we can start to answer why various things happen there.
Working with the idea of space is one of the defining characteristics of geography,
and well get into even more specifics in later episodes.
Historically, maps, and more recently,
satellite images are tools that help define and quantify space.
But there are plenty of non-spatial things we might already have in our minds about
Guatemala and Central America. For example, that its long been home to large populations
of indigenous peoples including Mayan groups like the Kiche, Kaqchikel, and Mam,
and non-Mayan groups like the Xinca. Or that its a region known for its
history of empires like the Mayan or those created by Spanish colonizers.
Guatemala has been known by many names including Cuauhtmalln, a name given to
the area by Tlaxcalan warriors accompanying Spanish Conquistadors. Like almost any land
or mountain or stretch of sea, Guatemala means different things to different people.
Its a place, or somewhere that has attached value, meaning, and emotion to it that cant
be measured. Its subjective, for sure, but a place can be observed and described
to others. We can think of place as the significance attached to a particular space.
So as we try to better understand the significance of bananas and how they fit into Guatemala, the
space and the place, wed learn bananas actually arent native to Guatemala or even the Americas.
Explorers and missionaries brought bananas to Central America in the 1500s from the
areas near present-day Indonesia and Papua New Guinea where bananas grow natively.
Thinking about where bananas can grow in Guatemala and why
adds another layer to our geographical investigation. After all,
almost one out of every three people in the workforce works in agriculture as of 2020.
So the next chapter in the Geography of Guatemalan Banana Imports story
is thinking about interactions humans have with the environment.
In geography, human-environment interactions are all the ways humans connect with and live
within the environment and the impact the environment has on lives, choices,
and experiences of people. This is key to geographers.
So in Guatemala, where theres enough flat land and fertile soil and its not
too hot or cold or dry or wet, humans might decide to grow bananas. But that
still doesn't tell us how bananas came to be one of the main crops
grown in Guatemala or why theres so much trade in bananas specifically with the US.
If we think about demand economics, one answer for why the US imports more than 3 billion pounds
of bananas from Guatemala each year is because there are no tariffs or import restrictions,
and transportation costs are fairly low.
Other banana hotspots like Ecuador, Panama, and India are a bit farther away,
so transportation is more expensive. The greater the ocean distance,
the higher the price. But thats not the whole story.
To this day, the agriculture industry in Guatemala relies on the plantation,
which is a large scale commercial enterprise that just produces one crop and mostly exports it.
Plantations arrived in Guatemala with European explorers colonizing the Americas.
But they can also be found in other parts of the world that experienced colonialism, like cocoa
plantations in the West Indies, tea plantations in Sri Lanka, and cotton plantations in the US.
No matter where theyre located, using plantations has had long lasting consequences
we still contend with today. To peel back the layers, lets go to the Thought Bubble.
Bananas first became popular as a rare and delicious treat in the United States in the
late 19th century --even though theyd long been a diet staple in many tropical regions.
Sensing an opportunity, American businessmen like
Minor C. Keith and Andrew Preston started importing them from around Latin America.
The two men were forced to merge their lucrative banana empires in 1899.
Tropical Trading and Transport Company in Central America joined with the Boston Fruit
Company that dominated the Caribbean, creating the soon-to-be-infamous United Fruit Company.
Along with others, it would become so powerful that in 1901 the author O.
Henry described countries like Honduras and Guatemala as banana republics-- a
reference to the vast control the fruit companies wielded over many nations.
For example, in 1904, Keith, as vice president of United Fruit, signed an
exclusive deal with President Manuel Estrada Cabrera that gave the company tax-exemptions,
land grants, and control of all railroads on the Atlantic side of Guatemala.
By the 1930s United Fruit was the largest landholder in Guatemala.
Across Latin America they became embroiled in violent disputes, like the 1928 Banana Massacre in
Colombia that was immortalized in Gabriel Garcia Marquezs great novel, 100 Years of Solitude.
