1. What is geography? (What is where, and why?)
2. How do we define "location", and is it significant? How do the ideas of region and diffusion come into play?
3. How have humans interacted with their environment and what are the theories used to explain these interactions?
environmental determinism
probabilism/cultural ecology
4. How do humans today view their relationship with the "natural" world?
5. How do humans presently act in the world and what are some of the geographic implications of those actions (e.g., movement and migration, globalization)?

What is geography? (What is where,and why?)

G E O - G R A P H Y
Geo- the Greek root meaning "earth"
Graphy- The Greek root for "to write, record, draw, describe."
Geography- literally means "written earth."
Geography looks at three major questons
  1. What is where?
  2. Why is it there?
  3. What significance does it have?

These three questions all seem to deal with the same idea, but they do so in increasingly refined ways. The question "What is where" refers to the physical aspect of geography. Things as simple as rain fall, and temperature can answer this question. For example, rain forests are densely populated with different plant life beacuse of the high amounts of heat from the sun, and the vast amouts of moisture kept in from the canopy. Plants recieve their energy via photosynthesis which envolves waer and sun light. Both are plentyfull in the rainforest thus providing a perfect oasis for vast amounts of plant life to grow. Question 2, "Why is it there" refers to back to the last question, but leads more towards the human aspect of Geography. This question can be explained by a simple population map; look a this map of Africa for example. http://na.unep.net/globalpop/africa/images/p60.png. Egypt, the small country in the top right corner has a population of 77,505,756 people. Most of those people live along the Nile River because of its sorce of water. Without water life could not exist, which answers question 2, "Why is it there." Question 3, "What significance does it have," questions the structural basis of geography. Shipping goods is a relatively easy way to transport items, and an even better way to make money. A good example for the question, "what siginficance does it have," brings us back to ancient Rome, with the reign of Julious Caesar. Caesar captured the entire border of the Mediterranian sea in order to make profit via charging ships to dock, and pass through the ports. http://userwww.sfsu.edu/~ramon/RomanEmpire.jpg. By controlling the ports, Caesar controlled the wealth, which explains what significance some landforms have and answers the question 'what significance does it have."


Physical Geography-
The branch of geography concerned with natural features and phenomena of the earth's surface, as landforms, drainage features, climates, soils, and vegetation. (Dictionary.com)
These aspects of physical geography can be observed through maps, charts, and tables about a certain area.

Human Geography

  • -Concerned with the spatial aspects of human existence - how people and their activity are distributed in space, how they use and perceive space, and how they create and sustain the places that make up the earth's surface.
    -Human geography is a branch of social science that focuses upon the relationship between human societies and the built and natural environment in which they operate. Human Geographers believe that location, space and scale of phenomenon are crucial factors that must be taken into account when developing or applying academic theory. This contextual approach means that geographers often emphasize ‘real world’ examples as opposed to the theoretical abstractions that are emphasized in some other social science disciplines.(http://easweb.eas.ualberta.ca/page/56)
    -Reveals how and why geographic relationships are important.
-Human Geography is responsible for causing a change to the physical geography. The two types are always related.

Theories of Geography:

  • Geography- Geography is the science of place and space. Geographers ask where things are located on the surface of the Earth, why they are located where they are and how places differ from one another.
  • Human Geography- how people and their activity are distributed in space, how they use and perceive space, and how they create and sustain the places that make up the earth's surface. Human geographers work in the fields of urban and regional planning, transportation, marketing, real estate, tourism, and business. -----http://www.und.nodak.edu/dept/Geog/mainpage.htm----
  • Regional Geography- certain regions have similar attributes to other regions. Other regions may have characteristics completely different. Research done on this topic makes it easy for people to understand the characteristics of certain similar places and help civilizations know where to develop based on the wanted resources.

What do Geographers study?

