Outline of geography

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The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to geography:

Geography is the study of earth and its people.[1]

The physical world.
The human world.

Nature of geography

Geography is

  • an academic discipline – a body of knowledge given to − or received by − a disciple (student); a branch or sphere of knowledge, or field of study, that an individual has chosen to specialize in. Modern geography is an all-encompassing discipline that seeks to understand the Earth and all of its human and natural complexities − not merely where objects are, but how they have changed and come to be. Geography has been called 'the world discipline'.[2]
  • a field of science – widely recognized category of specialized expertise within science, and typically embodies its own terminology and nomenclature. Such a field will usually be represented by one or more scientific journals, where peer reviewed research is published. There are many geography-related scientific journals.
    • a natural science – field of academic scholarship that explores aspects of natural environment (physical geography).
    • a social science – field of academic scholarship that explores aspects of human society (human geography).
  • an interdisciplinary field – a field that crosses traditional boundaries between academic disciplines or schools of thought, as new needs and professions have emerged. Many of the branches of physical geography are also branches of Earth science.

Etymology of Geography

Etymology of "geography": from Greek γεωγραφία - geographia, lit. "earth describe-write"[3]

  • geo- – a prefix taken from the Greek word γη or γαια meaning "earth", usually in the sense of "ground or land". Geo- is a prefix for many words dealing in some way with the earth.
  • -graphy – an English suffix. Words that include this suffix usually are about a work, an art, or a field of study.

Branches of geography

As "the bridge between the human and physical sciences," geography is divided into two main branches:

  • human geography
  • physical geography[4][5][6]

Other branches include:

  • integrated geography
  • geomatics
  • regional geography

All the branches are further described below...

Physical geography

  • Physical geography – examines the natural environment and how the climate, vegetation & life, soil, water, and landforms are produced and interact.[7]

Fields of physical geography

  • Geomorphology – study of landforms and the processes that them, and more broadly, the of processes controlling the topography of any planet. Seeks to understand why landscapes look the way they do, to understand landform history and dynamics, and to predict future changes through a combination of field observation, physical experiment, and numerical modeling.
  • Hydrology – study of the movement, distribution, and quality of water throughout the Earth, including the hydrologic cycle, water resources and environmental watershed sustainability.
    • Glaciology – study of glaciers, or more generally ice and natural phenomena that involve ice.
    • Oceanography – studies a wide range of topics pertaining to oceans, including marine organisms and ecosystem dynamics; ocean currents, waves, and geophysical fluid dynamics; plate tectonics and the geology of the sea floor; and fluxes of various chemical substances and physical properties within the ocean and across its boundaries.
  • Biogeography – study of the distribution of species spatially and temporally. Over areal ecological changes, it is also tied to the concepts of species and their past, or present living 'refugium', their survival locales, or their interim living sites. It aims to reveal where organisms live, and at what abundance.[8]
  • Climatology – study of climate, scientifically defined as weather conditions averaged over a period of time.[9]
  • Meteorology is the interdisciplinary scientific study of the atmosphere that focuses on weather processes and short term forecasting (in contrast with climatology).
  • Pedology – study of soils in their natural environment[10] that deals with pedogenesis, soil morphology, and soil classification.
  • Palaeogeography – study of what the geography was in times past, most often concerning the physical landscape, but also the human or cultural environment.
  • Coastal geography – study of the dynamic interface between the ocean and the land, incorporating both the physical geography (i.e. coastal geomorphology, geology and oceanography) and the human geography (sociology and history) of the coast. It involves an understanding of coastal weathering processes, particularly wave action, sediment movement and weather, and also the ways in which humans interact with the coast.
  • Quaternary science – focuses on the Quaternary period, which encompasses the last 2.6 million years, including the last ice age and the Holocene period.
  • Landscape ecology – the relationship between spatial patterns of urban development and ecological processes on a multitude of landscape scales and organizational levels.[11][12][13]

Approaches of physical geography

Human geography

  • Human geography – one of the two main subfields of geography, it is the study of human use and understanding of the world and the processes which have affected it. Human geography broadly differs from physical geography in that it focuses on the built environment and how space is created, viewed, and managed by humans as well as the influence humans have on the space they occupy.[7]

