Geography (from Greek: γεωγραφία, geographia, literally
"earth description") is a field of science devoted to the
study of the lands, features, inhabitants, and phenomena of the Earth
and planets. The first person to use the word
Eratosthenes (276–194 BC).
Geography is an all-encompassing discipline that seeks an
Earth and its human and natural complexities—not
merely where objects are, but also how they have changed and come to
Geography is often defined in terms of two branches: human geography
and physical geography.
Human geography deals
with the study of people and their communities, cultures, economies,
and interactions with the environment by studying their relations with
and across space and place.
Physical geography deals with
the study of processes and patterns in the natural environment like
the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and geosphere.
The four historical traditions in geographical research are: spatial
analyses of natural and the human phenomena, area studies of places
and regions, studies of human-land relationships, and the Earth
Geography has been called "the world
discipline" and "the bridge between the human and the
2.1 Physical geography
2.3 Integrated geography
2.5 Regional geography
2.6 Related fields
3.2 Geographic information systems
3.3 Remote sensing
3.4 Quantitative methods
3.5 Qualitative methods
5 Notable geographers
6 Institutions and societies
Geography is a systematic study of the Universe and its features.
Traditionally, geography has been associated with cartography and
place names. Although many geographers are trained in toponymy and
cartology, this is not their main preoccupation. Geographers study the
space and the temporal database distribution of phenomena, processes,
and features as well as the interaction of humans and their
environment. Because space and place affect a variety of
topics, such as economics, health, climate, plants and animals,
geography is highly interdisciplinary. The interdisciplinary nature of
the geographical approach depends on an attentiveness to the
relationship between physical and human phenomena and its spatial
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Names of places...are not geography...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 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.— William Hughes, 1863
Just as all phenomena exist in time and thus have a history, they also
exist in space and have a geography.— United
States National Research Council, 1997
Geography as a discipline can be split broadly into two main
subsidiary fields: human geography and physical geography. The former
largely focuses on the built environment and how humans create, view,
manage, and influence space. The latter examines the natural
environment, and how organisms, climate, soil, water, and landforms
produce and interact. The difference between these
approaches led to a third field, environmental geography, which
combines physical and human geography and concerns the interactions
between the environment and humans.
Main article: Physical geography
Physical geography (or physiography) focuses on geography as an Earth
science. It aims to understand the physical problems and the issues of
lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, pedosphere, and global flora and
fauna patterns (biosphere).
Physical geography can be divided into many broad categories,
Climatology & meteorology
Hydrology & hydrography
Human geography is a branch of geography that focuses on the study of
patterns and processes that shape the human society. It encompasses
the human, political, cultural, social, and economic aspects.
Human geography can be divided into many broad categories, such as:
Historical & Time geog.
Political geog. & Geopolitics
Pop. geog. or Demography
Various approaches to the study of human geography have also arisen
through time and include:
Main article: Integrated geography
Integrated geography is concerned with the description of the spatial
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 that human societies conceptualize the
Integrated 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 the human
relationship with the environment has changed as a result of
globalization and technological change, a new approach was needed to
understand the changing and dynamic relationship. Examples of areas of
research in environmental geography include: emergency management,
environmental management, sustainability, and political ecology.
Main article: Geomatics
Digital Elevation Model (DEM)
Geomatics is concerned with the application of computers to the
traditional spatial techniques used in cartography and topography.
Geomatics emerged from the quantitative revolution in geography in the
mid-1950s. Today, geomatics methods include spatial analysis,
geographic information systems (GIS), remote sensing, and global
positioning systems (GPS).
Geomatics has led to a revitalization of
some geography departments, especially in Northern America where the
subject had a declining status during the 1950s.
Main article: Regional geography
Regional geography is concerned with the description of the unique
characteristics of a particular region such as its natural or human
elements. The main aim is to understand, or define the uniqueness, or
character of a particular region that consists of natural as well as
human elements. Attention is paid also to regionalization, which
covers the proper techniques of space delimitation into regions.
Urban planning, regional planning, and spatial planning: Use the
science of geography to assist in determining how to develop (or not
develop) the land to meet particular criteria, such as safety, beauty,
economic opportunities, the preservation of the built or natural
heritage, and so on. The planning of towns, cities, and rural areas
may be seen as applied geography.
Regional science: In the 1950s, the regional science movement led by
Walter Isard arose to provide a more quantitative and analytical base
to geographical questions, in contrast to the descriptive tendencies
of traditional geography programs.
Regional science comprises the body
of knowledge in which the spatial dimension plays a fundamental role,
such as regional economics, resource management, location theory,
urban and regional planning, transport and communication, human
geography, population distribution, landscape ecology, and
Interplanetary Sciences: While the discipline of geography is normally
concerned with the Earth, the term can also be informally used to
describe the study of other worlds, such as the planets of the Solar
System and even beyond. The study of systems larger than the Earth
itself usually forms part of
Astronomy or Cosmology. The study of
other planets is usually called planetary science. Alternative terms
such as areology (the study of Mars) have been proposed but are not
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:
Systematic – Groups geographical knowledge into categories that
can be explored globally.