"Most simply stated, geographers study what is where, why there, and why care in regard to the varied features--both physical and human--of Earth's surface. Application of the geographic (spatial) method, helps one better understand the complex and seemingly bewildering distribution of Earth's features, conditions, interrelationships, distributions, and patterns." (from http://academic.evergreen.edu/g/grossmaz/gritzner.html)

Physical geographers study patterns of climates, land forms, vegetation, soils, and water. They forecast the weather, manage land and water resources, and analyze and plan for forests, rangelands, and wetlands. Many human and physical geographers have skills in cartography and Geographic Information Systems (GIS).
Geographers also study the linkages between human activity and natural systems. Geographers were, in fact, among the first scientists to sound the alarm that human-induced changes to the environment were beginning to threaten the balance of life itself. They are active in the study of global warming, desertification, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, groundwater pollution, and flooding." (from http://www.aag.org/careers/what_is_geog.html)

  • Geographers study the hazards facing human societies, such as tornadoes, terrorist threats, wildfires, and floods and the way in which humans prepare for them
  • Geographers study the different and contested meanings that people attach to places
  • Geographers study the ways in which human societies interact with the natural environment, including their dependence upon and management of natural resources.
  • Geographers study an integrative approach to achieving economic, social and environmental sustainability at local, regional, national and global scales.
  • Geographers study the concept of ‘community’ and how communities use both conflict and cooperation to address issues such as local environmental degradation, homelessness, security, economic development, and landscape aesthetics.
  • Geographers study how humans design, plan, and construct the built environment and the impact of these environments upon human health and well being, environmental sustainability, and economic sustainability.
  • Geographers study how location of services, infrastructure, employment, commercial activities, retail activities, housing, and recreations sites impact travel patterns, transit choices, and accessibility for diverse groups of people.

Geographers are interested in: where things are located on the earth’s surface, why they are located where they are, how places differ from one another, and how people interact with the environment.


How do we define "location", and is it significant? How do the ideas of region and diffusion come into play?

There are 5 major branches of location

Nominal location- Ths is location based upon somthings name. When you ask yourself what is really in a name: History, language, religion, Mysterys? Puzzeltown, PA - Noodle, TX - ntercourse, PA - Frankenstein, MO - Hell, MI - Fossil, OR. These are allnames that seem strikingly odd, and bring up questions like why would someone name a place Puzzeltown? Maby theres a puzzel that no one could figure out?
Site Location- The question, "does site really matter." Yes! When you give somebody diections somewhere, do you tell them the Lattitude and Longitude? No, you tell them what they are going to see! Things like The topography, vegetation, water resources, and elevation. Site location is the physical character of a location.
Relative/ Situation Loction- If someone from out of town asks you how to get to a specific restauraunt for example, are you going to tell them using unkown features. No, you will direct them based on the features they know. Relative location is the importance of a place relative to others. The location of an unknow place, relative to a known place.
Mathmatical/ Absolute Location- Absolute location is the exact spot of somthing on the earth. Using lattitude and longitude anything can be placed exactly on the earth. Although it is possible to make globes very accurate, it is not possible to exactly plot somthing on a globe due to scale.
Cognitive/ Perceptual Location- How you percieve a place. A person's perception of the world is known as a mental map. A mental map is an individual's own internal map of their known world. Mental maps are maps that peole have pictured in therir minds of places they have been. If someone remembers a place based on a building for example, and that building is knocked down, they may not remember that place. This is Perceptual location, because you remember a place based on your own perception of that place. http://geography.about.com/cs/culturalgeography/a/mentalmaps.htm
Region and Diffusion-
A region is the basic unit of study in geography. A region is an area that displays a coherent unity in terms of the government, language, or possibly the landform or situation. Regions are human constructs that can be mapped and analyzed.
There are three basic types of regions.
Formal regions are those defined by governmental or administrative boundaries (i. e., United States, Birmingham, Brazil). These regional boundaries are not open to dispute, therefore physical regions fall under this category (i. e., The Rockies, the Great Lakes States).
Functional regions are those defined by a function (i. e., TVA, United Airlines Service area or a newspaper service area). If the function ceases to exists, the region no longer exists.
Vernacular regions are those loosely defined by people's perception (i. e., The South, The Middle East).
  • The process by which a concept, practice, or substance spreads from its point of origin to new territories
  • Two types
  • Relocation diffusion
  • Relocation diffusion is the process in which items being diffused are transmitted by their carrier agents as they evacuate the old areas & relocate to new areas.
  • The most common form of relocation diffusion involves the spreading of innovations by a migrating population.
  • Expansion Diffusion

