• Unit 1: Introduction to Geography

    Geography comes from the Greek words geo (Earth) and graphia (to write). It examines the physical features of the Earth, its atmosphere, the human landscape, and the spatial relationships between them. Geographers seek to identify, explain, and predict human and physical patterns across space to understand how the spaces in between are connected. In this unit, we introduce the discipline of geography and the importance of the spatial perspective. We investigate the different types of locations and regions, the use of maps, and the role of technology. We also introduce the components of physical and human geography that we will examine across the world's regions.

    Completing this unit should take you approximately 3 hours.

    • 1.1: What is Geography?

      Geography is a broad discipline that focuses on spatial relationships and the interaction between humans and their physical environment. Geographers use the word spatial to describe their approach; some even refer to geography as a spatial science. However, the words spatial and geographic have different meanings, even though some use them interchangeably.

      The Cambridge Dictionary defines spatial as relating to the "position, size, and area of things" and geographic as relating to "geography, or to the geography of a particular area or place". "Spatial" is the broader of the two terms and includes the concept of "geographic".

      Remember that geography refers to Earth's human landscape and its physical features. Although the discipline of geography often focuses on particular locations, it also focuses on the broader context – the spatial relationships between locations. At the 1969 International Geographical Union's Commission on Qualitative Methods, Waldo Tobler (1913–2018), an American geographer, observed that "everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things". This idea, known as Tobler's First Law of Geography, is fundamental to spatial relationships.

    • 1.2: Maps

      What roles do maps play in geography? Maps are geographical abstractions of the environment – they are graphic representations of spatial forms and the relationships between them. We often think of maps as displays on a screen or on paper. We use them to navigate, explore, communicate information, solve problems, and organize our ideas. They are an efficient way to share data that occurs in two- and three-dimensional space. We call the study of maps "cartography" or the science of maps.

      Cartography includes the following activities and anything else that focuses on the presentation and use of maps.

      • teaching map use skills,
      • studying the history of cartography,
      • maintaining map collections,
      • manipulating data for mapping, and
      • designing and preparing maps.

      Maps are fundamental to the study of geography. Geographers use existing maps and create new ones to explore places and phenomena. We can use relative or absolute location to map a location. Two major challenges include determining how to project the roughly spherical Earth onto a two-dimensional map and fitting the Earth onto a map that is a size we can use.

    • 1.3: Geospatial Technology

      Geographers use many tools to help them study places and the relationships between them. Many disciplines also use these tools. For example, cell phones use the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) for location information to help us navigate. Remotely sensed imagery (captured by satellites, aircraft, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones) provides information about land use and cover to help us mitigate hazards. Much of this imagery is captured over time, which gives us a valuable temporal perspective on changes in the landscape.

      Geographers use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to layer data, including remotely-sensed imagery and GNSS locations. Maps are the most common mode of analysis and presentation, which is what distinguishes GIS from other modes of information science. Your ability to analyze data spatially provides a powerful perspective: whether you study a map printed on paper or examine its multiple geographic layers on a computer.

      The author in our previous reading referred to GIS as Geographic Information Systems and Geographic Information Science. Let's look at the difference between the two.
      Geographic Information Systems integrate hardware, software, and data to capture, manage, analyze, and display geographically referenced information. Many disciplines use GIS, not just geography.

      Geographic Information Science is a scientific discipline in its own right, although it is often associated with the discipline of geography. It is the study of geographic information, including the representation of phenomena in the real world, the representation of the way humans understand the world, and how geographic information can be captured, organized, and analyzed. Some people think of GIScience as the science behind the GISystem.

      In this course, we use GIS to mean Geographic Information Systems. GIS allows users to combine multiple layers of geographic data to create maps and solve problems. There are many different GIS software platforms – they are proprietary and open source. There are also web-based GIS platforms.

    • 1.4: Geography's Subdisciplines

      As we learned earlier, geography is a broad discipline that focuses on spatial relationships and the interaction between humans and their physical environment. Like all disciplines, geography has subdisciplines and specializations.

    • 1.5: The Physical Environment and Human Activity

      This section introduces several of the major concepts of physical geography: plate tectonics, erosion, deposition, climate, and climate change. Remember that physical geographers focus on how natural features and processes related to human activity. Note that it goes both ways: the physical environment affects human activity, and human activity affects the physical environment. Some of these interactions occur rapidly, while others transpire over hundreds of years.

    • 1.6: The Human Setting and Globalization

      Remember that human geographers focus on how humans interact with and affect the Earth. This section introduces several major concepts of human geography: demography, urbanization, core and periphery, globalization and inequality, and diffusion.

    • 1.7: The World's Regions

      Geographers divide the world into regions, the categories they created to reduce the complexity of the world. Generally, each region has at least one feature in common. Let's look at three examples.

      Americans are familiar with the relatively-flat interior Midwest region of the United States. However, not everyone agrees on the boundaries of the Midwest because, for example, they may think agricultural production or tornado activity helps define them. We call regions based on these types of perceptions "vernacular regions".

      A formal region, on the other hand, has an internationally-recognized border or boundary that is not open to debate. The countries Bolivia, Costa Rica, and the United States are examples. A functional region offers a particular function or service. The delivery area of a grocery store is an example of a functional region. The store delivers groceries to residents who live within the area, but those living outside the delivery area must go to the store to pick up their purchases.

      It is common to find variation among individuals, groups, subdisciplines, and academic courses because people have different ideas on the parameters that define a world region or what their boundaries should be. For this course, we have divided the world into the nine realms shown in Figure 1.17 of the following text. There are many common characteristics that establish a coherent unit, although there is variation within each region in terms of size and borders that overlap.

    • Unit 1 Assessment

      • Receive a grade