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New York City: An International Gathering

April 02, 2012

The Association of American Geographers 2012 Annual Meeting in New York City broke all previous attendance records with more than 8,670 geographers, GIS specialists, environmen­tal scientists, and other registrants from around the world shar­ing the very latest in research, policy, and applications in geography, sustainability, and GIScience. Of those attending, thou­sands, representing approximately 34% came from countries other than the USA, which continues a steady trend toward increased international participation at AAG Meetings. For com­parison, the 2006 meeting in Chicago reg­istered approximately 20% international attendees, while the 1982 meeting in San Antonio had only 59 international attend­ees, or 2.8% of the registered total.

This year, attendees came from 80 differ­ent countries, including 41 nations of devel­oping or emerging economies. The largest participation of scholars from outside of the U.S. came from Canada, the UK, Germany, and China, with strong representation among geographers in developing regions. Many others attending from countries such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Chile, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ghana, France, Iran, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Mexico, New Zealand, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Ro-mania, Spain, Tanzania, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, and many more enriched the intellec­tual and social events throughout the week-long conference.

The AAG celebrated the global character of the association and the meeting with a series of special sessions, entitled “Snapshots: Geography in the World Today,” involving presentations by top officials from geographi­cal societies around the world, the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the AAG and the Geographical Society of China; and an International Net­working Reception in the Exhibit Hall. The reception provided an opportunity for attendees to mingle with each other and to view the 100 booths of exhibitors, while enjoying refreshments. The AAG showcased its many international activities, including the AAG Developing Regions Membership Program which engages eligible geographers and other colleagues from lower income countries of the world with full membership benefits at deeply discounted rates.

The AAG Annual Meeting also featured several diversely themed research tracks and special events, many with strong inter­national dimensions. One major themed track focused on Human Rights and Social Justice, with more than 40 sessions during the course of the conference, beginning with the outstanding Opening Presiden­tial Plenary, “The City Beyond Symbol­ ism,” organized by AAG President Audrey Kobayashi, and concluding with a session on Human Rights on the last day of the meeting, featuring presentations by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof; Sec­retary-General of Amnesty International Salil Shetty; Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights at the UN Ivan Šimonovic´, and a presentation on “Why Geography and Human Rights?” by myself.

In addition, the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and first woman president of Ireland, Dr. Mary Robinson, received the 2012 AAG Atlas Award, celebrat­ing outstanding accomplishments that advance world understanding in exceptional ways. Her eloquent and impassioned address, entitled “Mapping the Future of Climate Change” focused on climate justice issues and pros­pects for interna­tional efforts to confront climate change.

Past President Ken Foote provided a beacon for geography’s future with his engaging address, “Building Community, Changing Culture,” and presented this year’s AAG Presidential Achievement Award to Laura Pulido and Dawn Wright. Additional distinguished awards, including AAG Honors, were conveyed during the AAG Awards Luncheon on the final day of the conference.

Other themes developed for the New York City meeting included International Finance and Economics; Qualitative GIS; Physical Geography and Sustainability; the United Nations; Cyber-infrastructure and Social Networking; Geography and the Humanities; Historical Maps at the New York Public Library; and much more. Wide-ranging plenary addresses were delivered by the AAG’s 2012 Honorary Geographer Saskia Sassen; U.S. Census Director Robert Groves; economist Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University; National Science Foundation Assistant Director Myron Gutmann; U.S. DOI Assistant Secretary of Water and Sciences Anne Castle; and Michael Arad, the architect of the National 9/11 Memorial.

The above summary represents only a few of the many exciting sessions and international activities that took place at the 2012 AAG Annual Meeting. Numerous other paper, poster, and panel sessions and presentations highlighted geograph­ic work organized by AAG members and AAG Specialty and Affinity Groups. Field trips, workshops, and a special emphasis on Careers in Geography also greatly enriched the experience of AAG confer­ence participants. A selection of photographs from the conference follows below.

We thank all of you for making this year’s conference a great success and invite you to attend the next AAG Annual Meeting, to be held in Los Angeles from April 12-16, 2013. I look forward to seeing you there.

Doug Richardson, and everyone at the AAG

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