  • The spreading of an innovation or idea through a fixed population in such a way that the number of those adopting grows continuously larger, resulting in an expanded area of dissemination
  • Two types
  • Contagious Expansion
  • Hierarchical Expansion


  • one of the first map systems ever created was done by an ancient Greek man named Hipparchus, who made a grid system using latitude and longitude. Hipparchus measured latitude by measuring the degree that the sun made at its highest point. In total the latitude went 90 degrees north and 90 degrees south. The longitude system however, was flawed because as you got closer and closer to the north and south pole, the lines of longitude got closer and closer together.
  • Cartography is a two-dimensional representation of the Earth's surface.
  • Maps always have some kind of distortion, related either to scale, shape, area, distance, or direction. No perfectly accurate two-dimensional map (in regard to distortion) has been created yet. The Mercator Projection has long been known for being inaccurately proportionate in terms of scale. Originally used for ship navigation, the projection makes Greenland appear about the size of Africa, when in reality it is about 1/11 of Africa's size. A common map used today, the Robinson Projection, has distortion in all these areas, however, the amount of distortion is clearly controlled when one looks at the map.
  • Examples of the map projections mentioned above:
Mercator Projection: http://alabamamaps.ua.edu/contemporarymaps/world/world/world1.jpg
Robinson Projection: http://alabamamaps.ua.edu/contemporarymaps/world/world/world4.jpg

Map of European Languages: http://i258.photobucket.com/albums/hh275/pizzler/Languages_of_Europe.png
38 States of America: http://www.mentalfloss.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/08/1973_38-States.jpg
Map of the Internet: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d2/Internet_map_1024.jpg

Spacial Maps: data that includes location, shape, and relationships between the physical and human aspects on the Earth's surface.


Review the material at the NationalAtlas.gov site for a quick overview of map projections, then scurry over to A Multitude of Maps for some interactive map and projection work. These 2 sites should provide you with enough working knowledge of map projection differences...

For some other useful map sites, visit:

5. How do humans presently act in the world and what are some of the geographic implications of those actions (e.g., movement and migration, globalization)?
Before summing up the four previous questions, it is valuable to realize that humans can obtain great knowledge being aware of what geography is. Especially human geography, knowing the activity of areas is helpful to making geographical judgments. Recognition of surrounding locations is using geographical inquiry. The significance of location relates to geography. Location is interdependent so as a whole its accessibility, such as complementarities, transferability, its intervening opportunity, and diffusion is dependent on humans. Regions are divisions of the Earth where different aspects of culture are universal. Divisions could be for language, ethnicity, religion, agriculture, or different lifestyles. It is the location of cultures, or traits. Explaining the geography of why or how there is a spread of culture is through diffusion. This spread could be from migration, communication, trade, and commerce. “The geography of culture is constantly changing” so to widespread a culture, they will move over space. The majority of human interaction with their environment is by relating their community with their culture. This means certain areas are centered on a cultures trait. People generally will locate to an area based on its community whether they share the same interests or culture. There are three major theories to explain how a culture is determined. Environmental determinism expresses that physical aspects (climate, topography, soil) are more prominent than social conditions. Opposing this is possibilism, which states that culture is identified by human actions (customs, manners and traditions). What synthesizes the two is cultural ecology also known as probabilism. It’s the half waypoint between the two explaining that there is a relationship between cultural and physical environments. Although it does have some effect, the physical environment does not control human actions. Today, one’s environment has the ability of influencing but ultimately humans are capable of altering their environment. The way people act determines their environment. Whether they desire to change their location because of family, economic issues, medical reasons, or on behalf of physical elements is their decision.

