Human Geography For Dummies
Book image
Explore Book Buy On Amazon
Welcome to the world of Human Geography. It is a whole world that a shockingly large number of people do not even know exists. Human geography is an academic discipline regularly taught at the high school and university level that actually encompasses quite a few subdisciplines of geographic study. The traditional divisions of human geography study the following major fields.
  • Populations and migration
  • Urban geography
  • Economic geography
  • Cultural geography
  • Political geography
Within those fields, a slew of other research areas can be included under the umbrella of human geography. Areas like medical geography study the relationship between space and medical care (like the spread of infectious diseases or the impact that location has on quality of life). Political geography is a geopolitics field that tries to understand the geographic factors that influence how different countries interact. The content in this book will give you a working overview of the terms and concepts covered within the field of human geography.

The materials are comparable to the content covered in a lower-level undergraduate college course or an upper-level high school course. This book is not an in-depth dive into any particular human geography topic. In fact, every topic included in this book could have entire books written about just that one idea. Many researchers have spent untold hours building the human geography field. The purpose of this book is to give you a taste of the breadth of human geography in easily digestible tidbits.

Also, this is not a textbook. Instead, it is a starting place for where human geography can take you.

Human geography: more than memorizing maps and facts

The perception of geography being only the creation and memorization of maps could not be further from the truth. Although we utilize maps to understand spatial relationships better, human geography is a complex field of study that relies on a series of methods to understand humans’ relationship with the planet.

Read the land

Use the Five Themes of geography to contextualize an area from a geographic perspective. By looking at an area through the ideas of place, location, region, movement, and human-environment interaction, you’ll be more able to read the landscape and understand some of the geographic forces that have influenced different areas around the world.

Trends and patterns over space and time

Looking for spatial patterns of relationships and connections helps break down much of what happens — or has happened — as the result of geography. Things like culture, politics, economics, and even social structures are connected to events that have occurred in other places and are the result of years, decades, or even millennia of geographic influence. By looking at all of the different fields of human geography, you’ll work on connecting the world through geography.

The geoinquiry processes of addressing problems

Approach global issues with a geographic lens. Let’s face it: There are a lot of problems out there — environmental, political, economic, and social. Luckily, geographers take it upon themselves to better understand human and environmental concerns to improve life for us all using the geoinquiry process. By asking good questions and collecting and organizing data to be visualized and analyzed, human geographers can develop possible solutions and action plans to address these issues. This book is chock-full of examples of how human geography can do just that.

Data and why geographers love it

Get into the science of geography and see how the process works in action. Geographers are obsessed with data and things that can be observed. We’ll look at many examples of how that data can be used within the geoinquiry process to understand how the world works.

Human geography connects us all

Human Geography is interdisciplinary. Much like how it has multiple applications, multiple fields contribute to how we can better learn about our world. Borrowing from fields like economics, sociology, political science, history, ecology, earth and environmental science, and anthropology, human geographers look to put concepts from all those fields into a geographic perspective to see what new information we can learn through a spatial approach.

The tools that help us to understand our world

Along the way, we’ll use all types of geographic representations to help better understand all of these terms and concepts. Using maps, charts, diagrams, graphs, models, pictures, and maps, we’ll better understand how different phenomena are distributed to pick out trends and patterns. Geography is all about relationships. Whether it is relationships between humans and the environment or humans with each other, human geography allows us to examine the world in a way no other field can.

Key human geography concepts

Throughout the book, a couple of ideas and terms are repeatedly used, which might differ from how they’re used in everyday speech. These terms help to set the tone of the entire field and establish how human geography is unique as a field of study.

Place: The human and physical characteristics of an area that help build up the identity of that location.  This is an overarching concept used to connect people and add a sense of ownership  and belonging to a location.

Location: The different ways of expressing where something is in the world. Location can be expressed either as specifically as possible or by explaining the location of one place by its relationship to other locations.

Movement: In human geography, we look at how movement builds connections. Whether it is the movement of goods, ideas, or people, these processes help bring us together.

Interactions: How does one place connect to another? Why are some places more similar to each other than other places? These are questions that the idea of interactions covers. An offshoot of movement, we look at how distance affects how different groups of people meld and mesh with one another.

Space: This is where things happen. A general term for areas with their own unique groupings of human and physical features. Location and place are connected to other ideas, so space is a “catch-all” term for areas where things occur.

Scale of Analysis: In this sense, we are looking at the different levels of analysis (global, regional, national, local). Human geography can change drastically when you change the scale at which you look at something. For example, if we look at a continent’s cultural traits (say language), we will get a completely different insight than if we zoom in on the local level. Human geographers are always interested to see what they can learn and how their understanding can change simply by changing the scale.

Regions: Human geographers are particularly interested in groupings, similarities between places, and organization. If it is possible to lump multiple places together based on their commonalities to form regions, then that allows the comparison of places on a whole other scale and level.

Cultural Landscape: Cultural landscape is about looking at a place and reading a landscape to gain further insight into the connections between a people and the physical landscape — or even between the people themselves.

Sense of place: This is how people interact with a location. This concept is so unique because it changes for every person. While a location may be insignificant for some, it might signify home for others, and they’ll fiercely defend it. The ideas included in the sense of place are deeply connected to how humans attach meaning to different locations.

Statehood: The processes through which countries establish themselves as political units and maintain their power. The whole realm of political geography examines the establishment of state sovereignty, and the relationship between space and power. States are the basic unit of this study at a global level. When we say “State,” we are referring to a country; when we say “state,” we are referring to the smaller subdivision of a State (similar to a province).

Nation: This concept is one of the most difficult to comprehend because it is a group of people with similar culture, experience, and heritage that help them bond. Those bonds’ strengths and ability to influence a location can greatly impact how people connect with each other and the physical environment. Nations often use the idea of a “homeland” to unify dispersed members and provide motivation to unite and establish a political unit that serves their specific needs.

Development: Development is changing one thing to another — economic, agricultural, or even population development. Referring to spaces as being “developed” does not make sense because it is a relative and constantly changing concept. To imply that one place is developed implies that it is done developing. In human geography, development is an ongoing process, and different areas go through different levels of development at different speeds and times.

Start “earth writing” your geographic journey

The study of human geography is all about the world and how humans experience it. Every person will experience it differently and will be able to contribute something new. Geography literally translates to “Earth writing,” so that’s one thing that I would encourage you to start thinking of what you can do with this to add your own story. By fitting it into the existing fields and framework of human geography, you can contribute your ideas and perspectives to the body of human geography knowledge.

There is a lot we can learn about ourselves through studying others. There are over 8 billion stories that contribute to who we are. This book incorporates as large of a fraction of that as possible, but there is always more to add. One of the beautiful things about human geography is that it has been built on many people’s experiences, and there is always more to add. Whatever is added will only ever enrich the subject, so get to it!

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Kyle Tredinnick has taught geography courses in high schools in China, Minnesota, and Nebraska, as well as undergraduate and graduate courses in geography at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He has served on the board for the National Council for Geographic Education and is an AP Human Geography exam reader for the College Board.

This article can be found in the category: