The Four Traditions of Geography

The Spatial, Area Studies, Man-Land, and Earth Science Traditions

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The four traditions of geography were originally espoused by geographer William D. Pattison at the opening session of the annual convention of the National Council for Geographic Education, Columbus, Ohio, November 29, 1963. His four traditions attempted to define the discipline:

  1. Spatial tradition
  2. Area studies tradition 
  3. Man-land tradition
  4. Earth science tradition

Below are the traditions along with some core concepts of each.

Spatial Tradition (also called Locational Tradition)

  • Mapping
  • Spatial analysis
  • Boundaries and densities
  • Movement and transportation
  • Quantitative techniques and tools, such as computerized mapping and Geographic Information Systems
  • Central Place Theory
  • Areal distribution
  • Spatial patterns

Area Studies Tradition (also called Regional Tradition)

  • Description of regions or areas
  • World regional geography
  • International trends and relationships
  • How regions are different from one another
  • The chorographic tradition (regions)

Man-Land Tradition (also called Human-Environmental, Human-Land, or Culture-Environment Tradition)

  • Human impact on nature
  • Impact of nature on humans
  • Natural hazards
  • Perception of environment
  • Environmentalism
  • Cultural, political, and population geography

Earth Science Tradition

  • Physical geography
  • The lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere
  • Earth-sun interaction
  • Offshoots are geology, mineralogy, paleontology, glaciology, geomorphology, and meteorology
  • The study of the earth as the home to humans
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Rosenberg, Matt. "The Four Traditions of Geography." ThoughtCo, Mar. 3, 2017, thoughtco.com/four-traditions-of-geography-1435583. Rosenberg, Matt. (2017, March 3). The Four Traditions of Geography. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/four-traditions-of-geography-1435583 Rosenberg, Matt. "The Four Traditions of Geography." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/four-traditions-of-geography-1435583 (accessed November 22, 2017).