Geographical Inquiry: "When you are investigating the world and its events you are dealing with geography. As you move through space in your everyday life you are observing and interacting with geography and making geographic decisions based on those encounters". http://www.esri.com/industries/k-12/download/docs/geoginquiry.pdf. To resemble how geographers think, using the five steps of geographical inquiry will broaden initial impressions on ideas such as significance of location and spatial terms.

1. Ask geographic questions
2. Acquire geographic resources
3. Explore geographic data
4. Analyze geographic information
5. Act upon geographic knowledge

Example of Cultural Diffusion and Region:
New York State generally lies within the English-speaking culture region. Nevertheless there are significant cultural communities within New York State in which Spanish, Chinese, Hebrew, Arabic, or another language is dominant (see Fig. 5). Similarly, while most of New York State is part of the Christian culture region, there also are local cultural communities in which Judaism, Islam, or Buddhism is dominant. What all these languages and religions have in common is that none originated in New York State or even in North America. Rather, each has come to characterize segments of the Empire State as a result of cultural diffusion. http://www.emsc.nysed.gov/ciai/socst/grade3/geograph.html

How population and places are connected to another:
People are connected to a location for examples such as, physical and economic reasons, family issues, or movement of people and ideas. How locations are connected to another commonly is answered, because of spatial distribution or diffusion. Melinda Meade agrees, but believes that what also has great impact on movement of people and connections between locations, is medical geography. She suggested that, “health was the result of interactions between the three dimensions of population, environment, and culture”.

Meade's approach on the impact of Medical Geography:
medical_geography_.jpg http://www.csiss.org/classics/content/39


What is GIS?

external image mainpage_sm.jpg
A geographic information system (GIS) integrates hardware, software, and data for capturing, managing, analyzing, and displaying all forms of geographically referenced information. It is a computer-based system for storage, retrieval, manipulation, and analysis.
    • Computer-based system refers to the hardware, software, and procedures necessary to operate the GIS
    • Geographic data are data which vary over geographic space
    • Storage, retrieval, manipulation, analysis, and display are the “tools” provided by GIS software for processing geographic data

A GIS can be viewed in three ways:

  1. The Database View: A GIS is a unique kind of database of the world—a geographic database (geodatabase). It is an "Information System for Geography." Fundamentally, a GIS is based on a structured database that describes the world in geographic terms. external image orangearrow.gifLearn more.

    Example of geodata showing tabular address data related to a street map.
    Example of geodata showing tabular address data related to a street map.
  2. The Map View: A GIS is a set of intelligent maps and other views that show features and feature relationships on the earth's surface. Maps of the underlying geographic information can be constructed and used as "windows into the database" to support queries, analysis, and editing of the information. external image orangearrow.gifLearn more.
external image geovis1.jpg
external image geovis2.gif
  1. The Model View: A GIS is a set of information transformation tools that derive new geographic datasets from existing datasets. These geoprocessing functions take information from existing datasets, apply analytic functions, and write results into new derived datasets. external image orangearrow.gifLearn more.

    Example of a model or process flow, with datasets, functions, and results.
    Example of a model or process flow, with datasets, functions, and results.
By combining data and applying some analytic rules, you can create a model that helps answer the question you have posed. In the example below, GPS and GIS were used to accurately model the expected location and distribution of debris for the Space Shuttle Columbia, which broke up upon re-entry over eastern Texas on February 1, 2003. Learn more about this project.
external image columbia.jpg
Together, these three views are critical parts of an intelligent GIS and are used at varying levels in all GIS applications.

