What is Geography?

As a discipline, Geography cannot easily be defined. It’s the study of our spatial environment, and the relations between the physical and the human sphere. It examines the landscapes, peoples, places and environments of the earth. Geography starts with map-making, and the maps reflect our understanding of the world. If you look at the map above, which is  fairly typical world map, you can see, for instance, that Europe/Africa is in the center. Why do we choose to view the world from this perspective? In recent years, Google Earth has revolutionized our understanding of the world again, because it allows us to turn the globe, move the perspective, and see the planet as an integrated whole. The improved visualization of the world transforms our relationship to the earth.

History “maps” the events of the past; it’s organizing principle is time. Geography maps the spatial organization of landscapes, regions, and societies, and its organizing principle is space. Since we live in a world where space has collapsed, and information appears almost instantaneously everywhere, we are not very concerned with distances any more. We can look at distance as a function of the time it takes to travel through it. It takes 10 hours, for instance, to fly from San Francisco to London. When we reduce distances to flying time, geography seems to disappear. We become oblivious to the spatial dimensions and geographic features that determine our lives, because we can “almost” transcend them. Geography becomes somewhat obsolete in the public awareness, but this represents a loss of reality.

Geography is an integrating discipline: it bridges the social sciences (human geography) with the natural sciences (physical geography). Human geography concerns the understanding of the dynamics of cultures, societies and economies, and physical geography studies the dynamics of physical landscapes and the environment. Geography integrates this understanding of social and physical processes within the context of places and regions. It recognizes that there are great differences in cultures, political systems, economies, landscapes and environments across the world, and it studies what links them together. In this regard it also provides a framework for organizing other fields of knowledge. Google Maps becomes a database of the world and everything that exists in it.

Geography is a discipline that educates people for living on this planet in a very real way.  Geographic education can occur through formal learning, or experientially through travel.  It helps us to be more socially and environmentally sensitive.

Geography teaches us about:

  • The places and communities in which we live and work
  • Our natural environments and the pressures they face
  • The interconnectedness of the world and our communities within it
  • How and why the world is changing, globally and locally
  • How our individual and societal actions contribute to those changes
  • The choices that exist in managing our world for the future
  • The importance of location in business and decision-making

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