What is Geography?

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Geography is an extremely broad discipline that seeks to map and describe both the physical features of the Earth, like mountains, and its human features, such as the borders of countries or distributions of religions. The word, first used by Eratosthenes (276 – 194 BCE), literally means “writing about the Earth.” It is sometimes called “the bridge between the physical and human sciences,” but is divided into two branches that focuses on each separately: human and physical.

Explorer Marco Polo traveled from Europe to the Far East during the 13th century.
Explorer Marco Polo traveled from Europe to the Far East during the 13th century.

This discipline can be divided into about a dozen sub-categories per major branch. In physical geography, the sub-categories include biogeography, climatology, paleoclimatology, coastal, environmental, geodesy (geo-measurement), geomorphology, hydrography, glaciology, landscape ecology, oceanography, pedology (soil study), paleogeography, and quaternary science (study of the last 2.6 million years). In human geography, the sub-categories include development, cultural, economic, health, historical, population, political, religion, social, transportation, tourism, and urban geography.

Geography maps the physical and political features of Earth.
Geography maps the physical and political features of Earth.

Geography has been practiced at least since Classical Antiquity, around 600 BC. Anaximander of Miletus is the first true geographer, according to slightly later Greek sources. In ancient times, only Europe, the Near East, and North Africa were recognized by the West. Other global civilizations, such as the Inca, ancient China, and ancient India were similarly isolated, knowing little about the world beyond the immediate area. During the late 13th century, the famous explorer Marco Polo traveled from Europe to China, making Europeans more aware of the far East, and culturally linking the two distant places. Modern geography really began during the Age of Exploration, beginning in the 15th century, when the Americas were added to maps and many people around the world became aware of five continents. Australia was not discovered until the 17th century, and Antarctica not until 1820.

Coastal geography is the study of the natural features of coastal areas.
Coastal geography is the study of the natural features of coastal areas.

Today, modern geography is an advanced discipline. Thanks to satellite imagery, the Earth has been mapped to a resolution better than approximately 10 m, and military satellites are thought to have a resolution of 10 cm. The exact altitudes of most major mountains are known to within a few meters. Software programs such as Google Maps make precise geographical information available to anyone with an Internet connection.

In ancient times, Europe was one of just three regions recognized by western geographers.
In ancient times, Europe was one of just three regions recognized by western geographers.
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime wiseGEEK contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

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Discussion Comments

anon162256

please can tell me how to be a good geographer. i want to know more about how to be a geographer and also I'm very interested in geography.

anon145756

Well Feifei, to be good at geography you have to study. that is the key. First you start with a understanding the purpose and uses of geography, then you need to become familiar with regular terms used in geography and how these terms relate to its interpretation and understanding.

anon97501

my name is onesmo. i want to be a cartographer but i do not know where can i start, so i would like you to guide me to follow the procedures. i hope i can get a good answer from you.

feifei

Please tell me how to be good at geography! I have tried many books, but they are something like a mess. I really want to study it well but how to begin? Which book should I read first to have the basic knowledge of geography and then what to do next to become an advanced learner?

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