Geography

Geography (from the Greek words Ge (γη) or Gaea (γαια), both meaning "Earth", and graphein (γραφειν) meaning "to describe" or "to write"or "to map") is the study of the Earth's features and the distribution of its resources and life, including humanity and the effects of human activity.[1] A literal translation would be "to describe the Earth". The four historical traditions in geographical research are the spatial analysis of natural and human phenomena (geography as a study of distribution), area studies (places and regions), study of man-land relationship, and research in earth sciences. [2] Nonetheless, modern geography is an all-encompassing discipline that foremost seeks to understand the world and all of its human and natural complexities-- not merely where things are, but how they have changed and come to be. It is said to be the "mother of all sciences" and "the synthesizer of knowledge." As "the bridge between the human and physical sciences," geography is divided into two main branches, human geography and physical geography.[3]

Contents

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Introduction

Map of the Earth
Map of the Earth

Traditionally, geography as well as geographers has been viewed as the same as cartography and people who study place names. Although many geographers are trained in toponymy and cartography, this is not their main preoccupation. Geographers study the spatial and temporal distribution of phenomena, processes and feature as well as the interaction of humans and their environment.[4] As space and place affect a variety of topics such as economics, health, climate, plants and animals, geography is highly interdisciplinary.

   
Geography
mere names of places...are not geography...To know by heart a whole gazetteer full of them would not, in itself, constitute anyone a geographer. Geography has higher aims than this: it seeks to classify phenomena (alike of the natural and of the political world, in so far as it treats of the latter), to compare, to generalize, to ascend from effects to causes, and, in doing so, to trace out the great laws of nature and to mark their influences upon man. This is 'a description of the world'—that is Geography. In a word Geography is a Science—a thing not of mere names but of argument and reason, of cause and effect.
   
Geography
 
— William Hughes 1863[5]

Geography as a discipline can be split broadly into two main sub fields: human geography and physical geography. The former focuses largely on the built environment and how space is created, viewed and managed by humans as well as the influence humans have on the space they occupy. The latter examines the natural environment and how the climate, vegetation & life, soil, water and landforms and produced and interact.[6] As a result of the two subfields using different approaches a third field has emerged, which is environmental geography. Environmental geography combines physical and human geography and looks at the interactions between the environment and humans.[4]

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History of geography

See main article: History of geography
Ptolemy's 150 CE World Map (redrawn in the 15th century)
Ptolemy's 150 CE World Map (redrawn in the 15th century)

The foundations of geography can be traced to the ancient cultures, such as the Greeks, who were the first to explore geography as both art and science, whether through Cartography, Philosophy, and Literature, or through Mathematics. There is some debate about who was the first person to assert that the Earth is spherical in shape, with the credit going either to Parmenides or Pythagoras. Anaxagoras was able to demonstrate that the profile of the Earth was circular by explaining eclipses. However, he still believed that the Earth was a flat disk, as did many of his contemporaries. One of the first estimates of the radius of the Earth was made by Eratosthenes.[7]

The first rigorous system of latitude and longitude lines is credited to Hipparchus. He employed a sexagesimal system that was derived from Babylonian mathematics. The parallels and meridians were sub-divided into 360°, with each degree further subdivided 60′ (minutes). To measure the longitude at different location on Earth, he suggested using eclipses to determine the relative difference in time.[8] The extensive mapping by the Romans as they explored new lands would later provide a high level of information for Ptolemy to construct detailed atlases. He extended the work of Hipparchus, using a grid system on his maps and adopting a length of 56.5 miles for a degree.[9]

During the Middle Ages, the fall of the Roman empire led to a shift in the evolution of geography from Europe to the Islamic world.[citation needed] Scholars such as Idrisi (produced detailed maps), Ibn Batutta, and Ibn Khaldun provided detailed accounts of their Hajj. Further, Islamic scholars translated and interpreted the earlier works of the Romans and Greeks and established the House of Wisdom in Baghdad for this purpose.[10]

The Age of discovery during the 16th and 17th centuries where many new lands were discovered and accounts by explorers such as Christopher Columbus, Marco Polo and James Cook, revived a desire for both accurate geographic detail, and more solid theoretical foundations.[citation needed]

The 18th and 19th centuries were the times when geography became recognized as a discrete academic discipline and became part of a typical university curriculum in Europe (especially Paris and Berlin). The development of many geographic societies also occurred during the 19th century with the foundations of the Société de Géographie in 1821,[11] the Royal Geographical Society in 1830,[12] Russian Geographical Society in 1845[13] and the National Geographic Society in1888.[14] The influence of Immanuel Kant, Alexander von Humbolt, Carl Ritter and Paul Vidal de la Blache can be seen as a major turning point in geography from a philosophy to an academic subject.