Fields of human geography

  • Cultural geography – study of cultural products and norms and their variations across and relations to spaces and places. It focuses on describing and analyzing the ways language, religion, economy, government and other cultural phenomena vary or remain constant, from one place to another and on explaining how humans function spatially.[14]
    • Children's geographies – study of places and spaces of children's lives, characterized experientially, politically and ethically. Children's geographies rests on the idea that children as a social group share certain characteristics which are experientially, politically and ethically significant and which are worthy of study. The pluralisation in the title is intended to imply that children's lives will be markedly different in differing times and places and in differing circumstances such as gender, family, and class. The range of focii within children's geographies include:
      • Children and the city
      • Children and the countryside
      • Children and technology
      • Children and nature,
      • Children and globalization
      • Methodologies of researching children's worlds
      • Ethics of researching children's worlds
      • Otherness of childhood
    • Animal geographies – studies the spaces and places occupied by animals in human culture, because social life and space is heavily populated by animals of many differing kinds and in many differing ways (e.g. farm animals, pets, wild animals in the city). Another impetus that has influenced the development of the field are ecofeminist and other environmentalist viewpoints on nature-society relations (including questions of animal welfare and rights).
    • Language geography – studies the geographic distribution of language or its constituent elements. There are two principal fields of study within the geography of language:
      1. Geography of languages – deals with the distribution through history and space of languages,[15]
      2. Linguistic geography – deals with regional linguistic variations within languages.[16][17][18][19][20]
    • Sexuality and space – encompasses all relationships and interactions between human sexuality, space, and place, including the geographies of LGBT residence, public sex environments, sites of queer resistance, global sexualities, sex tourism,[21] the geographies of prostitution and adult entertainment, use of sexualised locations in the arts,[22][23] and sexual citizenship.[24]
    • Religion geography – study of the impact of geography, i.e. place and space, on religious belief.[25]
  • Development geography – study of the Earth's geography with reference to the standard of living and quality of life of its human inhabitants. Measures development by looking at economic, political and social factors, and seeks to understand both the geographical causes and consequences of varying development, in part by comparing More Economically Developed Countries (MEDCs) with Less Economically Developed Countries (LEDCs).
  • Economic geography – study of the location, distribution and spatial organization of economic activities across the world. Subjects of interest include but are not limited to the location of industries, economies of agglomeration (also known as "linkages"), transportation, international trade and development, real estate, gentrification, ethnic economies, gendered economies, core-periphery theory, the economics of urban form, the relationship between the environment and the economy (tying into a long history of geographers studying culture-environment interaction), and globalization.
    • Marketing geography – a discipline within marketing analysis which uses geolocation (geographic information) in the process of planning and implementation of marketing activities.[26] It can be used in any aspect of the marketing mix – the product, price, promotion, or place (geo targeting).
    • Transportation geography – branch of economic geography that investigates spatial interactions between people, freight and information. It studies humans and their use of vehicles or other modes of traveling as well as how markets are serviced by flows of finished goods and raw materials.
  • Health geography – application of geographical information, perspectives, and methods to the study of health, disease, and health care, to provide a spatial understanding of a population's health, the distribution of disease in an area, and the environment's effect on health and disease. It also deals with accessibility to health care and spatial distribution of health care providers.
    • Time geography – study of the temporal factor on spatial human activities within the following constraints:
  1. Authority - limits of accessibility to certain places or domains placed on individuals by owners or authorities
  2. Capability - limitations on the movement of individuals, based on their nature. For example, movement is restricted by biological factors, such as the need for food, drink, and sleep
  3. Coupling - restraint of an individual, anchoring him or her to a location while interacting with other individuals in order to complete a task
  • Historical geography – study of the human, physical, fictional, theoretical, and "real" geographies of the past, and seeks to determine how cultural features of various societies across the planet emerged and evolved, by understanding how a place or region changes through time, including how people have interacted with their environment and created the cultural landscape.
  • Political geography – study of the spatially uneven outcomes of political processes and the ways in which political processes are themselves affected by spatial structures. Basically, the inter-relationships between people, state, and territory.
    • Electoral geography – study of the relationship between election results and the regions they affect (such as the environmental impact of voting decisions), and of the effects of regional factors upon voting behavior.
    • Geopolitics – analysis of geography, history and social science with reference to spatial politics and patterns at various scales, ranging from the level of the state to international.
    • Strategic geography – concerned with the control of, or access to, spatial areas that have an impact on the security and prosperity of nations.
    • Military geography – the application of geographic tools, information, and techniques to solve military problems in peacetime or war.
  • Population geography – study of the ways in which spatial variations in the distribution, composition, migration, and growth of populations are related to the nature of places.
  • Tourism geography – study of travel and tourism, as an industry and as a social and cultural activity, and their impact on places, including the environmental impact of tourism, the geographies of tourism and leisure economies, answering tourism industry and management concerns and the sociology of tourism and locations of tourism.
  • Urban geography – the study of urban areas, in terms of concentration, infrastructure, economy, and environmental impacts.