Or the 1934 Great Banana Strike that eventually led to the creation of trade unions in Costa Rica.
Or in 1954 when they lobbied the US government to stage a coup and depose the Guatemalan
president when hoarded United Fruit land was being redistributed. Which the US did.
They had to be politically involved to keep control.
A US-backed military dictatorship didnt actually help their stock value,
but such a big and profitable company had connections across the US government
and were able to set up agreements that persist in some form or other today.
Which means that the US still gets most of its bananas from Guatemala.
Thanks Thought Bubble! It might seem like weve confused History for Geography,
but the sordid past of the banana isnt in the past at all.
You might not have heard of United Fruit, but youve probably seen the label in grocery stores
or heard of Chiquita bananas. The United Fruit Company eventually became Chiquita
Brands International in 1984, which is still the number one US supplier of bananas today.
Basically, banana plantations have had a huge influence on the unequal distribution
of land and wealth, leading to peasant uprisings, repressive military regimes,
and the growing economic inequalities in Guatemala.
Entire books could be written on the last 150 years of banana
trade and theyd read like political thrillers.
So with fertile soil, the political power structure, the rise of colonialism, and Europeans
swooping in to create plantations...bananas have been stamped into Guatemalan history.
Wow! All that from just one little factoid about a
fruit you can buy in pretty much any corner store across the US.
I told you that Geography was complicated! And every factoid actually has a story behind it.
But there are always more questions. Like, if we focus on the environment
part of human-environment interactions, whats the environmental impact of these large plantations?
And this is just Guatemala. What about the other places in the world where bananas grow Costa
Rica, Panama, and the Dominican Republic. Whats the story associated with their banana exports?
And thats why just the factoid you learned in 4th grade alone isnt geography.
Geography is that factoid and the story that surrounds it.
We just looked at the geography of bananas, but we could have done the same thing for chocolate.
Or the Nile River valley. Or heat islands in the Chicago area.
The Earth has so many stories, and geography is here to tell them!
Clearly, the world is complicated. But in geography we try to look at the big
picture the confluence of space, place, and the human and environment
interactions and how theyve overlapped to bring us this far into the story.
This is what makes geography a spatial science its all
about how things vary from place to place and asking why here?
No two places are the same, but when we ask questions to learn more about one place,
we just might be able to explain what is happening in another place.
Of course, geographers are going to make mistakes because were curious,
imperfect, wonderful humans. And there will be so many more moments where we go bananas
and realize what we thought was just a cool fact actually has a huge backstory.
Theres a whole team working on Crash Course Geography trying hard to avoid making mistakes,
but we also know that when we tell a story we make certain assumptions,
or we have to leave out facts to make sure there's a beginning, middle, and end in a 10 minute video.
So as we move through this series and learn together, lets all try to think
about the interconnectedness of Earth and its peoples and economies and histories.
And the fact that a banana factoid can be way more complicated than we expect.
Thats what will make us all a little more thoughtful and geographically aware.
So, what is geography? Its so much more than just identifying cities and countries and capitals on a
map. Geographers look to find connections between the physical processes at work on Earths surface
(and under the surface too) and how people use and interact with the Earth.
Next time, well look at one of the most useful tools that geographers use:
maps. Maps tell their own story, and can even be made specifically to tell a particular story.
Many maps and borders represent modern geopolitical divisions that have often
been decided without the consultation, permission, or recognition of the land's original inhabitants.
Many geographical place names also don't reflect the Indigenous or Arboriginal
peoples languages. So we at Crash Course want to acknowledge these peoples traditional and
ongoing relationship with that land and all the physical and human geographical elements of it.
We encourage you to learn about the history of the place you call
home through resources like native-lands.ca and by engaging with your local Indigenous
and Aboriginal nations through the websites and resources they provide.
Thanks for watching this episode of Crash Course Geography which was made
with the help of all these nice people. If you would like to help keep all Crash
Course free for everyone, forever, please consider joining our community on Patreon.