Human Geography Exam notes
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Nature and Perspectives
A. Geography as a field of inquiry
Evolution of key geographical concepts and models associated with notable geographers
B. Key concepts underlying the geographical perspective: location, space, place, scale, pattern, regionalization, and
C. Key geographical skills
1. How to use and think about maps and spatial data
2. How to understand and interpret the implications of associations among phenomena in places
3. How to recognize and interpret at different scales the relationships among patterns and processes
4. How to define regions and evaluate the regionalization process
5. How to characterize and analyze changing interconnections among places
D. New geographic technologies, such as GIS and GPS
E. Sources of geographical ideas and data: the field, census data
W. D. Pattison's Four Traditions
In 1964, W.D. Pattison, a professor at the University of Chicago, wanted to counter the idea that
geography was an undisciplined science by saying that geographers had exhibited broad enough consistency
such that there were four distinctive, but affiliated traditions:
1) An earth-science tradition - physical (natural) geography.
Aristotle (384-322 B.C.); Greek philosopher who looked at natural processes, Earth is spherical, matter falls
together toward a common center.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804); German
1) All knowledge can be classified logically or physically
2) Descriptions according to time comprise history, descriptions according to place compromise geography
3) History studies phenomena that follow one another chronologically, whereas geography studies phenomena
that are located beside one another.
2) A man-land tradition - relationships between human societies and natural environments.
Hippocratic; a Greek Physician of 5th century B.C. who wrote that places affect the health and
character of man.
Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) and Carl Ritter (1779-1859); German
1) Move beyond describing earth’s surface to explaining why certain phenomena are present or absent.
2) Origin of “where” and “why” approach
3) Environmental determinism – how the physical environment causes social development
3) A spatial tradition - spatial unifying theme, similar patterns between physical & human geography.
Claudius Ptolemy (A.D. 100?-170?); a Greek, who wrote 8-volume Geographia in the second century A.D.
containing numerous maps (also father of geometry).
Alfred Wegener; climatologist
1) Studied spatial arrangement of landmasses, used geographical and geological evidence
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2) Continental drift – landmasses were once part of supercontinent (plate tectonics)
4) An area-studies tradition - regional geography
Strabo (63? B.C.-A.D. 24?); Roman investigator, who wrote a report called Geography, a massive production for the
statesmen intended to sum up and regularize knowledge of location and place, their character, and their
Carl Sauer (1889-1975); American
1) The work of human geography is to discern the relationships among social and physical phenomena
2) Everything in the landscape is interrelated.
5 Themes of Geography
Location, Human/Environmental Interactions, Regions, Place, Movement
A study of Geography begins with knowing where things are located on a map. But more important, it
requires an understanding of why things are located in particular places, and how those places influence our lives.
By using these 5 themes as a basis for understanding geographic information, we can gain a better appreciation of
cultural and environmental changes around the world.
The first three themes correspond to Pattison's four traditions. Location, human/environmental interactions,
and regions continue to anchor the study of geography. Two other themes, place and movement, were added in 1986
by the National Geographic society developed by the Geography Education National implementation Project
(GENIP). All places on earth have distinguishing human and physical characteristics. Movement refers to the
mobility of people, goods, and ideas.
Location (position on Earth’s surface)
Distribution – various locations of a collection of people or objects
Ways to indicate location (position):
1) Maps: best way to show location and demonstrate insights gained through spatial analysis
2) Place-name: a name given to a portion of the Earth’s surface (“Miami”)
3) Site: physical characteristics of a place; climate, water sources, topography, soil, vegetation, latitude, and
4) Absolute location: latitude and longitude (parallels and meridians), mathematical measurements mainly useful
in determining exact distances and direction (maps)
5) Relative location: location of a place relative to other places (situation), valuable way to indicate location for
a) Finding an unfamiliar place - by comparing its location with a familiar one (“Miami – 35 miles northwest
b) Centrality, understanding its importance (Chicago – hub of sea & air transportation, close to four other
states; Singapore – accessible to other countries in Southeast Asia)
6) Distribution: arrangement of something across Earth’s surface
a) Density – frequency with which something occurs in an area. Arithmetic density – total number of objects
(people) in an area. Physiologic density – number of people per unit area of agriculturally productive land.
b) Concentration – extent of a feature’s spread over an area. Clustered – relatively close. Dispersed –
relatively far apart.
c) Pattern – geometric arrangement of objects.
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Human/Environmental Interactions (Cultural ecology - relations between cultures and environment)
1) Cultural landscape – includes all human-induced changes that involve the surface and the biosphere. Carl
Sauer: “… the forms superimposed on the physical landscape by the activities of man.”
2) Environmental Determinism – human behavior, individually and collectively, is strongly affected by, and even
controlled or determined by the environment
3) Possibilism – the natural environment merely serves to limit the range of choices available to a culture
4) Environmental Modification – positive and negative environmental alterations
Regions (areas of unique characteristics, ways of organizing people geographically)
1) Distinctive characteristics:
a) area: defined spatial extent
b) location: lie somewhere on Earth’s surface
c) boundaries: sometimes evident on the ground, often based on specifically chosen criteria
d) other: cultural (language, religion), economic (agriculture, industry), physical (climate, vegetation)
2) Three types of regions:
a) Formal – (a.k.a. uniform, homogeneous), visible and measurable homogeneity (link to scale and detail)
b) Functional – product of interactions, and movement of various kinds, usually characterized by a core and
hinterland (e.g. a city and its surrounding suburbs)
c) Perceptual – (a.k.a. vernacular), primarily in the minds of people (e.g. Sunbelt)
3) Regions can be seen in a hierarchy (vertical order, scale), (e.g. Ft. Lauderdale – Broward County – Florida –
Southeastern US …)
Place (associations among phenomena in an area)
1) Culture – people’s lifestyles, values, beliefs, and traits
a) What people care about: language, religion, ethnicity
b) What people take care of: 1) daily necessities of survival (food, clothing, shelter) and 2) leisure activities
(artistic expressions, recreation)
c) Cultural institutions: political institutions (a country, its laws and rights)
2) Components of culture:
a) Culture region – the area within which a particular culture system prevails (dress, building styles, farms
and fields, material manifestations,…)
b) Culture trait – a single attribute of culture
c) Culture complex – a discrete combination of traits
d) Culture system – grouping of certain complexes, may be based on ethnicity, language, religion,…
e) Culture realm – an assemblage of culture (or geographic) regions, the most highly generalized
regionalization of culture and geography (e.g. sub-Saharan Africa)
3) Physical Processes – environmental processes, which explain the distribution of human activities
a) Climate – long-term average weather condition at a particular location. Vladimir Koppen’s five main
climate regions (expresses humans’ limited tolerance for extreme temperature and precipitation levels)
b) Vegetation – plant life.
c) Soil – the material that forms Earth’s surface, in the thin interface between the air and the rocks. Erosion
and the depletion of nutrients are two basic problems concerning the destruction of the soil.
d) Landforms – Earth’s surface features (geomorphology), limited population near poles and at high altitudes
Movement (interconnections between areas)
1) Culture Hearths – sources of civilization from which an idea, innovation, or ideology originates (e.g.
Mesopotamia, Nile Valley), viewed in the context of time as well as space
2) Cultural diffusion – spread of an innovation, or ideology from its source area to another culture
a) Expansion diffusion – an innovation, or ideology develops in a source area and remains strong there
while also spreading outward
1) Contagious diffusion – nearly all adjacent individuals are affected (e.g. spread of Islam, disease)
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