Maryland Geography: An Introduction

Review of Maryland Geography: An Introduction

By James DiLisio.

Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014.

320 pages, 43 line drawings. $35.00, softcover.

ISBN: 978-1-4214-1482-9

Review by: James Saku, Frostburg State University

Maryland Geography: An Introduction

Professor James DiLisio is an accomplished academician and administrator at Towson University. During his 35-year teaching career, he has taught several geography courses, including Geography of Maryland. He published his first book on the state of Maryland in the 1980s. That book undoubtedly served the needs of students and professors of Maryland geography for several years. However, with socio-economic changes in the state over the past three decades, DiLisio recognized the need for updating and publishing a new textbook. This new book, Maryland Geography: An Introduction, is comprehensive and covers a variety of topics including physical, economic, political, and social geography. Overall, it offers an excellent understanding of the regional geographic landscape of Maryland.

The book is organized into three parts. The first part is entitled “Shaping the Landscape” and is comprised of four chapters. Chapter One focuses primarily on the history of Maryland. DiLisio presents a very detailed account of Maryland starting with the pre-European American Indian era, followed by the period of European colonization and agrarian development, the early urban industrial period, and the mid-industrial period. Like many other areas in the United States, Maryland was originally settled by Native Americans who maintained a nomadic lifestyle. After contact with Europeans, the economic lifestyle of Native Americans changed from nomadic to semi-nomadic and ultimately sedentary. Regionally, European colonization and settlement started in southern Maryland and proceeded progressively towards the central and western regions of the state. The second chapter examines the location and physical geographic regions of the state. Using the concept of absolute location, the author notes that Maryland is a very small state, characterized by an irregular shape. On the other hand, within the concept of relative location, Maryland exhibits substantial regional geographic diversity. DiLisio examines the relative location of Maryland within the contexts of Appalachia, the Northeast Megalopolis, and the Manufacturing Belt of the United States.

Chapter Three examines the physical geographic characteristics of the state. Those characteristics include climate, soils, geology, vegetation, and water resources. The author observes that different areas of the state are characterized by different climates: while Western Maryland is cold and experiences high annual average snowfall in the winter, the central and eastern areas are comparatively mild with less snowfall. The main factors affecting the climate of the state include its topography, water bodies, and urban built environment. The next chapter deals with the Chesapeake Bay, focusing on the environmental issues confronting it. Population growth, industrialization, and agriculture are factors that have contributed to the pollution and environmental destruction of the Bay.

Part Two of the book is titled “Old Economy, New Economy” and consists of four chapters. The opening chapter deals with agricultural activities in Maryland. From historic and regional perspectives, DiLisio provides an elaborate account of crop cultivation and livestock ranching in the state. Historically, farming in Maryland has changed over the years from an emphasis on tobacco cultivation in Southern Maryland, to food crops and animal husbandry. The decline in tobacco production is attributed to health concerns, state buyout of tobacco farms, urbanization, and competition from other states. Regionally, the Eastern Shore of Maryland dominates in the production of fresh fruits and vegetables, while the north central areas are known for raising farm animals and grain cultivation. There is limited farming in Western Maryland because of topography, climate, and lack of good agricultural soils. However, this area is involved in fruit cultivation and animal husbandry.

Chapter Six focuses on commercial fishing in Maryland, including crabbing, which the author identifies as the principal type of fishing in Maryland. While crabbing accounted for about 73.3% of the total catch in 2013, menhaden was a distant second with 11.8%. Though the second-leading resource of the Chesapeake Bay, oyster fishing has declined extensively over the past three decades. There was an 88% decline in oyster harvest between 1980 and 1990. DiLisio identifies numerous problems confronting commercial fishing, including decline in fish stocks, variable harvests, and competition from other states and abroad.

Chapter Seven examines mining from historical and contemporary perspectives. While iron ore, copper, and chromite were once mined in Maryland, presently coal and building materials are extracted in the state. While mining of building materials occurs in the Coastal Plain, Piedmont and Blue Ridge, Valley and Ridge, and Allegheny Plateau regions of Maryland, coal mining is limited to the two western counties of Allegany and Garrett. DiLisio notes a decline in coal mining in the state over the years.

