Joanne M. Perry
Based upon an essay by Karl Proehl
Although the common perception of geography is that it is merely a collection of place names and lists of products or recounting of explorers’ adventures, it is important to understand what geography is all about. Geography is the study of the Earth and all that is upon it, but it focuses on the significance of location, distribution, and subsequent patterns of identifiable phenomena. The research compares and contrasts differences from place to place and associates patterns of one particular phenomenon to other patterns within the area. The essence of geography, then, lies in the importance of places and regions, and the interconnections among places and regions. 1
Gilbert Grosvenor, chairman of the board and former president of the National Geographic Society, wrote:
Geography deals with the physical and cultural realities of the world. It helps us to understand the varied and complex environments of the Earth. It gives meaning to location and establishes a context for understanding the connections of places. 2
Grosvenor added that an understanding of the significance of location and place is important; otherwise the consequences of human activities within the physical environment is lessened. Geography provides a frame of reference. It explores, describes, analyzes, and interprets the imprint and the processes of human activities on the land.
Novelist and former social studies teacher, the late James Michener, noted:
The more I work in the social studies field the more convinced I become that geography is the foundation of all … When I begin work on a new area … I invariably start with the best geography I can find. This takes precedence over everything else, even history, because I need to ground myself in the fundamentals which have governed and in a sense limited human development … The virtue of the geographical approach is that it forces the reader to relate to man to his environment … It gives a solid footing to speculation and it remind the reader that he is dealing with real human beings who are just as circumscribed as he. 3
Geography, as an interdisciplinary field of study has an interest in both the physical and cultural worlds. Although geography’s physical side is not specifically covered in this chapter, most of the items cited will cover the entire discipline, not just the study of human activity of Earth […] is the focus of geography as a social science.
During the twentieth century a number of fundamental themes evolved within geography. A traditional definition of the discipline is given in the essay “Geography” by Norton Ginsburg found in A Reader’s Guide to the Social Sciences (A-1). In the new two-volume edition, published in December 2000, the geography chapter has been radically rewritten with essays that focus on feminist geography, geographical information systems, residential segregation and urban social geography and human geography. Geographers also point to a presentation by William Pattinson entitled “The Four Traditions of Geography” as a help in defining the discipline. 4 It is also traditional for the current president of the Association of American Geographers to present a presidential address that defends the nature and state of the discipline, which is then published in the Annals of the AAG.
Regional and systematic geography
Within the social sciences the study of geography is divided into regional geography and systematic geography. The regional approach has traditionally formed the core of geography and reform its essential character. 5 The main purpose of regional studies is to concentrate on the geography character of areas and to focus on critical distinctive features. Regional studies usually include a number of topics: location, natural environment, population, political status, type of economy, internal arrangement and organization, external connections and relationships, characteristic landscapes and their origin, world importance, potentialities, and problems. 6
Alternatively, systematic geography is focused on the phenomenon and how it is spatially distributed. Systematic geography experienced significant growth during the twentieth century, research interests splitting off from each other as geographers became increasingly specialized. For instance, the main subfield, human geography, was subdivided into cultural, economic, historical, political, population, and urban geography.