Approaches of human geography

Integrated geography

  • Integrated geography – branch of geography that describes the spatial aspects of interactions between humans and the natural world. It requires an understanding of the dynamics of geology, meteorology, hydrology, biogeography, ecology, and geomorphology, as well as the ways in which human societies conceptualize the environment.


  • Geomatics – branch of geography and the discipline of gathering, storing, processing, and delivering geographic information, or spatially referenced information. It is a widespread interdisciplinary field that includes the tools and techniques used in land surveying, remote sensing, cartography, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Global Navigation Satellite Systems, photogrammetry, and related forms of earth mapping.

Fields contributing to geomatics

Regional geography

Regional geography – study of world regions. Attention is paid to unique characteristics of a particular region such as its natural elements, human elements, and regionalization which covers the techniques of delineating space into regions. Regional geography breaks down into the study of specific regions.

Region – an area, defined by physical characteristics, human characteristics, or functional characteristics. The term is used in various ways among the different branches of geography. A region can be seen as a collection of smaller units, such as a country and its political divisions, or as one part of a larger whole, as in a country on a continent.


Earth may have had a single supercontinent called "Pangaea"

A supercontinent is a landmass comprising more than one continental core, or craton.


A continent is one of several large landmasses on Earth. They are generally identified by convention rather than any specific criteria, but seven areas are commonly regarded as continents. They are:

1. Africa   (outline) –
2. Antarctica
3. Australia   (outline) –
The Americas:
4. North America   (outline) –
5. South America   (outline) –
6. Europe   (outline) –
7. Asia   (outline) –

Subregion (list)

Biogeographic regions

Map of six of the world's eight ecozones
  Oceania and Antarctic ecozones not shown
Main article: Ecozone

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) developed a system of eight biogeographic realms (ecozones):

Main article: Ecoregion

Ecozones are further divided into ecoregions. The World has over 800 terrestrial ecoregions. See Lists of ecoregions by country.

Geography of the political divisions of the World

Other regions

History of geography

Reconstruction of Hecataeus' map of the World, created during ancient Greek times
Main articles: History of geography and Historical geography

Topics pertaining to the geographical study of the World throughout history:

By period

By region

By subject

By field

Elements of geography

Topics common to the various branches of geography include:

Tasks and tools of geography

The equal-area Mollweide projection
Main articles: Geosophy and Philosophy of geography
  • Exploration – the act of traveling and searching for resources or for information about the land or space itself.
  • Geocode (Geospatial Entity Object Code) – geospatial coordinate system for specifying the exact location of a geospatial point at, below, or above the surface of the earth at a given moment of time.
  • Geographic information system (GIS) – set of tools that captures, stores, analyzes, manages, and presents data that are linked to location(s). Combines elements of cartography, statistical analysis, and database technology.
  • Globe – a three-dimensional scale model of a spheroid celestial body such as a planet, star, or moon.
    • Terrestrial globe – globe of the Earth.
  • Map – a visual representation of an area, depicting the elements of that area such as objects, regions, and themes.
    • Atlas – a collection of maps, typically of the Earth or a region thereof.
    • Cartography – the study and practice of making maps.
    • Map projection – any method of representing the surface of a sphere or other shape on a plane. Necessary for creating maps.
  • Demographics – the characteristics of a human population as used in government, marketing or opinion research, or the demographic profiles used in such research. Distinct from demography, which is the statistical study of human populations.
  • Spatial analysis – a variety of statistical techniques used to study entities using their topological, geometric, or geographic properties.
  • Surveying – the technique and science of accurately determining the terrestrial or three-dimensional position of points and the distances and angles between them. These points are usually on the surface of the Earth, and they are often used to establish land maps and boundaries for ownership or governmental purposes.

Types of geographic features

Geographic feature – component of a planet that can be referred to as a location, place, site, area, or region, and therefore may show up on a map. A geographic feature may be natural or artificial.

Location and place

Population density per square kilometre by country, 2006

Natural geographic features

Natural geographic feature – an ecosystem or natural landform.


Ecosystem – community of living organisms in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment (things like air, water and mineral soil), interacting as a system. These biotic and abiotic components are regarded as linked together through nutrient cycles and energy flows.

Natural landforms
The Ganges river delta in India and Bangladesh is one of the most fertile regions in the world.
The volcano Mount St. Helens in Washington, United States.

