Themes and Sessions

Each year the AAG President, in consultation with the Executive Director, identifies themes for the Annual Meeting to help focus discussion and provide a fresh and engaging structure to the conference program. Due to the extraordinary circumstances of the 2020 Annual Meeting, we have retained the three themes established last year with an additional new theme for 2021.

Geographers and COVID-19: Setting Our Direction for the Future

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended daily life, bringing greater awareness to the connections — and disconnections — at many scales, from the neighborhood to the world. Geographers have helped shape the public’s understanding of the pandemic, from disease transmission patterns to the relationship of mobility, social vulnerability, racialization, and income to disease outcomes. At the same time, geographers themselves have been caught up in the transformative forces of the pandemic, trying to work, care for family, and stay healthy even as they shared the drive to understand and respond to what was happening in the wake of COVID-19.

This commitment was in evidence during the 2020 AAG Annual Meeting, when specialty groups and their chairs contributed to the AAG’s rapid shift of the event to a virtual setting, working swiftly with the AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition to develop 9 panels centered on how geographers had already begun to respond to the novel coronavirus outbreak. The recordings of the panels are still available to watch. The discussions raised important, high-stakes questions of ethics and human rights, including ecological-ethical dilemmas of geographical research; access to digital spaces as a vital right; higher education in internet-deserts; the unequal burden of diseases in urban settings; as well as ethics of animal testing for vaccine development.

A year later, COVID-19 has encompassed our lives, bringing geographers’ work front and center to not only understand the impact of the pandemic on social, health, and economic environments, but also on finding solutions to the myriad challenges faced by individuals, governments, and international society. This theme for the 2021 annual meeting will build from a year of living with this daunting new reality, and will highlight the multifaceted expertise and perspective of geographers on the pandemic and its medical, social, economic, political, cultural, and ethical implications. By bridging both social and environmental sciences, geographers are uniquely suited to provide insight into the complex spatial interactions as a result of the virus, and the geographic implications of the pandemic response efforts.

Revisiting last year’s panels from the Geographers Respond to COVID-19 theme, specialty groups will offer their perspectives on life in the pandemic while several member-organized sessions will point to the work geographers have been contributing over the past year.

Geographies of Access: Inclusion and Pathways

This Mt. Hood National Forest path is accessible to all; photo by Tom Iraci; U.S. Forest ServiceThough simply stated, Access is a broad construct that represents affording the opportunity for everyone entrée, use, and benefit to/of/from everything in society. This theme is comprehensively applied to include any barriers to access. We seek papers that address, interrogate, or discuss issues of access in geography. We especially encourage papers that focus on systemic issues that represent barriers or facilitators to access for people with disabilities.

Send theme-related queries to

Committee members coming soon.

Ethnonationalism and Exclusion around the World

Border fence showing distinct line of rural Texas and urban Mexico; photo by Gordon Hyde, Wikimedia CommonsThis theme describes and interrogates new political movements based around a more exclusive form of national identity. These movements often draw on race-based appeals, target immigrant populations, and may be violent. While ethnonationalism has been present within every society throughout history, modern-day ethnonationalist movements have given rise to several strong political movements contributing to the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, the rise of populist parties in Hungary, Poland and Brazil, and the election of U.S. President Donald Trump. An exclusionary nationalist identity has also led to the hardening of borders as well as the vicious repression and destruction of minority groups, such as the Uighur people in China and the Rohingya in Myanmar. As part of this theme, we seek papers and other forums that are broadly concerned with nationalism, ethnic-inspired terrorism, racism, immigration, genocide, borders, populism, electoral geography and other related aspects.

Send theme-related queries to

Lise Nelson, University of Arizona
Merje Kuus, University of British Columbia
Pauliina Raento, Tampere University (Finland)
Natalie Koch, Syracuse University
Wes Reisser, U.S. Dept. of State
Vidyamali Samarasinghe, American University
Jeremy Slack, University of Texas at El Paso
Corey Johnson, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Kara Dempsey, Appalachian State University

The Changing North American Continent

Photo montage showing flooded neighborhood, dry-cracked earth and forest engulfed in flamesThis theme examines how the land and people have been transformed from pre-history through history. A meeting in Denver, the capital city of the US West, allows us to focus specifically on the transformation of the western landscape, the effects of climate change, indigenous rights, new immigrant geographies of the West, the perils to our ecosystems, water scarcity and distribution, the West as a social laboratory, and other related aspects. We seek papers and other forums that address these topics and that otherwise fit within this broad rubric.

Send theme-related queries to

Yolonda Youngs, Idaho State University
Maria Lane, University of New Mexico
Glen MacDonald, UCLA
Geoffrey Buckley, Ohio University
Patrick Lawrence, University of Toledo
James Meacham, University of Oregon
Jenni Vanos, Arizona State University
Emily Skop, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
Brandon Vogt, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs

Expanding the Community of Geography

Session panelists from small institutions gather to discuss their challenges during AAG 2019 DCThis theme looks at how we can increase the active participation of geographers, at the AAG and elsewhere, who may have otherwise felt excluded, moved away from geography as a discipline, or may not realize their kinship with geography. One factor of this exclusion lies with geographers who work in often underrepresented institutions. This includes stand-alone geographers, community college stakeholders, those who work and study at Historically Black and Tribal institutions, and geographers who work outside of the academy. Most people who go on to get a Masters or Ph.D. in geography do not end up working as academics. They may have drifted away from the AAG, and we need to find ways to increase their contribution and interest in our society. As part of this theme, we seek papers and other forums that involve coping with limited resources, enhancing geography at minority serving institutions, community engagement, outreach to geographers beyond the academy, alternative ways of knowing, fostering interaction among stand-alone geographers, and many other related aspects.

Send theme-related queries to

Mike DeVivo, Grand Rapids Community College, Mich.
Jacquie Housel, Sinclair Community College, Dayton, Ohio
David Padgett, Tennessee State University
Nicole Reiz, University of Kansas
Weronika Kusek, Northern Michigan University
Patricia Solis, Arizona State University
Qihao Weng, Indiana State University
Angeline Johnson, University of Toledo (grad)
Joseph Kerski, ESRI
Guntram Herb, Middlebury College
Amanda Rees, Columbus State University
Heather McAfee, Clark College, Vancouver, Wash.