James Boxall just can’t turn off his geographer’s eyes. When he looks around, everything becomes instantly mapped, plotted and diagrammed. That’s fitting for a man who, as a child, spent hours poring over his father’s Royal Navy air navigator maps and charts.
“Learning about space and place was integral to my life,” says Boxall, director of the Geographical Information Sciences Centre at Dalhousie University, in Halifax, and winner of this year’s Geographic Literacy Award.
The award is presented annually by Canadian Geographic Education to an individual who has made significant contributions to geographic literacy in Canada. “It’s a wonderful recognition,” says Boxall, who helped co-found CG Education (formerly Canadian Council for Geographic Education) in 1993. “But what it means is that I have to use this to give more back to the community. I want to use the award to try to make a change.”
The winner receives $5,000, half of which is donated to a charitable organization of his or her choice. For Boxall, that means creating a fund that will help train teachers to use geographic information systems (GIS) as part of their curriculum in schools and universities, something he says geography education can no longer do without. It seems like an appropriate — and maybe slightly ironic — gesture on Boxall’s part, as Dalhousie lacks a geography department. Still, that has not stopped him from getting students there interested in the subject. “People here have understood, almost intuitively, that geography is at the foundation of so many disciplines,” he says. “They’re aware that it does have an impact and a role in everything else we do.”