Natural landform – terrain or body of water. Landforms are topographical elements, and are defined by their surface form and location in the landscape. Landforms are categorized by traits such as elevation, slope, orientation, stratification, rock exposure, and soil type. Some landforms are artificial, such as certain islands, but most landforms are natural.

Natural terrain feature types

Natural body of water types

Artificial geographic features

Artificial geographic feature – a thing that was made by humans that may be indicated on a map. It may be physical and exist in the real world (like a bridge or city), or it may be abstract and exist only on maps (such as the Equator, which has a defined location, but cannot be seen where it lies).

  • Artificial geographic feature – physical construct that is part of the landscape (and anthrosphere). Some examples include Tokyo, the Great Wall of China, the Suez Canal, Interstate 5, and the Boeing Everett Factory.
    • Settlement
      • Hamlet (place); rural settlement which is too small to be considered a village. Historically, when a hamlet became large enough to justify building a church, it was then classified as a village. One example of a hamlet is a small cluster of houses surrounding a mill.
      • Village – clustered human settlement or community, larger than a hamlet with the population ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand (sometimes tens of thousands).
      • Town – human settlement larger than a village but smaller than a city. The size a settlement must be in order to be called a "town" varies considerably in different parts of the world, so that, for example, many American "small towns" seem to British people to be no more than villages, while many British "small towns" would qualify as cities in the United States.
        • Urban hierarchy – ranks the structure of towns within an area.
          • 1st-order towns – bare minimum of essential services, such as bread and milk.
          • 2nd-order towns
          • 3rd-order towns
          • 4th-order towns
      • City – relatively large and permanent settlement. In many regions, a city is distinguished from a town by attainment of designation according to law, for instance being required to obtain articles of incorporation or a royal charter.
        • Financial centre
        • Primate city – the leading city in its country or region, disproportionately larger than any others in the urban hierarchy.
        • Metropolis – very large city or urban area which is a significant economic, political and cultural center for a country or region, and an important hub for regional or international connections and communications.
        • Metropolitan area – region consisting of a densely populated urban core and its less-populated surrounding territories, sharing industry, infrastructure, and housing.[29]
        • Global city – city that is deemed to be an important node in the global economic system. Globalization is largely created, facilitated and enacted in strategic geographic locales (including global cities) according to a hierarchy of importance to the operation of the global system of finance and trade.
        • Megalopolis – chain of roughly adjacent metropolitan areas. An example is the huge metropolitan area along the eastern seaboard of the U.S. extending from Boston, Massachusetts through New York City; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Baltimore, Maryland and ending in Washington, D.C..
        • Eperopolis – theoretical "continent city". The world does not have one yet. Will Europe become the first one?
        • Ecumenopolis – theoretical "world city". Will the world ever become so urbanized as to be called this?
    • Engineered construct – built feature of the landscape such as a highway, bridge, airport, railroad, building, dam, or reservoir. See also construction engineering and infrastructure.
Provinces and territorial disputes of the People's Republic of China

Geographic features that include the natural and artificial

Geography awards

Hubbard Medal awarded to Anne Morrow Lindbergh, showing her flight route

Some awards and competitions in the field of geography:

Persons influential in geography

A geographer is a scientist who studies Earth's physical environment and human habitat. Geographers are historically known for making maps, the subdiscipline of geography known as cartography. They study the physical details of the environment and also its impact on human and wildlife ecologies, weather and climate patterns, economics, and culture. Geographers focus on the spatial relationships between these elements.

Influential physical geographers

Alexander Von Humboldt, considered to be the founding father of physical geography.
Richard Chorley, 20th-century geographer who progressed quantitative geography and who helped bring the systems approach to geography.

Influential human geographers

Sketch of Carl Ritter
Paul Vidal de la Blache
David Harvey

Geography educational frameworks

Educational frameworks upon which primary and secondary school curricula for geography are based upon include:

