GeoInspirations: Dorothy Drummond, the Never Stop Learning and Traveling Educator

October 19, 2016

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Dorothy Drummond brings a geographer’s viewpoint, and an abiding love for history, to all of her work, which includes books, essays, chapters, travel programs for educators, presentations and more. She began her professional career as assistant to the editor of the Geographical Review, published by the American Geographical Society, in New York City. She has authored or co-authored four world cultures textbooks, has written articles for professional journals and scores of encyclopedia articles, and has been an advisor in the making of educational films. She attended Valparaiso University as an undergraduate and then was a graduate student at Northwestern University, where she earned a master’s degree in geography. Drummond taught World Geography for more than 30 years at Indiana State University and Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. She has given hundreds of presentations about geographic topics to civic organizations, students, faculty, elected officials and many other groups for decades. I look forward to seeing her each year at geography and education conferences to hear more about her writing, teaching and travels. She is a model lifelong learner. We are very pleased to feature Dorothy Drummond as this issue's GeoInspiration!

“I took a course in my junior undergraduate year that changed my thinking — it was World Geography. I felt right away that geography was the key to pulling together all knowledge. I thought, 'This is a framework for thinking.' Up until then, much of my university work was “post-holing” – bits and pieces, facts and figures. Finally, through geography, I knew how to make it all make sense. I was majoring in history and English, but I took enough geography after that to make geography my minor. Then I studied it full-time in graduate school at Northwestern University. Through geography, I have come to see everything in terms of place and relationships within place.

“In my graduate school at the time, in geography were 9 men and one woman — me. The men had all found their way into geography through science, while I found my way there through history and the humanities. It showed that there can be many paths into geography and that we can all learn from each other. When my professors realized that I could write, before I left graduate school several had asked me to work with them on various projects. So, cultivate your writing! You never know where it will take you.

“I am proud of the World Cultures textbooks I have written; they have been successful and gone through several editions. Through these middle school and high school texts and in my other writing and speaking, my goal has been to help people see the big picture and not get lost in minutiae – and to maintain student interest.

“I am also proud of starting a travel program for teachers. Over the past 20 years, I have taken teachers to a lot of remote places in the world, ranging from China to Turkey, from New Zealand to Peru. My guiding principle is that teachers should travel while they are still in the classroom, not just after they are retired. I found a way to make my trips affordable for educators. I have always enjoyed traveling and I am convinced that exposure to other lands and cultures helps one to “think geographically.”

“My 30-year collaboration as a co-author with Clyde Kohn, my mentor at Northwestern, bore much fruit. He later headed the geography department at the University of Iowa and served as NCGE president and AAG president. I was honored to be asked to write his obituary. Another geographer who influenced me greatly was Harm deBlij, whose inimitable ability to "make geography make sense" served as a guidepost for me."

Dorothy certainly practices what she preaches about travel. She has visited more than 70 countries thus far. Her travels often lead to questions, which lead to writing projects: “In 2000, I went to Palestine and Israel. While there, I asked a question of myself that I couldn’t answer: How was it that two peoples came to claim the same real estate, from which claim so much conflict has ensued? I wrote a 70-page document that I gave to friends and relatives to “get the question out of my system,” and they all said 'Dorothy, you need to turn this into a book.' I took their advice and the result was Holy Land, Whose Land? Modern Dilemma, Ancient Roots, which sold some 17,000 copies. Although the printed version is now out of print, a digital version is available.I couldn’t have written the book without a background in history and geography.

“As a geography community, we still have a [public relations] problem. People do not understand what geography is and why it matters. In my discussions with people, I find that most everyone thinks geography needs to be taught in the educational curricula, but most also have little notion of the breadth of geography. They are largely thinking “states, capitals, rivers, boundaries.” Knowing those things is like knowing the times tables in mathematics. Such knowledge is essential, but it is only a tool for asking the more important questions and investigating the answers: Where? Why There? What difference does this make? STEM is important, but are we effectively connecting it to geography education? Not long ago someone was talking with me about deforestation, and how it was a shame that the Amazon had no more forests. Another person was earnestly telling me how past eruptions from Yellowstone accounted for the rich soils in Illinois. We must learn to make our field understandable to the general public. Harm De Blij did this so well. I was inspired by his ability to write in such a way that geography made sense for students new to the field, and the general public as well. We in geography must make our field understandable to the general public. That’s what educators do — we are always trying to convey our excitement, our understandings, to others.

“In some 7-Eleven stores in Indonesia, they have a meeting room on the upper floor, and they are teaching the local people how to code. Isn’t that wonderful? I would have learned more tech if I had to do it over again.

“In January 2016, I was in India with two retired colleagues who have established a microloan project in Bengal Province. I spent 8 remarkable days there, mostly in small villages. My geographical learning continues,” Dorothy concluded.

For more about Dorothy, visit to see a few of her books and to take note of her extensive speaking schedule. Join us in saluting her as a GeoInspiration.

Update: Dorothy Drummond passed away on 30 November 2018 doing what she loved best, learning and traveling, during one of her many trips to China. I will always treasure the times that I spent talking with her at Geography Education conferences and seeing the light in her eyes when she talked about why travel and Geography are so important. She had many stories to tell… But yet she was always most interested in what the other person was doing. To be a lifelong learner is a noble goal that all of us could strive for. 

If you know a GeoInspiration, please share those with us, We may feature them in an upcoming column.


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