Regional – Examines systematic relationships between categories
for a specific region or location on the planet.
Descriptive – Simply specifies the locations of features and
Analytical – Asks why we find features and populations in a
specific geographic area.
James Cook's 1770 chart of New Zealand
Main article: 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
Cartographers must learn cognitive psychology and ergonomics to
understand which symbols convey information about the
effectively, and behavioural 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
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.
Geographic information systems
Main article: Geographic information system
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, analyse, and predict the spatial relationships. In this
context, GIS stands for geographic information science.
Main article: Remote sensing
Remote sensing is the 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 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 analysed either independently of, or in conjunction
with other digital data layers (e.g., in a geographic information
Main article: Geostatistics
Geostatistics deal with quantitative data analysis, specifically the
application of statistical methodology to the exploration of
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,
linear 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.
Main article: Ethnography
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.
History of geography
The oldest known world maps date back to ancient
Babylon from the 9th
century BC. The best known Babylonian world map, however,
is the Imago Mundi of 600 BC. The map as reconstructed by
Eckhard Unger shows
Babylon on the Euphrates, surrounded by a circular
landmass showing Assyria, Urartu and several cities, in
turn surrounded by a "bitter river" (Oceanus), with seven islands
arranged around it so as to form a seven-pointed star. The
accompanying text mentions seven outer regions beyond the encircling
ocean. The descriptions of five of them have survived. In
contrast to the Imago Mundi, an earlier Babylonian world map dating
back to the 9th century BC depicted
Babylon as being further north
from the center of the world, though it is not certain what that
center was supposed to represent.
The ideas of
Anaximander (c. 610–545 BC): considered by later Greek
writers to be the true founder of geography, come to us through
fragments quoted by his successors.
Anaximander is credited with the
invention of the gnomon, the simple, yet efficient Greek instrument
that allowed the early measurement of latitude. Thales is also
credited with the prediction of eclipses. The foundations of geography
can be traced to the ancient cultures, such as the ancient, medieval,
and early modern Chinese. The Greeks, who were the first to explore
geography as both art and science, achieved this through Cartography,
Philosophy, and Literature, or through Mathematics. There is some
debate about who was the first person to assert that the
spherical in shape, with the credit going either to
Anaxagoras was able to demonstrate that the profile of the
Earth was circular by explaining eclipses. However, he still believed
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
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 meridians were sub-divided into 360°,
with each degree further subdivided into 60 (minutes). To measure the
longitude at different locations on Earth, he suggested using eclipses
to determine the relative difference in time. 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.
From the 3rd century onwards, Chinese methods of geographical study
and writing of geographical literature became much more comprehensive
than what was found in
Europe at the time (until the 13th
century). Chinese geographers such as Liu An, Pei Xiu, Jia
Dan, Shen Kuo, Fan Chengda, Zhou Daguan, and
Xu Xiake wrote important
treatises, yet by the 17th century advanced ideas and methods of
Western-style geography were adopted in China.
Ptolemy world map, reconstituted from Ptolemy's Geographia,
written c. 150
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. Muslim geographers such as Muhammad al-Idrisi
produced detailed world maps (such as Tabula Rogeriana), while other
geographers such as Yaqut al-Hamawi, Abu Rayhan Biruni, Ibn Battuta,
Ibn Khaldun provided detailed accounts of their journeys and the
geography of the regions they visited. Turkish geographer, Mahmud
al-Kashgari drew a world map on a linguistic basis, and later so did
Piri Reis (
Piri Reis map). Further, Islamic scholars translated and
interpreted the earlier works of the Romans and the Greeks and
House of Wisdom
House of Wisdom in
Baghdad for this
purpose. Abū Zayd al-Balkhī, originally from Balkh,
founded the "Balkhī school" of terrestrial mapping in
Baghdad. Suhrāb, a late tenth century Muslim geographer
accompanied a book of geographical coordinates, with instructions for
making a rectangular world map with equirectangular projection or
cylindrical equidistant projection.[verification
Abu Rayhan Biruni
Abu Rayhan Biruni (976–1048) first described a polar equi-azimuthal
equidistant projection of the celestial sphere. He was
regarded as the most skilled when it came to mapping cities and
measuring the distances between them, which he did for many cities in
Middle East and the Indian subcontinent. He often combined
astronomical readings and mathematical equations, in order to develop
methods of pin-pointing locations by recording degrees of latitude and
longitude. He also developed similar techniques when it came to
measuring the heights of mountains, depths of the valleys, and expanse
of the horizon. He also discussed human geography and the planetary
habitability of the Earth. He also calculated the latitude of Kath,
Khwarezm, using the maximum altitude of the Sun, and solved a complex
geodesic equation in order to accurately compute the Earth's
circumference, which was close to modern values of the Earth's
circumference. His estimate of 6,339.9 km for the
Earth radius was only 16.8 km less than the modern value of
6,356.7 km. In contrast to his predecessors, who measured the
Earth's circumference by sighting the Sun simultaneously from two
different locations, al-Biruni developed a new method of using
trigonometric calculations, based on the angle between a plain and
mountain top, which yielded more accurate measurements of the Earth's
circumference, and made it possible for it to be measured by a single
person from a single location.
