What is Geography?


Redefining Geography . . .

Geography is a geospatial science – the science of location-based observations and data.

Geographers examine physical and human features, processes and systems and how they interact in the environment at local, regional, and global scales and attempt to answer three key questions:

 based on the four concepts of Geographical Thinking:

Spatial Significance is about where a feature is located, its actual and relative location, and why it is important there; i.e. What unique natural and human features are present and how might they interact?

Patterns & Trends: A pattern is a characteristic or feature that repeats over space: within and between places or regions. Low latitudes are warm and wet; high latitudes are cold and dry. This is a pattern. Rivers form distinct and predictable drainage patterns depending on the rock and soil of a region. A trend is when a characteristic or feature changes over time, such as the population growth Canada has experienced since colonization. But a trend can also be a change over space; for example as you hike uphill, the temperature gradually becomes colder.

Interrelationships: Similar to a relationship between two people, in geography interrelationships are the interactions that occur between and among natural and human geographic features and processes. For example, the type of agricultural crop planted by farmers depends on the soil, precipitation, and temperature of the region. And, where there are mountains and snow, you will find ski resorts.

Geographical Perspectives: To fully comprehend an issue you must look into its positive and negative impacts from different points of view:
People → their health, travel, recreation, jobs;
• the Economy → business, industry, trade;
• the Environment → Earth's systems: air, water and soil quality; climate; habitats; wildlife; and
Politics (those who have power and those who do not; governance).
As a discipline, Geography is uniquely placed for examining issues from different perspectives, as it specifically  examines the interactions between both human and physical processes.

This ArcGIS StoryMap provides an excellent example of how Geographic Thinking works, in the Canadian Context.

The Dual lives of Geographers

Geography is unique in that it bridges the gap between the Sciences and the Humanities. As a result, many geographers lead a dual life manoeuvring back and forth between the two.

Physical geographers study Earth Sciences and try to make sense of how natural systems including geology, climate, vegetations, soils, plate tectonics, glaciation, etc.

Human geographers study the socio-cultural world trying to understand our human systems including migration, urbanization, development and transportation, industry, etc..

But geography is really about both:

how people and the natural world INTERACT.


Learning Geography is all about               
          asking the right questions.


The key GeoQs:

What is where?
What is the feature, process or system? . . .
= identify and describe the feature, process or system;

and Where is it found?
= location: absolute & relative; the spatial extent of the feature, process or system;

Why is it there?
= i.e. What processes are at work, in that location, both natural and human, to create the feature, process or system?

How does it impact  'PEEPs':
People, jobs, health, quality of life
→ the Environment = Earth's four spheres
→ the Economy = business & industry
Politics = individual power and that of different groups of people

These are the questions geographers are answering.

Try this Activity:   gDoc   |   PDF

Asking the Right Questions in Geography (11x17" PDF)

Feature: natural landforms or ecosystems or human building or settlements that can be mapped; e.g. mountain, river, house, industry, golf course

Process: a series of forces that work to create and change features; e.g. precipitation, vulcanism; weathering

System: a series of processes that work at the regional or global scale; water cycle; plate tectonics

WORKED EXAMPLE – RIVERS:  Asking the right questions – Geographic Thinking

Rivers are a feature in the landscape, but they are also a system with processes that change them over time. Furthermore, billions of people depend on rivers, but rivers can also wreak havoc on populations, an economy, even politics.

Using Geographical Thinking:

Spatial Significance:

Patterns and Trends:

Using the Key GeoQs:

Where are rivers found? 

2.  Why are rivers found there?

  4. How do rivers impact PEEPs? 

Now, replace "rivers" with any geographic feature, process, or system – how about "migration", "volcanoes",  "urbanization",  or "climate change"?

Voilà – the ideal framework for investigative learning.