Themes of Geography
Location, Human/Environmental Interactions, Regions, Place,
study of Geography begins with knowing where
things are located on a map.
But more important, it requires an understanding of why
things are located in particular places, and how
those places influence our lives.
By using these 5 themes as a basis for understanding geographic
information, we can gain a better appreciation of cultural and environmental
changes around the world.
first three themes correspond to Pattison's four traditions.
Location, human/environmental interactions, and regions continue to
anchor the study of geography.
Two other themes, place and movement, were added in 1986 by the National
Geographic society developed by the Geography Education National implementation
All places on earth have distinguishing human and physical
characteristics. Movement refers to the mobility of people, goods, and ideas.
on Earth’s surface)
Distribution – various locations of a collection of people or
to indicate location (position):
Maps: best way to show location and demonstrate insights gained through
Place-name: a name given to a portion of the Earth’s surface
Site: physical characteristics of a place; climate, water sources,
topography, soil, vegetation, latitude, and elevation
Absolute location: latitude and longitude (parallels and meridians),
mathematical measurements mainly useful in determining exact distances and
Relative location: location of a place relative to other places
(situation), valuable way to indicate location for two reasons:
Finding an unfamiliar place - by comparing its location with a familiar
one (“Miami – 35 miles northwest of Cincinnati”)
Centrality, understanding its importance (Chicago – hub of sea &
air transportation, close to four other states;
Singapore – accessible to other countries in Southeast Asia)
arrangement of something across Earth’s surface
Density – frequency with which something occurs in an area.
Arithmetic density – total number of objects (people) in an area.
Physiologic density – number of people per unit area of
agriculturally productive land.
Concentration – extent of a feature’s spread over an area.
Clustered – relatively close.
Dispersed – relatively far
Pattern – geometric arrangement of objects.
ecology - relations between cultures and environment)
Cultural landscape –
includes all human-induced changes that involve the surface and the biosphere.
Carl Sauer: “… the forms superimposed on the physical landscape by
the activities of man.”
Environmental Determinism – human behavior, individually and
collectively, is strongly affected by, and even controlled or determined by the
Possibilism – the natural environment merely serves to limit the range
of choices available to a culture
Environmental Modification – positive and negative environmental
(areas of unique characteristics, ways of organizing people geographically)
area: defined spatial extent
location: lie somewhere on Earth’s surface
boundaries: sometimes evident on the ground, often based on specifically
other: cultural (language, religion), economic (agriculture, industry),
physical (climate, vegetation)
Three types of regions:
Formal – (a.k.a. uniform, homogeneous), visible and measurable
homogeneity (link to scale and detail)
Functional – product of interactions, and movement of various kinds,
usually characterized by a core and hinterland (e.g. a city and its surrounding
Perceptual – (a.k.a. vernacular), primarily in the minds of people
Regions can be seen in a hierarchy (vertical order, scale), (e.g. Ft.
Lauderdale – Broward County – Florida – Southeastern US …)
(associations among phenomena in an
Culture – people’s lifestyles, values, beliefs, and traits
What people care about: language, religion, ethnicity
What people take care of: 1) daily necessities of survival (food,
clothing, shelter) and 2) leisure activities (artistic expressions, recreation)
Cultural institutions: political institutions (a country, its laws and
Components of culture:
Culture region – the area within which a particular culture system
prevails (dress, building styles, farms and fields, material manifestations,…)
Culture trait – a single attribute of culture
Culture complex – a discrete combination of traits
Culture system – grouping of certain complexes, may be based on
ethnicity, language, religion,…
Culture realm – an assemblage of culture (or geographic) regions, the
most highly generalized regionalization of culture and geography (e.g.
Physical Processes – environmental processes, which explain the
distribution of human activities
Climate – long-term average weather condition at a particular location.
Vladimir Koppen’s five main climate regions (expresses humans’
limited tolerance for extreme temperature and precipitation levels)
Vegetation – plant life.
Soil – the material that forms Earth’s surface, in the thin interface
between the air and the rocks. Erosion
and the depletion of nutrients are two basic problems concerning the destruction
of the soil.
Landforms – Earth’s surface features (geomorphology), limited
population near poles and at high altitudes
(interconnections between areas)
Culture Hearths – sources of civilization from which an idea,
innovation, or ideology originates
(e.g. Mesopotamia, Nile Valley), viewed in the context of time as well as space
Cultural diffusion – spread of an innovation, or ideology from its
source area to another culture
Expansion diffusion – an innovation, or ideology develops in a source
area and remains strong there while also spreading outward
Contagious diffusion – nearly all adjacent individuals are affected
(e.g. spread of Islam, disease)
Hierarchical diffusion – the main channel of diffusion some segment of
those who are susceptible to (or adopting) what is being diffused (e.g. spread
of AIDS, use of fax machines)
Stimulus diffusion – spread of an underlying principle (e.g. idea of
Relocation diffusion – spread of an innovation, or ideology through
physical movement of individuals
Migrant diffusion – when an innovation originates somewhere and enjoys
strong-but brief-adoption, loses strength at origin by the time it reaches
another area (e.g. mild pandemics)
Acculturation – when a culture is substantially changed through
interaction with another culture
Transculturation – a near equal exchange between culture complexes
Forces that work against diffusion:
Time-distance decay – the longer and farther it has to go, the less
likely it will get there
Cultural barriers – prevailing attitudes or taboos