Where Is the Geographer’s Middle East?
Michael E. Bonine
OVER THREE DECADES AGO, in 1976, I wrote an article titled “Where Is the Geography of the Middle East?” which was published in The Professional Geographer.1 In that piece, I examined how the study and teaching of the Middle East were rather sparse in American departments of geography, particularly in comparison with the study and teaching of other world regions. That situation, unfortunately, has not necessarily changed in the field of geography in the United States, despite the obvious growing importance of the Middle East for the U.S. government as well as the average American. In this chapter, I focus on what constitutes “the Middle East” for geographers and, hence, ask the question: Where is the geographer’s Middle East? The answer requires an assessment of how regions have been conceptualized by geographers and how the Middle East fits into those frameworks. The field of regional geography has been a major focus of American geography since the beginning of the twentieth century, although the decline and even demise of this focus—as a specific field of study in geography—has been the case for several decades now. I examine the use of the term “Middle East” (and other terms used for this region as a whole and in part), particularly its use in world regional geography textbooks, as well as textbooks that focus specifically on the geography of the Middle East. I also provide some insights into the use of this term in maps and atlases—those essential tools of the geographer (although geographers certainly are not the sole proprietors, or producers, of such works).