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What is Geography?

The term "geography" is derived from the Greek prefix geo meaning “earth” or “land” and graphia meaning “writing”. The term geography refers to the ancient cultures’ exploring their world and the environment they lived in and communicating about it in writing. Their travel reports were instrumental for non-travelers to make sense of their world.

Geography is the science of place and space.

city

Generally, two main branches of geography are recognized:

  • One that focuses on people and cultures, human geography, which encompasses such areas as population geography, economic and political geography and others and
  • One that focuses on the physical environment on planet earth, physical geography, which includes but is not limited to geomorphology, biogeography and environmental geography.

These two branches within geography are not studied separately. Research usually focuses on interconnections between people AND their environment; an interdisciplinary approach which is the strength of the discipline.

For example, studying geography at Virginia’s Atlantic coast on Assateague could focus on the following:

chincoteague

  • Physical Geography: Formation of coast line, barrier islands and spits; wave action and sand deposition and erosion; formation and importance of dunes.
  • Cultural Geography: Ocean environment and food – fishing, crabbing and oyster-harvesting; beach tourism; ecotourism (for wildlife such as birds, horseshoe crabs and Chincoteague ponies).
  • Physical and Cultural Geography: Lack of sand replenishment and loss of beach—economic and environmental consequences.
dunes

Resource: USGS, Center for Coastal & Watershed Studies, Integrated Remote Sensing and Modeling Group, April 14, 2006. 

While studying  the linkages between human activity and natural systems, geographers were among the first scientists to sound the alarm that human-induced changes to the environment were beginning to threaten the environment and the balance of life itself. Geographers are active in the study of global warming, desertification, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, groundwater pollution, flooding and the loss of sand replenishment.

For a more information on geography visit the Association of American Geographers.