Though a geographer in academic terms, my work inside and outside of the academy is perhaps better described as world studies. I graduated from UCLA in 2013 with a doctorate in geography, specializing in world geography and geographic thought. My main interests outside of geography are recent history and current events, linguistics, politics, ethics, and metaphysics.

As a specialization, world geography is nearly nonexistent. That does not mean that no one is doing world geography; there are obviously numerous texts on the subject, and many times as many courses. What it means, though, is that no one is doing world geography after studying it explicitly. Not to say that current efforts at world geography all fall short, but how often do scholars accept that expertise is acquired in a subject without first studying it? There are special considerations for global-scale study; the methods necessary for studying the entire world are as different from those for studying, for instance, nation-states, as those for studying nation-states are from the methods for studying cities. If a field like history can accept a world specialization, then surely geography — etymologically, the record of the world — can do so as well.

Geographic thought has a somewhat-broader acceptance as a specialization. My concerns within it are far from the avant garde, though. Regionalization is an antiquated concern, and my research is specifically revisiting concepts that were of interest to the discipline many decades ago, and long since calcified and forgotten. But decades is too long for a concept to coast on the acceptance of the past.


PhD, geography, University of California Los Angeles, 2013
Dissertation: Parallel worlds: empirical region and place
Advisors: John Agnew, Michael Curry, Stephen Bell, and Martin Lewis

Regionalization is the process and the result of dividing the world into regions, where ‘region’ is generic for any two-dimensional segment (however defined) of the Earth’s surface. A region can vary in scale as appropriate; it may be the size of a city block in some cases, a continent in others. My research, within regionalization, has focused on the contrast between conventional and empirical regionalizations in human geography. In world geography several conventional regionalizations have been influential; the primary convention in my work, and the dominant influence on most thematic regionalizations, is the country model, in which “countries” (or “nations”), often taken as identical to members of the United Nations, are used as background for academic studies and often as the basis for studies. My dissertation was, of course, a continuation of the research for my master’s.

MS, geography (GIS), Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis, 2009
Thesis: Parallel worlds: attribute-defined regions in global human geography
Advisors: Owen Dwyer, Jeff Wilson, and Scott Pegg

Global human regionalization often depends heavily on conventions, especially the country model. Standardized “countries” are used as default regions, and influence other regionalizations as well. Proposed here is the preference for multiple independent systems of regions based on empirical criteria specific to each field of inquiry. These regions, defined by attributes of the landscape, would subsume formal and functional regions alike, as well as the very similar “trait geographies” and “process geographies”. Two specific inquiries are studied, politics and language; in both cases, existing data tend towards the conventional. A primary empirical regionalization for politics can be based on effective government control. A primary empirical regionalization for language can be based on mutual intelligibility of vernacular dialects. Examined in political geography are concepts of juridical and empirical statehood and the question of state territoriality; examined in linguistic geography are the question of language versus dialect and the standard reference ‘Ethnologue’.

BA, generalism in world affairs, Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis, 2004
Capstone: Prospects for integration and disintegration in the world
Advisors: Bill Blomquist, Miriam Langsam, Susan Shepherd, and John Clark

This first detailed examination in my academic career dealt with global processes of integration and disintegration, political, cultural, and economic, institutional and noninstitutional. These themes formed the basis of the method that I am still developing; many of the important larger regions that feature in my present work emerged here.



As a generalist, I am naturally interested in general linguistics, but my main focuses have been grammatology (or writing systems), native names, and phonology. The products of these interests are:
— a general scheme of transliteration and transcription, through which the world’s scripts can be rendered into the Latin script in a regular, standardized, and reconstructible form. The existing transliteration and transcriptions used by specialists are largely incompatible, and the principles followed, where the systems are not haphazard, are different from one system to the next.
— a multilingual glossary to native forms, in which names and borrowed words are reproduced in the original scripts and in the standardized transliteration or transcription. Personal names are given in the form used by the person; place names are given in the form used in the place.
— a list of linguistic regions in the world, using native names and principles of mutual intelligibility.


While my political writings are varied (see below), my political research focuses on establishing the empirical governmental situation in the world, both in terms of the power structures present and the spatial extent in which they operate. A rough map shows the physical extent; it, and a corresponding list, link to individual pages for each state, or governmental region. There I have explicitly stated whether the government in question is democratic, and who controls it. These are empirical facts that are often treated as matters of opinion and dispute, when they are clearly not; academics and journalists in particular have a responsibility to get the facts right. When an autocrat declares himself the victor of a rigged “election”, he has not been elected, and we shouldn’t state that he has. When a person is nominally “head of government” but holds little real power, we should not call that person the head of government. If an organization does not control a particular part of the world, we should not say that it does.


My work as an essayist has slowed down considerably in recent years, as academic writing and research have consumed more of my time. But a substantial archive of my past writings is available, dealing with a variety of subjects in world affairs and politics. I would hope that my point of view is consistent, since I find that so frequently lacking in commentary of the present. I consider myself a liberal and a cosmopolitan, but as such, I want freedom for all individuals, not just for those individuals fortunate enough to have been born in the West. What we have in Western politics is a choice between those who want increased freedom for those at home, but tolerate or even support oppression abroad in the name of non-interference and multiculturalism, and those who want to liberate those who live abroad but deprive our fellow citizens of social rights and civil liberties.


