“It is dynamic and relevant. For me geography is a great adventure with a purpose.” – Michael Palin
Geography can be described as the study of people, countries and natural phenomena. Initially, undertaken as a subject in primary and high school, it really comes into its own as a subject at varsity level, where a student could pursue geography courses up to doctorate level.
It is an indisputable fact that a full, deeper study and understanding of what makes up geography occurs at an advanced level of study.
Additionally, anyone, who has made a superficial study of geography, may have gained some knowledge of map-reading, the earth’s surface and the different continents; what they may however not be aware of is that it is an academic discipline in its own right, having five themes that go far deeper that cartography, oceans and natural regions.
Geography has five themes. What are they?
Geography’s five themes are location, movement, place, region and human-environment interaction.
If you do not have a thorough grasp of what these different geography topics cover or mean, don’t worry – Superprof’s here!
This article examines each of the five themes thoroughly to bring students, at all levels, to a point of grasping the subject of Geography firmly.
“Change your location and you just may change yourself.” – Eric Weiner
A dictionary definition of location would refer to a particular position or place. As an example, 221B Baker Street, London is the location of The Sherlock Holmes Museum.
However, the geographical location of the property can be delineated more exactly.
What does that mean?
Essentially, the position of a place can be described either as its relative location or its absolute location.
Absolute location is the precise position of someone’s home, a city, town or place of interest. Latitude and longitude are used to indicate the absolute location.
The absolute location of Cape Town, for example, would be 33.9249ºS, 18.4241ºE when utilising degrees of latitude and longitude. Another example would be the precise address of a place of interest, the seat of government in Pretoria: Union Buildings, Government Avenue, Pretoria, 0001. This is also called the place’s geographical location.
On the other hand, the relative location of a place would indicate where it is located in relation to other places. Kilometres, miles, minutes and cardinal points are used in this kind of description.
The geographic co-ordinates for Durban are, for example, 29.8587ºS, 31.0218ºE. When looking at its relative location, it can be said to be 500 kilometres south-east of Johannesburg.
Once you have a good comprehension of location, the first theme of geography, you will more readily be able to identify the difference between a place’s relative and absolute location.
“I like geography. I like to know where places are.” – Tom Felton
A dictionary definition of place would go along the lines of a particular position or point in space or a portion of an area available for someone or something. Place, in geography, the academic discipline, refers to the physical and human features of a location.
Geography topics or themes can be broken down further into bite-sized chunks and below are three terms which relate to this particular theme:
- Situation: the conditions of a place’s environment
- Site: features of a place described in detail
- Toponym: the specific or particular name of a place
An important point to stress is that each place or geographical location is different in terms of its landforms, biogeography, landforms, pedology, etc.
A place’s human characteristics refers to all the human attributes that man has introduced to a place, including roads, bridges, parks and house. Further, it would also refer to geography topics like population density, land use, language patterns, architecture, religion and political systems.
The human characteristics of Dubai, for example, would be that it has about 3,4 million inhabitants, with 85% being ex-patriates.
Knowledge of the term “place” puts geographers in a position to readily contrast and compare different places on the globe. For instance, Antarctica and the Sahara are both deserts, but they can easily be compared in terms of climate, location and wildlife.
But for this, the second theme of geography, students might not be able to formulate a clear picture of particular places in their minds, which may lead to confusion.
Man and nature belong together in their created glory – in their tragedy and in their salvation. – Paul Tillich
No other species has had as great an impact on the earth and its systems as humankind. Human-environment interaction, the third theme of geography, examines this vital interchange between the systems of man and all other aspects of the earth’s ecosystem.
Humankind has an amazing ability to adapt to adverse conditions and various environments, which has led to man overshadowing all other species on the planet.
Geographers, who specialise in environmental geographic information, have developed the theme human-environment interaction, which consists of three main components:
- Dependency: examines the ways in which mankind is dependent on the natural surroundings. Farmers, for example, rely on the rains to come during a particular season. When those rains are delayed or not sufficient, the quality and the yield of the crops will be negatively affected.
- Modification: humans have proven themselves to be the most superior species, as they have been able to modify their environment to suit their needs. In extreme climates, humans have designed shelters to protect themselves against the elements, even on a continent as harsh as Antarctica. Heating and air-cooling systems have also been invented to make living conditions bearable. Man has tamed wild animals for his use and created motor vehicles, railroads and aeroplanes to shorten distances between towns, cities and countries.
- Adaptation: explains how humans have shown the ability to adapt to almost any new environment. An example of this is when people initially moved to a much colder climate, they designed and made warmer items of clothing to protect their bodies from the harsher elements.
Of the three above-mentioned features, modification has had the most detrimental effects on the environment. Though the modifications that mankind has found necessary to make, negative effects, such as climate change, extinction of species and global warming, have occurred.
For a student who wishes to get a better grasp of this significant aspect of the discipline, there are geography courses which would outline topics which relate to Drivers-Pressure-State-Impact-Response, co-adaptation and the human social system.
The least movement is of importance to all nature. The entire ocean is affected by a pebble. - Blaise Pascal
The dictionary definition of geography’s fourth theme, movement, refers to the act of moving or the change in position.
Planet earth is witness to many movements. However, since the planet is dominated by human beings, when movement is examined from a geographical perspective the focus is on the movement of people, their goods, ideas and services from one side of the world to the other.
In human geography, the movement of people is studied under the topics emigration and immigration.
Movement by man, over centuries, has seen the species traverse the planet’s oceans and reach distant, previously unknown continents and even explore outer space. Man has even managed to land on the moon and is now contemplating a settlement on Mars, explorers being offered a one-way ticket. Too rich for your blood?
In geography, and especially under the theme of movement, a study is made of how people trade and how they transport goods from one side of the globe to the other. An example of trade is reflected in how cacao is imported, from Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and the Ivory Coast, by nations such as the USA, the Netherlands, Germany, France and the United Kingdom.
Another, very important, aspect which is a sub-topic of movement, relates to how ideas move and are distributed. The sharing of thoughts and ideas between different nations contributes greatly to solving universal challenges and can lead to co-operation between nations at a time of crisis. The growth and expansion of the Internet has caused the movement of ideas to occur at a far greater speed than ever before.
A study of this aspect of geography, movement, will aid mankind in understanding the way in which people move themselves, products and ideas in a fast-changing world.
For one country is different from another; its earth is different, as are its stones, wines, bread, meat and everything that grows and thrives in a specific region. – Paracelsus
The online Cambridge dictionary defines region, the fifth theme of geography, as a particular area or part of the world or any of the large official areas into which a country is divided
Region examines continents, countries, provinces, districts and cities which can be described as a formal region, since a political or governmental body unifies them.
A functional region is one where a location is well-connected via transportation that assists in the movement of ideas, people and goods within that particular area.
Many large cities, around the world, such as Rio de Janeiro, Mumbai, New York City and Tokyo have suburbs that are considered functional regions as workers travel into the city to earn an income. Regions, close to cities, do not, necessarily, have clearly defined borders, as we might believe them to have.
An example of this is the region called the Middle East. This is a geopolitical term which alludes to a large portion of western Asia and Egypt and includes countries which have many similar characteristics. It replaced the term Near East at the start of the 20th century.
Any would-be geographer would benefit greatly from having a good understanding of the five themes of geography, which provides a deeper awareness of planet earth. In addition, the study of geography will help people realise how necessary it is for people to work together to save our ailing planet.
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