Self portrait of Alexander von Humboldt, one of the early pioneers
of geography as an academic subject in modern sense
Age of Discovery
Age of Discovery during the 16th and the 17th centuries,
where many new lands were discovered and accounts by European
explorers such as Christopher Columbus, Marco Polo, and James Cook
revived a desire for both accurate geographic detail, and more solid
theoretical foundations in Europe. The problem facing both explorers
and geographers was finding the latitude and longitude of a geographic
location. The problem of latitude was solved long ago but that of
longitude remained; agreeing on what zero meridian should be was only
part of the problem. It was left to
John Harrison to solve it by
inventing the chronometer H-4 in 1760, and later in 1884 for the
International Meridian Conference
International Meridian Conference to adopt by convention the Greenwich
meridian as zero meridian.
The 18th and the 19th centuries were the times when geography became
recognized as a discrete academic discipline, and became part of a
typical university curriculum in
Paris and Berlin).
The development of many geographic societies also occurred during the
19th century, with the foundations of the
Société de Géographie
Société de Géographie in
Royal Geographical Society
Royal Geographical Society in 1830,
Russian Geographical Society
Russian Geographical Society in 1845, American
Geographical Society in 1851, and the National Geographic
Society in 1888. The influence of Immanuel Kant, Alexander
von Humboldt, Carl Ritter, and
Paul Vidal de la Blache
Paul Vidal de la Blache can be seen as
a major turning point in geography from a philosophy to an academic
Over the past two centuries, the advancements in technology with
computers have 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.
List of geographers and List of Graeco-Roman
Eratosthenes (276–194 BC) – calculated the size of the Earth.
Strabo (64/63 BC – c. AD 24) – wrote Geographica, one of
the first books outlining the study of geography.
Ptolemy (c. 90–168) – compiled Greek and Roman knowledge into
the book Geographia.
Al Idrisi (Arabic: أبو عبد الله محمد الإدريسي;
Latin: Dreses) (1100–1165/66) – author of Nuzhatul Mushtaq.
Gerardus Mercator (1512–1594) – innovative cartographer
produced the mercator projection
Alexander von Humboldt
Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) – considered father of
modern geography, published Cosmos and founder of the sub-field
Carl Ritter (1779–1859) – considered father of modern
geography, occupied the first chair of geography at
Arnold Henry Guyot
Arnold Henry Guyot (1807–1884) – noted the structure of
glaciers and advanced understanding in glacier motion, especially in
fast ice flow.
Radhanath Sikdar (1813–1870) – calculated the height of Mount
William Morris Davis
William Morris Davis (1850–1934) – father of American
geography and developer of the cycle of erosion.
Paul Vidal de la Blache
Paul Vidal de la Blache (1845–1918) – founder of the French
school of geopolitics, wrote the principles of human geography.
John Francon Williams
John Francon Williams (1854–1911) - noted author of The
the Oceans and other geography works.
Halford Mackinder (1861–1947) – co-founder of the LSE,
Ellen Churchill Semple
Ellen Churchill Semple (1863–1932) – first influential female
geographer in the United States.
Carl O. Sauer
Carl O. Sauer (1889–1975) – prominent cultural geographer.
Walter Christaller (1893–1969) – human geographer and
inventor of Central place theory.
Yi-Fu Tuan (born 1930) – Chinese-American scholar credited with
Geography as a discipline.
Karl W. Butzer (1934–2016) – influential German-American
geographer, cultural ecologist and environmental archaeologist.
David Harvey (born 1935) – Marxist geographer and author of
theories on spatial and urban geography, winner of the Vautrin Lud
Edward Soja (1941–2015) – noted for his work on regional
development, planning and governance along with coining the terms
Synekism and Postmetropolis; winner of the Vautrin Lud Prize.
Michael Frank Goodchild
Michael Frank Goodchild (born 1944) – prominent GIS scholar and
winner of the RGS founder's medal in 2003.
Doreen Massey (1944–2016) – key scholar in the space and
places of globalization and its pluralities; winner of the Vautrin Lud
Nigel Thrift (born 1949) – originator of non-representational
Institutions and societies
American Geographical Society
American Geographical Society (US)
Anton Melik Geographical Institute (Slovenia)
American Association of Geographers
American Association of Geographers (AAG)
Institute of Geographical Information Systems (Pakistan)
Karachi Geographical Society (Pakistan)
National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society (US)
Royal Canadian Geographical Society (Canada)
Royal Geographical Society
Royal Geographical Society (UK)
Russian Geographical Society
Russian Geographical Society (Russia)
Royal Danish Geographical Society (Denmark)
African Geographical Review
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