See also


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  2. Bonnett, Alastair What is Geography? London, Sage, 2008
  3. "Online Etymology Dictionary". Etymonline.com. Retrieved 2009-04-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. http://web.clas.ufl.edu/users/morgans/lecture_2.prn.pdf
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  6. Fundamentals of Physical Geography, 2nd Edition, by M. Pidwirny, 2006
  7. 7.0 7.1 "What is geography?". AAG Career Guide: Jobs in Geography and related Geographical Sciences. Association of American Geographers. Archived from the original on October 6, 2006. Retrieved October 9, 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Martiny JBH et al. Microbial biogeography: putting microorganisms on the map Nature: FEBRUARY 2006 | VOLUME 4
  9. Climate Prediction Center. Climate Glossary. Retrieved on 2006-11-23.
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  11. Wu, J. 2006. Cross-disciplinarity, landscape ecology, and sustainability science. Landscape Ecology 21:1-4.
  12. Wu, J. and R. Hobbs (Eds). 2007. Key Topics in Landscape Ecology. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  13. Wu, J. 2008. Landscape ecology. In: S. E. Jorgensen (ed), Encyclopedia of Ecology. Elsevier, Oxford.
  14. Jordan-Bychkov, Terry G.; Domosh, Mona; Rowntree, Lester (1994). The human mosaic: a thematic introduction to cultural geography. New York: HarperCollinsCollegePublishers. ISBN 978-0-06-500731-2.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Delgado de Carvalho, C.M. (1962). The geography of languages. In Wagner, P.L.; Mikesell, M.W. Readings in cultural geography. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 75-93.
  16. Pei, M. (1966). Glossary of linguistic terminology. New York: John Wiley.
  17. Trudgill, P. (1974). Linguistic change and diffusion: description and explanation in sociolinguistic dialect geography. Language in Society 3:2, 215-46.
  18. Trudgill, P. (1983). On dialect: social and geographical perspectives. Oxford: Basil Blackwell; New York: New York University Press.
  19. Trudgill, P. (1975). Linguistic geography and geographical linguistics. Progress in Geography 7, 227-52
  20. Withers, Charles W.J. [1981] (1993). Johnson, R.J. The Dictionary of Human Geography, Gregory, Derek; Smith, David M., Second edition, Oxford: Blackwell, 252-3.
  21. Constructing tourism landscapes – gender, sexuality and space by Pritchard A. & Morgan N. J. Tourism Geographies, Volume 2, Number 2, 1 May 2000 , pp. 115-139(25)
  22. Syllabus Poetics: Sexuality and Space in 17th - 19th Century American Literature, University at Buffalo
  23. Space and Modern (Homo)sexuality in Tsai Ming Liang's Films by Lyn Van Swol
  24. Sexuality and Space, Course Syllabus Towson University
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  26. "Recommending Social Events from Mobile Phone Location Data", Daniele Quercia, et al., ICDM 2010
  27. Harrison, Paul; 2006; "Post-structuralist Theories"; pp122-135 in Aitken, S. and Valentine, G. (eds); 2006; Approaches to Human Geography; Sage, London
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  29. Squires, G. Ed. Urban Sprawl: Causes, Consequences, & Policy Responses. The Urban Institute Press (2002)
  30. Henry Petroski (2006). "Levees and Other Raised Ground". 94 (1). American Scientist: 7–11. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  31. 31.0 31.1 Avraham Ariel, Nora Ariel Berger (2006)."Plotting the globe: stories of meridians, parallels, and the international". Greenwood Publishing Group. p.12. ISBN 0-275-98895-3
  32. Jennifer Fandel (2006)."The Metric System". The Creative Company. p.4. ISBN 1-58341-430-4
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  34. H. Mowlana (2001). "Information in the Arab World", Cooperation South Journal 1.
  35. S. P. Scott (1904) – History of the Moorish Empire, pp. 461-2:

    The compilation of Edrisi marks an era in the history of science. Not only is its historical information most interesting and valuable, but its descriptions of many parts of the earth are still authoritative. For three centuries geographers copied his maps without alteration. The relative position of the lakes which form the Nile, as delineated in his work, does not differ greatly from that established by Baker and Stanley more than seven hundred years afterwards, and their number is the same.

  36. Guidelines for Geographic Education—Elementary and Secondary Schools. Joint Committee on Geographic Education of the National Council for Geographic Education and the Association of American Geographers, 1984.
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  39. Richard G Boehm, Roger M Downs, Sarah W Bednarz. Geography for Life: National Geography Standards. National Council for Geographic Education, 1994
  40. Geography Framework for the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress. National Assessment Governing Board, U.S. Department of Education, p. vii:

    It focuses on what geography students should know to be competent and productive 21st century citizens, and uses three content areas for assessing the outcomes of geography education. These content areas are Space and Place, Environment and Society, and Spatial Dynamics and Connections.

External links

  • Pidwirny, Michael. (2014). Glossary of Terms for Physical Geography. Planet Earth Publishing, Kelowna, Canada. ISBN 9780987702906. Available on Google Play.
  • Pidwirny, Michael. (2014). Understanding Physical Geography. Planet Earth Publishing, Kelowna, Canada. ISBN 9780987702944. Available on Google Play.