Geog 100

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6 Nov 2011
Geography 100; Week 1 – Jan. 6
Synopsis: On Geography
In its essence: “the study of the world around us”
Preconceived notions may give the wrong impression of geography...
Two major points to grasp as the course begins…
#1. Geography is defined by its viewpoint, not by its subject matter.
Geography lacks a subject matter that uniquely ‘belongs’ to it. Instead, it looks at things
in a distinctive way... As expressed on the earth’s surface.
#2. Human Geography involves two main intellectual traditions.
Broadly, two main traditions have coexisted over the years...
Summing up the focus of each in just a single word: environment + space.
‘Environment’: that which surrounds.
Geographers stress the biophysical environment around us – climate, soils, water, etc.
‘Space’: that dimension within which things are located.
Geographers work at the scale of the earth’s surface: Burnaby, BC, the Americas, etc.
Environmental (or ecological) tradition looks at how humans interact with the
biophysical environment, both the processes and the results.
Spatial tradition looks at the location and distribution of features/phenomena across
the earth’s surface. A fundamental question is ‘where’?
Ecological / Environmental Tradition
Example: recent environmental decline at and near the Aral Sea.
During Soviet control, irrigation expanded lavishly.
Foremost goal: self-sufficiency in cotton.
The overused southern rivers have been reduced to mere trickles.
And with less water now flowing in, the Aral Sea is shrinking.
Now that the Aral has shrunk, its moderating effect on climate is less.
As the Aral evaporates, salts get deposited on the former seabed.
A shrinking Aral Sea has altered the local economy.
There is not enough water to sustain both the Aral Sea and cotton production.
Spatial Tradition
Example: the custom of geophagy (earth-eating).
Where? Found scattered across Africa; Latin America; warmer parts of Asia; the Pacific
islands. And once quite common in the rural South of the US.
Eating earth is often ad hoc. But in some places, clays figure in local commerce.
Who eats earth? Women lead the way.
Implications of spatial pattern
Why? The key factor seems to be diet/health…
Clays provide mineral supplements in lands with marginal diets.
Clays help combat toxins in food.
So: Geography’s two main traditions illustrated...
Yet, ultimately, they overlap.
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