As an important economic sector in Maryland, manufacturing activity is presented in next chapter., There have been tremendous changes since the mid-20th century because of technological advancement. Presently, the manufacturing sector in Maryland focuses on the production of defense electronics, fiber optics, and biological products. Despite a decline in employment within the manufacturing sector in Maryland, it still accounts for about 6 percent of the state’s employment.

Part Three of the book is titled “Human Footprints on the Maryland Landscape.” Chapter Nine focuses on the population geography of Maryland. The author notes that, between 2000 and 2011, Maryland’s population grew at about 9.7%. Most of this growth is attributed to migration of minority populations into the state, bringing an increase in Maryland’s racial diversity.

As an important economic sector of the state, the chapter on transportation focuses on the Port of Baltimore, air, road, and rail transportation, and communication. The author demonstrates how the evolution of transportation in Maryland is closely related to human settlement. Even though Maryland is a small state, it is characterized by a very integrated transportation network that serves the people of the state, businesses and institutions.

The last two chapters deal with political and urban geography of Maryland. Politically, Maryland is comprised of twenty-three counties and Baltimore City. Regionally, four counties are located in Western Maryland, eight in central Maryland, three in southern Maryland and nine in Eastern Shore. DiLisio notes that counties represent an important component of Maryland’s political landscape because they are responsible for providing basic services such as education, fire, public works, and safety. Within the framework of political affiliation, Maryland is dominated by registered Democrats. However, there are noticeable regional differences in political affiliation and voting. While the people of the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland are mostly conservative and therefore vote Republican, the urban corridor comprises of a mix of Democratic and Republican registered voters. Residents of Baltimore City, Montgomery County, and Prince George’s County are mostly registered Democrats. On the other hand, Frederick, the Baltimore suburbs, and Southern Maryland have a high Republican presence.

Chapter 12 focuses on urban geography. Overall, Maryland consists of few large metropolitan centers and many small towns. Baltimore is the largest metropolitan center with more than 600,000 people. DiLisio identifies three distinct urban patterns in Maryland: a dominant Baltimore-Washington DC corridor, smaller cities serving as regional centers, and several small towns and villages located in the rural areas. Furthermore, Maryland is home to two historically planned cities: Columbia and Greenbelt. While Greenbelt was originally planned and funded by the federal government for low-income families, Columbia was planned with private investment for middle income families.

Maryland Geography: An Introduction is an outstanding and useful regional geography textbook for instructors and students. The book covers important physical, human, and economic issues confronting the state. It is written in a very simple language and without disciplinary jargon. As such, the book is easy to read and understand, and very enjoyable. DiLisio has structured the book well by including topics that appeal to a wide audience and multiple disciplines. Starting with an impressive historical analysis of the state, the book contains interdisciplinary topics and includes very useful illustrations from a variety of sources. Publishing it in softcover makes it relatively cheap for students to buy.

Notwithstanding these positive aspects of the book, there are a few issues. As it is a textbook, the author should have outlined the objectives and provided an overview of each chapter. This would allow students to identify the key issues covered in each chapter and relate to them. Secondly, while publishing the figures in black and white makes the book more affordable for students, the drawback is the difficulty of analyzing some of the figures. For example, it is fairly difficult to identify the various soil associations in Figure 3.4 and rocks and sediments in Figure 3.5.

Furthermore, a chapter on tourism could enhance the overall content of the book. Tourism is an important emerging economic sector in Maryland. It accounts for about $15 billion annual revenue and employs about 206,500 people. Regionally, there are different tourist and recreational facilities in Maryland. Western Maryland offers tourists an attractive physical geographic landscape, seasonal outdoor activities, historic sites, and state parks. Recreational activities in Southern Maryland include boating, fishing, historic sightseeing, and camping. For the Eastern Shore, wildlife spotting in the wetlands, the Chesapeake Bay, and Ocean City offer excellent recreational activities for tourists.

Additionally, there are numerous governmental and non-governmental websites that deal with Maryland which offer further reading and research opportunity. Pointing to these sites would provide additional sources for students seeking more information. Finally, there are instructional videos on Maryland that can be used to enhance teaching. Providing a list of these videos could be helpful. Overall, the book is an excellent regional overview of the Geography of Maryland. It is strongly recommended to anybody interested in knowing more about the state.

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