The Basics of Geography

Geography is essentially the study of our planet and how humans live on it. It can be divided into two major branches, Physical Geography and Human Geography, though both halves of the field are closely inter-related.

Most students begin their studies in Physical Geography. Physical Geography looks at the composition and activities of our planet: how different types of rocks and minerals form, how plate tectonics or continental drift works, and the processes behind volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis. The formation of mountains and the ecology of deserts are included, as well as how the various environments found on Earth change over time. It involves the study of maps and the various types of mapping techniques, such a Mercator, Cylindrical and Azimuthal projections, and the limitations inherent in each of them. Physical geography extends beyond the surface of the planet to include detailed studies of how the atmosphere is composed, and how forces in the atmosphere create and affect weather and climate. Physical Geography also includes the study of fossils, and the geological history of the earth. Even astro-geography may be touched on, and introduce students to the physical and atmospheric compositions of the other known celestial bodies in our solar system.

Once students have acquired a working knowledge of the structure of our planet they are then ready to move on to Human Geography, which is essentially the study of how humankind interacts with the physical world. A student in a human geography course will typically encounter subjects like urban planning, demographics (the study of populations), the mechanisms of international trade and other broad economic ideas relating to the manufacture, transportation and consumption of raw materials and finished products. Maps are revisited as well, but this time include both natural and man-made features (such as can been seen on a topographical map). There’s also an increased focus on the location of cities, ethnic populations and political boundaries, and the reasons for them being where they are (or being in flux). Topics like land-use and urban sprawl are included, as well as an explanation of the Christaller Central Place theory, the mechanism for working out how to best encourage settlement and development so the largest portion of a population is serviced with the least amount of energy and expenditure.

In recent years the field of geography has expanded, and now courses are being offered based on Global-Positioning-System (GPS) technology, as well as the forces and consequences of climate change on Earth’s ecosystem. A good grounding in the fundamentals of geography will equip students to better understand the concepts in science, history and sociology courses, as well as enlighten them to the unique, sensitive and critical nature of the relationship between our planet and the dominant species currently inhabiting it.