“Geography explains the past, illuminates the present and prepares us for the future. What could be more important than that?” - Michael Palin

Geography is described by an online dictionary as ‘the study of the physical features of the earth and its atmosphere and of human activity as it affects and is affected by these, including the distribution of populations and resources and political and economic activities.”

People who invest in a career in geography really open themselves up to interesting and exciting prospects, because they will discover ways in which mankind can co-exist with one another and with the planet which is their home.

This very important subject, geography, is an academic discipline which has a number of sub-topics and sub-disciplines. Today’s article examines the subsections of physical geography, human geography, cartography and environmental geography.

Join us on a roller-coaster ride of the beautiful, blue planet!

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Human Geography

“History is a clock that people use to tell their political and cultural time of day. It is a compass they use to find themselves on the map of human geography.” - John Henrik Clarke

Using language that a layperson can understand, Geography can be described as the study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.

Like all the other important sections of the subject, human geography is comprised of a number of sub-sections that are worth considering. Below are the most important sub-branches of human geography:

  • Economic Geography: those involved in the review of economic geography study how products are produced and distributed. Economic geographers also focus attention on and analyse how wealth is distributed around the world. To better understand this sub-discipline, they also pay attention to aspects such as international trade, transportation, gendered economies, real estate and globalisation.
  • Population Geography: this section of human geography deals, in essence, with the way that people are distributed, demographically, in a particular geographic location, town, city or country. Not to be confused with demography, population geographers examine patterns within a group of people as relates to birth, marriage and death, which is what demographers do; population geography, however, delves deeper into these aspects and draws out greater detail. Some of these population geographers might spend their entire careers exploring one particular region or community.
  • Medical Geography: What are medical geographers and what do they do? They are the folk who examine the causes and the origins of viral outbreaks such as Ebola, the Asian flu and the Covid-19 outbreak, which have originated in one specific location and affected millions of people. This sub-discipline examines how particular illnesses have spread. Graphs, charts, maps and reports are generated to display the correlation between geography and public health. Exactly the career choice for a medical examiner who wishes to get to the crux of the matter!
studying geography and humans
In the most simple terms, human geography is the study of the human race. (Source: pixabay)

There, in a nutshell, are the three of geography’s most popular sub-sections which will give you a better overall understanding of the subject of geography.

Physical Geography

“Physical geography invites you to consider the terrestrial machinery which makes day and night, seed –time and harvest; which lifts the vapour from the sea, forms clouds and waters the earth; which clothes it with verdure and cheers it with warmth or covers it with snow.” – Matthew Fontaine Maury

So, what does this really important branch of earth sciences and geography entail?

Dealing with the physical characteristics of the planet, physical geography does not merely refer to what is on the earth’s surface, but what is beneath its surface, as well as what is in the air surrounding it.

This sub-section of geography, which is also called physiography or geosystems, has a raft of sub-units which can be studied at university level.

Yes, that’s right, this vital sub-topic of geography has sub-sections. Don’t sweat; buckle up while we have a look at a number of physical geography’s sub-disciplines:

Biogeography: resulting from the work of British naturalist and geographer, Alfred Russel Wallace, biogeography, as a sub-unit of physical geography, scrutinises the distribution of species and what effects stem from that process.

Water Resources Geography: this field of study looks at how water resources are found dispersed through different locations around the world. Water resource geographers, all over the world, examine how systems have been developed to utilise available water resources and seek ways to improve the efficacy of existing systems of management and distribution.

Climate Geography: this is an extremely important sub-section which studies weather patterns and their overall impact on the climate of a particular geographic region, continent, country or city.

Geomorphology: this field focuses on and examines landforms on the surface of the Earth and their origin. It looks at their processes, sediments and form and examines how processes, on the Earth’s surface, can shape the landscape.

The above subsections are but a foretaste of the number of intriguing fields and concepts which you will encounter when making a study of this interesting section of geography.

Significant among the sub-topics are coastal geography, oceanography, glaciology, hydrology, meteorology, potamology and orology; a raft of ologies!