Purpose of a GIS:

  • A GIS provides tools for representing the real world as data about locations.
  • It is an important tool for understanding and managing the environment because it enables users to:
    • Map environmental (physical and human) characteristics
    • Measure environmental factors
    • Monitor changes in environmental factors over space and time
    • Model alternatives of actions and processes operating in the environment.

GIS and Environmental Health Links:

  • Geographic Analysis Tool for Health and Environmental Research
  • Health and GIS Links

  • GIS and Public Health (National Center for Health Statistics)

The Human Relationship to Nature:
Nature is a social creation as much as it is the physical universe that includes human beings. It is not only an object, it is a reflection of society in that philosophies, belief systems, and ideologies shape the way people think about and use nature. “Society and nature shape each other simultaneously.” The relationship between man and nature evolves with the expansion of technology and globalization. One of the most famous scholars to examine this relationship was Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), but there are several other important figures who have categorized different theories about the cultural correlation to the earth:

I. Environmental Determinism (1870-1915)
Environmental determinism is a theory that states that the physical environment surrounding human beings determines characteristics of their relationships, culture, customs, rituals, beliefs, and way of life.
The idea of human geography began as early as the days of the Greeks such as Herodotus and Hipparchus, but it saw exponential change of pace in the century between the 1850’s and the 1950’s. Philosophers in the 1920’s and thirties, such as Austin Miller, Friedrich Ratzel, Ellen Churchill Sempleman, and Ellsworth Huntington, fully supported the idea of environmental determinism. In one example, Miller inferred that the heat of tropic climates rendered the natives “indolent and lazy.” He may have sounded racist, but Huntington’s corollary that “maps speak for themselves” minimized the racist affect of Miller’s remarks. Years earlier, French philosopher Charles Louis Montesquieu conducted an experiment in which he froze and dethawed a sheep’s tongue. He observed that the frozen cells contracted and lacked sensation and the thawed cells expanded and were more sensitive. He inferred from this data that humans in warmer climates must be more emotional, sensitive, expressive, passionate, or even violent whereas humans living in colder climates were more reserved, rational, and civilized.
This theory was readily accepted, especially by colonialists, because it gave “scientific proof” about something many had already intuitively observed. Imperialists applied this conclusion to their work and used it as a justification for commandeering civilizations in warmer cultures (such as Africa, India, and South America). Social Darwinism, another prominent theory used during colonialization, permitted imperialists to domineer “inferior” civilizations.
In today’s world, these ideas are politically charged and professionals must tread lightly for fear of being called “racist.” A neutral position that some anthropologist have chosen states that yes, the atmosphere influences much of the culture and way of life of the inhabitants of each environment but it does not make any society inferior too those in other climates.

II. Possibilism/ Cultural Determinism (1902-1950’s)
Possibilism directly opposes Environmental Determinism in its ideology. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Cultural Determinism states that culture determines culture, regardless of the surrounding nature. This idea became increasingly popular with the advent of technology because technology allowed societies to alter their physical environment and control the atmosphere around them, thereby defying the very nature of Envirnomental Determinism (ex. Global warming). The Australian Marxist, Oskar Spate, was a proponent of the idea of Possibilism.

III. Probabilism/ Cultural Ecology (mid 1950’s)
Cultural ecology is the study of how human cultures adapt to their environments. A traditional approach to the study of cultural landscapes begs the question “How does the environment affect culture?” but Cultural Ecology asks, “In what ways does human kind adapt to its environment?” Cultural ecologists study functional behavior of groups (how they manage/consume/utilize resources, etc.) and how their lifestyles affect their non-material culture. Probablism recognizes that humans are a part of a complicated ecosystem and that the way they adapt to their surroundings determines their values, practices, and beliefs.

Knox, Paul L., Marston, Sallie A. Human Geography: Places and Regions in Global Context IV Addition. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2007.

Livingston, David. The Gegraphical Tradition, Blackwell, 1992.