Geography as biography

  • Mar 12, 2015


National Geographic Channel’s upcoming series, The Big Picture with Kal Penn, is a bit difficult to describe. But in the spirit of the show I’ll take a shot at it using visualization: Imagine a map, let’s say, a map of the United States—a relatively simple picture, to be sure, yet one that contains enough visual information to yield countless stories.

But now imagine another version of that map, one which includes the more than three hundred million people who actually inhabit the land—along with all the systems, movements and endeavors that make-up their lives.

The data contained in that mental picture is mind-boggling. And it is being collected—all day, every day.

Which is where The Big Picture with Kal Penn comes in. Through number-crunching, data analysis and innovative visualization, the show takes those raw statistics and transforms them into compelling, sometimes even surprising, human stories.

Stories told by popular actor and former White House Associate Director, Kal Penn (right).

“I’m excited to be the viewer’s gateway to cartography and statistics,” says Penn, who also serves as one of the show’s producers. “National Geographic has a legacy of transporting people to amazing places, and with The Big Picture we’re going to establish connections made through statistics and data, and reveal how the bigger picture affects the real world, throughout history, across societies and into our hearts and brains.”

Adds Nat Geo TV CEO Courteney Monroe, “We’re stripping down the layers of the world to discover hidden connections that will enhance our audience’s views of what’s really happening, not only in the world at large, but in their small world.”

The Big Picture with Kal Penn premieres March 30 on National Geographic Television (DIRECTV channel 276). The show’s official web site offers a  good selection of interactive maps and “geo-tours” drawn from the series, designed to help educators put The Big Picture to work in their classrooms.

Nat Geo TV  has long been a go-to resource for educational television, and The Big Picture is just one of the outstanding new shows they’ve got lined-up for spring. To stay abreast of what’s coming, be sure to bookmark this site and follow DIRECTV Goes to School on Twitter.

—Stephen Vincent D’Emidio