Geography, Geospatial, and GIS

I was participating in a Clubhouse discussion today when someone asked the about the distinction between GIS and geospatial. Since Clubhouse is audio-only, I am paraphrasing by contribution to that particular discussion here.

I think the boundaries and definitions of these concepts are pretty blurry and I am reticent to create hard distinctions between them. In my daily life, I use the three terms “geography,” “geospatial,” and “GIS,” but I don’t use them interchangeably. I see all three as related in a layered fashions with geography being the bottom base layer and GIS being the top layer. I’ll briefly discuss each from bottom to top.

GrammarFascist, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

First is geography. The way I think about it, geography is the science that underpins the entire “geo” technology industry, as well as others. It is the theoretical, mathematical, and scientific construct that defines the boundaries of the sandbox in which we play. Because it’s a science, those boundaries are always changing and expanding, but that’s simply understood. Without the science of geography, the rest isn’t possible.

Read more

Personal Geography

Human geography or anthropogeography is the branch of geography that deals with the study of people and their communities, cultures, economies, and interactions with the environment by studying their relations with and across space and place.

Wikipedia (

I was catching up with my friend and former boss, Tony Quartararo, a couple of days ago when our discussion got around to behavioral changes we have made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lock-downs and social distancing guidelines. Not surprisingly, given our backgrounds, geography figured in strongly.

The use case we discussed was grocery shopping. Both of us admitted to limiting our choices of venue to those that we knew from memory, so that we could gather groceries and proceed to the exit as expeditiously as possible. This has the effect of geographically constraining our choices to our immediate locality. Even in the case of large chain grocers, the floorplan of each store varies widely.

Read more