Though I am a proud citizen of Earth, and will admit to being an Anglophone, a Yankee, and a Hoosier as well, the region of my origin, as I identify it, lies between the Great Lakes and the Ohio and Mississippi rivers — the Midwest. My hometown, on the Wabash river, is West Lafayette, the northwestern quadrant of the Lafayette urban region. I was born in Fort Wayne in 1970, and lived in two other Hoosier cities as a child. As an adult, I spent seven years in Indianapolis, five years in Columbus, and a summer in Chicago, all in my home region, as well as five years in Los Angeles, three years in Atlanta, and a year in Missoula and Salt Lake.

Unused skills fade, but I was, for a time, a registered paramedic, holder of a fully-endorsed commercial driver’s licence, and capable of operating bulldozers and front-end loaders and repairing cars and small engines and machines. All of this was a response to my self-perception of being incapable of operating outside of a library. I still believe that a well-rounded education must be more than just bookish matters, and that those who are experts in the physical and outdoors skills, which I never was, deserve our respect.

O.T. Ford


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— Doctor of Philosophy, Geography, University of California Los Angeles, 2013
— Master of Science, Geography (Geographic Information Science), Indiana University Indianapolis, 2009
— Bachelor of Arts, Generalism in World Affairs, Indiana University Indianapolis, 2004

Teaching experience, as lecturer:
          (previous and current)
— Geography 3, Cultural geography. Taught from a global perspective, covering language, religion, and material culture.
— Geography 5, People and the Earth’s ecosystems (twice). This is the basic course for human-environment interaction, a major subfield of geography. Taught from a global perspective, covering physical geography, human geography, and environmental issues.
— Geography 6, World regions. Survey of canonical world regions, and exploration of their definition.
— Geography 133, Cultural geography of the modern world. Advanced version of Geography 3, covering language, religion, and material culture from a global perspective.
— Geography 180, North America. Human distributions and historical and physical regions of the United States, Canada, and border regions.
— International and Area Studies 1, Introduction. First course for international studies and various UCLA-recognized area specializations: Asian, African and Middle Eastern, European, and Latin American Studies.

Teaching experience, as teaching assistant:
          (lower division, with discussion/lab section)
— Geography 3, Cultural geography (twice, for two different instructors). Human distributions in contemporary society; space and place; urban and suburban processes.
— Geography 4, Globalization: regional development and world economy. Economic, political, and cultural processes leading to and resulting from globalization.
— Geography 5, People and the Earth’s ecosystems (four times, for three different instructors). Basic course for human-environment interaction. Variously interpreted to cover global environmental processes, environmental issues, and the history of environmentalism in the United States.
— Geography 7, Introduction to geographic information systems. Principles of GIS and cartography, and use of GIS software (ArcMap).
          (upper division, without discussion section)
— Geography 113, Humid tropics. Human and physical distributions and processes.
— Geography 140, Political geography. United States electoral processes, and demographic and ideological distributions.

— Robert Sandy, Gilbert Liu, John Ottensmann, Rusty Tchernis, Jeff Wilson, O.T. Ford. ‘Studying the child obesity epidemic with natural experiments’, p181-221 in Michael Grossman and Naci Mocan, eds., ‘Economic aspects of obesity’, University of Chicago, 2011. Originally published as National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 14989, 2009.
— Jeffrey S. Wilson, James J. Brokaw, Eric R. Wright, Rudy Banerjee, O.T. Ford, Sharron P. Grannis, Shawn C. Hoch, Anthony H. Lawson, Peter M. Nalin, Michael Rinebold, Terrell W. Zollinger. ‘Indiana Physician Mapping Project’. Geographic Information Science Research Center, Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis, 2007.

Conference presentations:
— ‘Civilizations as world regions’, national conference of the Association of American Geographers, Los Angeles, 2013 April.
— ‘World regions, reconsidered and redefined’, national conference of the Association of American Geographers, Seattle, 2011 April.
— ‘Region types and region concepts’, national conference of the Association of American Geographers, Washington, 2010 April.
— ‘Governments de facto and the border concept’, national conference of the Association of American Geographers, Boston, 2008 April.
— ‘Ethnologue and the language-dialect question’, conference of the Central States Anthropological Society, Indianapolis, 2008 March.

— Graduate Summer Research Mentorship, University of California Los Angeles, 2010
— University Fellowship, University of California Los Angeles, 2009
— University Fellowship, Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis, 2007
— Dean’s list, Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis, 2003-2004
— Semester honors, Columbus State Community College, 1995-1997
— Dean’s list, Purdue University, 1991-1992
— National Merit Scholar, 1988
— Byrd Scholar, 1988

Professional experience:
— Researcher on National Institutes of Health study: conceptualization, GIS analysis, writing, GIS and remote sensing training.
— Research assistant, cartographer, and graphic artist for Owen Dwyer and Matt McCourt, ‘Investigating American landscapes: a guide for students’ (forthcoming), on North American cultural geography.
— Writer, cartographer, and GIS trainer for Indiana Physician Mapping Project.
— Cartographer for Franklin County Greenways Project and Clear Creek stream inventory, Ohio.
— Cartographer for Ludwik Hirszfeld, ‘The story of one life’ (Marta A. Balińska and William H. Schneider, eds.), University of Rochester, 2010.
— Cartographer for Bessie House-Soremekun, ‘Confronting the odds: African American entrepreneurship in Cleveland, Ohio’, Kent State University, 2009.
— Geographic consultant, Mark Burnett Productions.
— Editor of the Stewardship Project.

Professional memberships:
— Association of American Geographers
— AAG Cultural Geography, Political Geography, and Graduate Student groups