Over the past two centuries the advancements in technology such as computers, has led to the development of geomatics and new practices such as participant observation and geostatistics being incorporated into geography's portfolio of tools. In the West during the 20th century, the discipline of geography went through four major phases: environmental determinism, regional geography, the quantitative revolution, and critical geography. The strong interdisciplinary links between geography and the sciences of geology and botany, as well as economics, sociology and demographics have also grown greatly especially as a result of Earth System Science that seeks to understand the world in a holistic view.

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Branches of geography

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Physical geography

Physical geography (or physiogeography) focuses on geography as an Earth science. It aims to understand the physical features of the Earth, its lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, pedosphere and global flora and fauna patterns (biosphere). Physical Geography can be divided into the following broad categories:

  • Biogeography
  • Climatology and paleoclimatology
  • Coastal/Marine studies
  • Environmental Geography and management
  • Geodesy
  • Geomorphology
  • Glaciology
  • Hydrology/Hydrography
    • Limnology
  • Landscape ecology
  • Oceanography
  • Pedology
  • Palaeogeography
Physical Map of the World
Physical Map of the World
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Human geography

Human geography is a branch of geography that focuses on the study of patterns and processes that shape human interaction with various environments. It encompasses human, political, cultural, social, and economic aspects. While the major focus of human geography is not the physical landscape of the Earth (see physical geography), it is hardly possible to discuss human geography without referring to the physical landscape on which human activities are being played out, and environmental geography is emerging as a link between the two. Human geography can be divided into many broad categories, such as:

  • Economic geography
  • Transportation geography
  • Development geography
  • Population geography or Demography*
  • Urban geography
  • Social geography
  • Behavioral geography
  • Geosophy
  • Cultural geography
  • Political geography, including Geopolitics*
  • Historical geography
  • Time geography
  • Regional geography
  • Tourism geography
  • Strategic geography
  • Military geography
  • Feminist geography
  • Children's geographies
Population density by country, 2006
Population density by country, 2006
*Distinction between these fields of study have become increasingly blurred over time and the above list should not be considered definitive.
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Environmental geography

Environmental geography is the branch of geography that describes the spatial aspects of interactions between humans and the natural world. It requires an understanding of the traditional aspects of physical and human geography, as well as the ways in which human societies conceptualize the environment.

Environmental geography has emerged as a bridge between human and physical geography as a result of the increasing specialisation of the two sub-fields. Furthermore, as human relationship with the environment has changed as a result of globalisation and technological change a new approach was needed to understand the changing and dynamic relationship. Examples of areas of research in environmental geography include disaster management, environmental management, sustainability and political ecology.

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Geomatics

DEM model
DEM model

Geomatics is a branch of geography that has emerged since the quantitative revolution in geography in the mid 1950s. Geomatics involves the use of traditional spatial techniques used in cartography and topography and their application to computers. Geomatics has become a widespread field with many other disciplines using techniques such as GIS and remote sensing. Geomatics has also lead to a revitalisation of some geography departments especially in Northern America where the subject had a declining status during the 1950s.

Geomatics encompasses a large area of fields involved with spatial analysis, such as Cartography, Geographic information systems (GIS), Remote sensing and GPS.

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Regional geography

Regional geography is a branch of geography that studies the regions of all sizes across the Earth. It has a prevailing descriptive character. The main aim is to understand or define the uniqueness or character of a particular region which consists of natural as well as human elements. Attention is paid also to regionalization which covers the proper techniques of space delimitation into regions.

Regional geography is also considered as a certain approach to study in geographical sciences (similar to quantitative or critical geographies, for more information see History of geography).

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Related fields

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Geographical techniques

As spatial interrelationships are key to this synoptic science, maps are a key tool. Classical cartography has been joined by a more modern approach to geographical analysis, computer-based geographic information systems (GIS).

