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Geography is an extremely broad discipline that seeks to map and describe both the physical features of the Earth, like mountains, and its human features, such as the borders of countries or distributions of religions. The word, first used by Eratosthenes (276 – 194 BCE), literally means “writing about the Earth.” It is sometimes called “the bridge between the physical and human sciences,” but is divided into two branches that focuses on each separately: human and physical.
This discipline can be divided into about a dozen sub-categories per major branch. In physical geography, the sub-categories include biogeography, climatology, paleoclimatology, coastal, environmental, geodesy (geo-measurement), geomorphology, hydrography, glaciology, landscape ecology, oceanography, pedology (soil study), paleogeography, and quaternary science (study of the last 2.6 million years). In human geography, the sub-categories include development, cultural, economic, health, historical, population, political, religion, social, transportation, tourism, and urban geography.
Geography has been practiced at least since Classical Antiquity, around 600 BC. Anaximander of Miletus is the first true geographer, according to slightly later Greek sources. In ancient times, only Europe, the Near East, and North Africa were recognized by the West. Other global civilizations, such as the Inca, ancient China, and ancient India were similarly isolated, knowing little about the world beyond the immediate area. During the late 13th century, the famous explorer Marco Polo traveled from Europe to China, making Europeans more aware of the far East, and culturally linking the two distant places. Modern geography really began during the Age of Exploration, beginning in the 15th century, when the Americas were added to maps and many people around the world became aware of five continents. Australia was not discovered until the 17th century, and Antarctica not until 1820.
Today, modern geography is an advanced discipline. Thanks to satellite imagery, the Earth has been mapped to a resolution better than approximately 10 m, and military satellites are thought to have a resolution of 10 cm. The exact altitudes of most major mountains are known to within a few meters. Software programs such as Google Maps make precise geographical information available to anyone with an Internet connection.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is geography and why is it important?
Geography is the study of places, the relationships between people and their environments, and the physical and human phenomena that shape the Earth's surface. It's important because it helps us understand the complex interconnections between our natural world and human societies. By examining geographic patterns and processes, we can better manage resources, plan sustainable developments, and address global challenges like climate change and urbanization.
How does geography influence human life?
Geography influences human life by determining the availability of resources, the development of cultures, and the establishment of economic systems. For instance, the proximity to water bodies often dictates settlement patterns and trade opportunities. Climate zones affect agricultural practices and food availability. Geography also shapes political boundaries and can either facilitate or hinder connectivity and interaction between different regions and populations.
What are the main branches of geography?
The main branches of geography are physical geography and human geography. Physical geography focuses on the natural environment, including landforms, climate, hydrology, and ecosystems. Human geography examines the human aspects, such as population distribution, cultural landscapes, and urban development. Additionally, there are sub-disciplines like cartography, which involves map-making, and geographic information systems (GIS), which use technology to analyze spatial data.
How do geographers collect and analyze data?
Geographers collect data through field observations, satellite imagery, surveys, and statistical analysis. They use tools like GIS to analyze spatial relationships and patterns. Remote sensing technology allows for the monitoring of environmental changes over time, while qualitative methods like interviews can provide insights into cultural practices. The integration of various data sources helps geographers to create comprehensive models and maps that depict complex geographic phenomena.
What are some real-world applications of geography?
Real-world applications of geography are vast and varied. Urban planners use geographic principles to design cities that accommodate growth while minimizing environmental impact. Environmental managers rely on geography to conserve natural habitats and biodiversity. Disaster response teams use geographic data to predict and mitigate the effects of natural hazards. Moreover, businesses apply geographic analysis to determine optimal locations for services and to understand market trends influenced by geographic factors.