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For the next half of this series, we will be discussing Human Geography — so we’ll still be looking at the Earth, but specifically, how human activity affects and is influenced by the Earth. Naturally, we thought the best place to start was to discuss how we name things in the first place! As it turns out, a name carries so much history of a place but also represents the political power and evolving perception of that space. So today, we’re going to tell the story of the highest point in North America - a mountain known by many names including Mount McKinley and Denali.

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#CrashCourse #Geography #HumanGeography
Do you ever think about words and why something  has a certain name?

Like this is a plant or   my nails are blue or we’re filming this  in Miami -- but like, who decided that? For a lot of words, we probably don’t  think about where they come from too often.   But names are important -- they let us talk about  things and share ideas and even build identities.

By now we know geography is  so much more than just knowing   state names and capitals and memorizing locations.   But I’ll admit geographers do often know where  a lot of places are and what they’re called. It turns out, knowing what the capital of  Indonesia is or which country first declared a   glacier dead often happens as we learn about how  social and physical systems interact together. From growing bananas and potatoes to the  potential effects of natural hazards,   we’ve seen humans and our environment are always  interacting together.

We create rich cultures,   navigate economic systems, and organize ourselves  through politics -- we like to build physically   and metaphorically, and a lot of what we build  comes from and impacts the environments around us. So for the next half of the  series, we’ll look at how people,   power, and economics combine in the world,  impacting the human and non-human alike. I’m Alizé Carrère, and this  is Crash Course Geography.

INTRO. Human geography uses a combination of spatial,  physical, and social science to tell a complex   story of the world. This story focuses on the  spatial patterns of people and how we've made   sense of the places we inhabit, explore,  or create -- like by giving them names!

And as human geographers, we try to answer  questions that pay special attention to the   way people, power, money, buildings, and  so much more are distributed in the world.   Like what are the processes that  shape where humans move across space? Why do humans build and trade and  consume and create where they do?   And why do those traits change across space? Why  aren’t all people and places just … the same?

We’ve actually already used human geography  tools when we’ve considered things like   the economics of banana plantations or the  relationships between people or groups of people,   where one person or group has influence over  another. This political power shows up when we   talk about water access or the motivations  for building in floodplains, for example. But the Earth is a big place, and we could use a  few more tools to fully tackle human geography.   In addition to tools like maps  and remote sensing or soil and   vegetation surveys that give us data on  what makes up our physical landscapes,   the tools we’ll need moving forward are  actually concepts that help guide our thinking.

Like the idea of place, or the meaning  we give a location and the sense of   belonging we derive from constructing  a place physically and in our minds. Machu Picchu, or the Great Wall or Long  Wall of China, or the Yucatan Peninsula,   or whatever name we give a place is called  a toponym, and it’s an important part of how   we think about the place. Sort of like  how my name is an important part of me.

And if we dig into the history of a toponym,  we’ll learn the history of the location itself   and see how it’s changed over time and how  different political and cultural forces   work to create the place’s identity. Like  how I got my name and how it's changed,   or what nicknames I’ve gotten can  tell part of the history of me. In fact, studying place names is an important  part of cultural geography which is one of   the many subfields of human geography.

It  examines how markers of our identity are   visible across space -- like names, language,  religion, art, and dozens of other expressions. Like let’s look at the highest point in North  America: it’s a mountain reaching just over   6190 meters high known by some as Mt.  McKinley in what we now call Alaska. Even if we didn’t know much else  about this place or the space it’s in,   the toponym Mt.

McKinley already gives  us some historical and cultural context.   It's a reference to the 25th  president of the United States,   which signals this is also a place in the US. Or we could draw on another conceptual tool:   the concept of scale, or the relationship  a place has to the rest of the world. This mountain got the name Mt.

McKinley from a  gold prospector from Ohio who wrote about it in   The New York Sun newspaper in 1897, just before  McKinley won the presidency. Other places in   Alaska were also given names based on political  figures from Ohio, other US states, and the UK   which were published widely in articles and used  in official maps made by people not from Alaska. A few years later in 1901, the Board on  Geographic Names, which is a division of   the United States Geological Survey, officially  named the mountain Mount McKinley.

And this was   one of many name changes across Alaska, the US,  and around the world that moved the power to name   the place from residents at the local scale, to  people with power at national and global scales,   without representing local residents. That  being said, as we’ll see throughout the rest   of this series, power has a way of changing hands  a lot, and local residents aren’t always united. But…this majestic mountain already had a  name.