In their study, geographers use four interrelated approaches:

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Cartography

Cartography studies the representation of the Earth's surface with abstract symbols (map making). Although other subdisciplines of geography rely on maps for presenting their analyses, the actual making of maps is abstract enough to be regarded separately. Cartography has grown from a collection of drafting techniques into an actual science.

Cartographers must learn cognitive psychology and ergonomics to understand which symbols convey information about the Earth most effectively, and behavioral psychology to induce the readers of their maps to act on the information. They must learn geodesy and fairly advanced mathematics to understand how the shape of the Earth affects the distortion of map symbols projected onto a flat surface for viewing. It can be said, without much controversy, that cartography is the seed from which the larger field of geography grew. Most geographers will cite a childhood fascination with maps as an early sign they would end up in the field.

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Geographic information systems

Geographic information systems (GIS) deal with the storage of information about the Earth for automatic retrieval by a computer, in an accurate manner appropriate to the information's purpose. In addition to all of the other subdisciplines of geography, GIS specialists must understand computer science and database systems. GIS has revolutionized the field of cartography; nearly all mapmaking is now done with the assistance of some form of GIS software. GIS also refers to the science of using GIS software and GIS techniques to represent, analyze and predict spatial relationships. In this context, GIS stands for Geographic Information Science.

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Remote sensing

Remote sensing can be defined as the art and science of obtaining information about Earth features from measurements made at a distance. Remotely sensed data comes in many forms such as satellite imagery, aerial photography and data obtained from hand-held sensors. Geographers increasingly use remotely sensed data to obtain information about the Earth's land surface, ocean and atmosphere because it: a) supplies objective information at a variety of spatial scales (local to global), b) provides a synoptic view of the area of interest, c) allows access to distant and/or inaccessible sites, d) provides spectral information outside the visible portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, and e) facilitates studies of how features/areas change over time. Remotely sensed data may be analyzed either independently of, or in conjunction with, other digital data layers (e.g., in a Geographic Information System).

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Geographic quantitative methods

Geostatistics deal with quantitative data analysis, specifically the application of statistical methodology to the exploration of geographic phenomena. Geostatistics is used extensively in a variety of fields including: hydrology, geology, petroleum exploration, weather analysis, urban planning, logistics, and epidemiology. The mathematical basis for geostatistics derives from cluster analysis, discriminant analysis, and non-parametric statistical tests, and a variety of other subjects. Applications of geostatistics rely heavily on Geographic Information Systems, particularly for the interpolation (estimate) of unmeasured points. Geographers are making notable contributions to the method of quantitative techniques.

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Geographic qualitative methods

Geographic qualitative methods, or ethnographical; research techniques, are used by human geographers. In cultural geography there is a tradition of employing qualitative research techniques also used in anthropology and sociology. Participant observation and in-depth interviews provide human geographers with qualitative data.

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Selective list of notable geographers

The Geographer by Johannes Vermeer
The Geographer by Johannes Vermeer
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References

  1. Geography. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company. Retrieved on October 9, 2006.
  2. Pattison, W.D. (1990). "The Four Traditions of Geography". Journal of Geography 89 (5): pp. 202-6. ISSN 0022-1341. Reprint of a 1964 article.
  3. web.clas.ufl.edu/users/morgans/lecture_2.prn.pdf.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Hayes-Bohanan, James. What is Environmental Geography, Anyway?. Retrieved on October 9, 2006.
  5. Hughes, William. (1863). The Study of Geography. Lecture delivered at King's College, London. Quoted in Baker, J.N.L (1963). The History of Geography. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, p. 66.
  6. What is geography?. AAG Career Guide: Jobs in Geography and related Geographical Sciences. Association of American Geographers. Retrieved on October 9, 2006.
  7. Jean-Louis and Monique Tassoul (1920). A Concise History of Solar and Stellar Physics. London: Princeton University Press.
  8. Hipparcos of Rhodes. Technology Museum of Thessaloniki (2001). Retrieved on 2006-10-16.
  9. Sullivan, Dan (2000). Mapmaking and its History. Rutgers University. Retrieved on 2006-10-16.
  10. http://www.islamicity.com/education/ihame/default.asp?Destination=/education/ihame/20.asp
  11. Société de Géographie, Paris, France (French). Retrieved on 2007-01-15.
  12. About Us. Royal Geographical Society. Retrieved on 2007-01-15.
  13. http://www.rgo.org.ru/
  14. http://www.nationalgeographic.com/index.html
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See also

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External links

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