People Profiles

David Mark, PhD, Geography

November 02, 2015

Helping found an entire discipline would be a pretty amazing feat for any academic. Dr. David Mark did it twice.

Mark is a SUNY Distinguished Professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Buffalo. One of SFU's charter students, he completed an MA and a PhD in Geography at the university in 1970 and 1977 respectively.   

Mark was one of the pioneering academics that helped develop Geographic Information Science (GIS), a field that combined cutting edge mapping software with traditionally spatially oriented fields such as geography and cartography to create new ways of seeing and understanding the world.

“I was part of the group that developed the theory behind GIS and helped promote it as a field of study, not just as a simple tool to be used,” says Mark.

Since that time, GIS has become instrumental in a wide range of fields and industries, ranging from the design of navigation systems for the visually impaired to addressing and devising new methods for detecting geographical features from space.

Working in collaboration with the University of Maine and the University of California at Santa Barbara, Mark helped establish the National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis, the US’s first independent research consortium dedicated to research and education in geographic information science and its related technologies. Mark also developed one of the first doctoral programs in Geographic Information Sciences at the University at Buffalo.

But Mark wasn't done yet. Continuing to pursue his lifelong dedication to the field of geography, he recently kick-started another ground-breaking field called ethnophysiography. Ethnophysiography examines how language and culture are related to people's native conceptualizations of the physical landscape.

“There are so many different ways of dividing the landscape up into meaningful parts that it’s rare for our terms to translate one-for-one. For example, the Yindjibarndi, an indigenous group from Australia, have many different terms for streams depending on the whether it's dry or flowing or how the stream is sloped. Our goal is to understand these differences within many languages,” he says.

Mark explains that mapping how different cultures interpret geographical features has implications for language preservation, cultural understanding, and disaster relief.

Despite his impressive accomplishments, Mark claims his role in the forefront of two emerging fields was the result of being at the right places at the right time. One of those right places was SFU.

“SFU was ahead of the curve on computational mapping. It put me in good position to be a leader in the field because I was already experienced with many of the issues people were encountering and I was cited a lot. My experience studying at SFU was what got me the job in Buffalo. That turned out to be a very good move because they too were leaders in the area,” he says.

Author: Jackie Amsden

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