In fact, it had at least 30 names.   The Athabascans who’ve lived in and around the  upper Kuskokwim River often called it Denali,   which reportedly means “The  Tall One” or “the High One.”   And as early as 1906 there were writings  that supported renaming this place Denali. But other Indigenous nations  who lived there had other names.   So did people descended from what we now  call Russia who also lived in this place. Names can also indicate power, as pop  culture has explored many times from   urban legends to wizarding worlds.

And  in some cultures, like the Athabascans,   you do not name places or things after people  because place names are a way to describe the   land and remember important details  like resources or hunting techniques. Ultimately, the people advocating to put back  the name Denali had less power and influence   and could be ignored. In 1917 the area around  Denali became Mount McKinley National Park,   years before Alaska even became a US  state.

Which redefined the place and   happened because of exactly the kind of uneven  power dynamics human geographers study today. All over the world we can see the way that  power is distributed across space in part by   the toponyms we give places. The names and  landmarks that are revered tell a lot about   who has the power to name and create an image  of a place.

So what we call a place matters,   because it sets up the way we imagine the space  -- like who owns it or what the culture should be. As Europeans settled throughout North America,   they made strong efforts to claim the  space as their own by renaming places   and erasing the cultures and impacts  of existing groups on the landscape. In fact, there’s a third conceptual tool we  can use to understand this place: the idea of a   region, which is a way of grouping and classifying  similar places.

And there are different types of   regions. Like many of the administrative  regions, or regions with legal boundaries,   within Alaska were imposed over existing  boundaries of the nations who already lived there. And for Denali, or the renaming of many  places known to Indigenous peoples,   the new name signifies a new perceptual region,  or a region that’s united by how people think   about or see it.

Like a region that’s unified  around the language or cultural slang it uses,   or the team or cultural group it’s a part of. The new name created a relationship  between Ohio and Alaska.   It brought the mountain and Alaska into the  imagination of people in the continental US   and possibly even evoked a sense  of patriotism by connecting Alaska   to US politics -- even though President  McKinley had no connection to that place. Whereas at the time,   the name Denali created the perception this  place has a culture and history foreign or   “other” to most European-Americans -- who held  a lot of the political and cultural power.

But the act of re-naming also has power.  That struggle that all humans feel to see   their identity reflected back to them in  their landscape is what motivated Alaska  . Natives and non-indigenous allies alike to work  for decades to change the name back. In 2015,   that hard work paid off and this place was renamed  .

Denali to reflect the peoples who have  an ancestral connection to the land. We looked at the Denali name change and  then re-change as cultural geographers,   but there are other big parts of human geography  we could also use to explore this place and space. Political geography studies the way that power  shapes the landscape, like how here in Denali   there was an uneven power between those in  Ohio and Washington D.

C. and those in Alaska. And if we zoom all the way out to a global scale,  similar tension over toponyms can be found in many   other places, especially those that have been  colonies or part of empires at some point in   their history. Like in 1995 when Uluru-Kata Tjuta  National Park in Australia was made official,   ending the British name of Ayers  Rock-Mount Olga National Park.

Each place is complex, but as geographers  we look for how places are connected.   There are similar political and economic  forces at work that help those in power   show they have control over the  identity of the place they’re in. So restoring the names of places is an important  part of identity and cultural geography   and important political work on the local scale as  a way to push against regional and global powers. Or in economic geography we study the  uneven movement of economic opportunity.   Like the way some opportunities, like Alaskan  gold mines, don’t end up making the people living   near those mines wealthy.

Or the way the tourist  economy may change throughout the national park   depending on environmental,  cultural, or political factors. And finally in urban geography,  we study the way humans build   cities. Like what influences create  the housing and industry patterns,   or the ways we can plan spaces to maximize  walkable communities, and the relationships   between urban and rural spaces.

Which  is still an important field in Alaska.   As cities within the US grow, Alaska could have  an important role as America’s “Last Frontier.” Denali is just one example of a growing movement  of indigenous and marginalized groups asserting   their cultural understanding of the places they  have spiritual, cultural, and legal rights to. There’s power in place names. There’s power in how  we define regions, what’s in versus out and who   it includes and who it excludes.

Which is why we  see struggles over place names all over the world. Our names shape our identities. And efforts  to learn about the places we call home   and their histories is part of the cultural and  political work we can do to recognize who has been   harmed by colonization and conquest.

Learning more  about economics, technology, language, religion,   power, and how they all move lets us  tell fuller, richer stories of the Earth.   Which we’ll do more of next time  when we explore cultural landscapes. 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 Aboriginal 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 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 is filmed at the Team  . Sandoval Pierce Studio and was made with the  help of all these nice people. If you want to   help keep all Crash Course free for everyone,  forever, you can join our community on Patreon.