Exploring some of these venerable sub sections of physical geography will, in no uncertain terms, renew an appreciation and regard for the beautiful planet we inhabit and for geography, as a whole.

learning more about geography
In water resources geography, geographers ensure that modern technology to distribute water is used correctly. (Source: pixabay)

Environmental Geography

”I wish our world was twice as big- and half of it was still unexplored.” – Sir David Attenborough

Let’s explain environmental geography.

Also known as human-environment geography or integrated geography, this very necessary topic studies the ways in which mankind interacts and impacts on his natural surroundings; it also highlights the need for a change, to minimise this impact or reverse its harmful effects.

Given the recent changes and their adverse effects, viz. changing  weather systems, raging wild-fires, extensive droughts and floods, a good  understanding of environmental geography is critical!

The world is ailing and the above-mentioned events indicate that a need for change is absolutely critical. There is no better word to describe it, especially when our world is in ICU.

Students reviewing environmental geography engage in a study of the following branches of this sub-discipline:

Hazards: some hazards, namely, ecological and  man-made natural blended disasters, include drought, fire, floods, earthquakes, tornados and volcanoes, among others. For what reason would researchers create some of these conditions? They do so to carefully examine the risks and attempt to put solutions in place.

Political Ecology: in the study of political ecology, environmental geographers factor things like economic, political, social and cultural systems into their study of the changing environment, with a view to identifying the adverse effects that human activity has on the environment and ways to remedy them.

Other fascinating sub-topics of integrated or environmental geography include environmental perception, systems theory, environmental governance and Marxian environmental geography.

While not as complete as physical or human geography, environmental geography is still of great importance. Humankind needs to know where it can do better, in order to reverse many of the ill-effects of centuries of industrialisation and ill-advised use of natural resources.

Cartography

woman sitting on car bonnet consulting a map
Cartographers have been creating maps for centuries. (Source: pixels)

"A map says to you: Read me carefully, follow me closely, doubt me not ... I am the world in the palm of your hand." - Beryl Markham

Let’s consider what cartography is.

Cartography is the art or science of making of maps and the study thereof. ‘Cartography’, the term, originates from ‘carta’, French for card and ‘graphie’, the Greek word for draw or write.

For thousands of years, geography mapwork has helped town planners, army generals, farmers and explorers in innumerable ways.

Looking back over the centuries, there have been many cartographers famed for their craft, including the likes of Eratosthenes, Ptolemy, Fra Mauro, Al Idrisi, Henry Pelham and Nicholas de Fer. Their exemplary work has created maps or charts used by numerous individuals and paved the way for succeeding cartographers to emulate their example.

Accomplished and experienced professionals in geography mapwork recognise that a map that is well-designed must, of necessity, contain geographical information such as:

  • Ease of use: a map must present information that is necessary and easy to understand and interpret; thus, cartographers draw up accurate plans for their prospective users.
  • Clarity: all information on a map must be well-labelled and orderly to prevent confusion.
  • Accuracy between the map and the object: the drafted map must accurately reflect the physical space and be recognisable on paper as well in an electronic form.

Across the ages, cartographers have remained current by adapting the methods they use to match ever-evolving technology. This was to ensure the people would constantly see the need to utilise their product to make their way from one place to another. Nowadays, people can find their way almost anywhere on the planet, thanks to Google Maps. You really have no reason to get lost, unless someone orders you to!

Prospective cartographers study various kinds of maps including contour maps, topographical maps, geological maps, city maps, reversed maps, electronic maps, road atlases and world maps.

Map-lovers, from across the globe, can spend time studying significant sub-topics of cartography such as planetary cartography and celestial cartography.

To conclude, geography is a captivating, layered, academic subject which will expose you to far more than just the location of  Australia, France or Canada. Further, it covers numerous vital aspects of our planet and its inhabitants. Why not follow the world’s famous cartographers and embark upon a gratifying vocation as a cartographer!

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Trevor

Career teacher turned writer. Passionate about family, running, and the great outdoors.