Harm de Blij - Biography of the Famous Geographer

Realms, Regions and Concepts

Harm de Blij

Michigan State University 

Harm de Blij (1935-2014) was a famous geographer known for his studies in regional, geopolitical and environmental geography. He was an author of dozens of books, a professor of geography and he was the Geography Editor for ABC’s ​Good Morning America from 1990 to 1996. Following his stint at ABC de Blij joined NBC News as a Geography Analyst. De Blij died following a battle with cancer on March 25, 2014, at the age of 78.

De Blij was born in the Netherlands and according to Michigan State University’s Department of Geography, he obtained his geography education all over the world. His early education took place in Europe, while his undergraduate education was completed in Africa and his Ph.D. work was done in the United States at Northwestern University. He also has honorary degrees at several American universities for his work. Throughout his career, De Blij has published over 30 books and more than 100 articles.

Geography: Realms, Regions and Concepts

Of his more than 30 book publications, De Blij is most well-known for his textbook Geography: Realms, Regions and Concepts. This is an exceptionally important textbook because it offers a way to organize the world and its complex geography. The book’s preface says, “One of our aims is to help students learn important geographic concepts and ideas, and to make sense of our complex and rapidly changing world” (de Blij and Muller, 2010 pp. xiii).

In order to meet this goal de Blij’s divides the world into a realm and each chapter of Geography: Realms, Regions and Concepts begins with a definition of a particular realm. Next, the realm is divided into regions within the realm and the chapters go through a discussion of the region. Finally, the chapters also include a variety of major concepts that affect and create the regions and realms. These concepts also help to offer an explanation into why the world is divided into the specific realms and regions.

In Geography: Realms, Regions and Concepts, de Blij refers to realms as “global neighborhoods” and he defines them as “the basic spatial unit in [his] world regionalization scheme. Each realm is defined in terms of a synthesis of its total human geography…” (de Blij and Muller, 2010 pp. G-5). By that definition a realm is the highest category within de Blij’s breakdown of the world.

In order to define his geographic realms de Blij came up with a set of spatial criteria. These criteria include similarities between the physical environment and humans, the history of areas and how the areas function together via things like fishing ports and transportation routes. When studying realms it should also be noted that although the larger realms are different from each other, there are transition zones between them where differences may blur.

World Regions of Geography: Realms, Regions and Concepts

According to de Blij, the world has 12 different realms and each realm is different from the others because they have unique environmental, cultural and organizational properties (de Blij and Muller, 2010 pp.5). The 12 realms of the world are as follows:

1) Europe
2) Russia
3) North America
4) Middle America
5) South America
6) Subsaharan Africa
7) North Africa/Southwest Asia
8) South Asia
9) East Asia
10) Southeast Asia
11) Austral Realm
12) Pacific Realm

Each of these areas is its own realm because they are very different from one another. For example, the European realm is different from the Russian realm due to their different climates, natural resources, histories and political and governmental structures. Europe for instance, has an extremely varied climate within its different countries whereas a large portion of Russia’s climate is very cold and harsh for much of the year.

The world’s realms can also be divided into two categories: those that are dominated by one major nation (Russia for example) and those that have many different countries with no dominant nation (Europe for instance).

Within each of the 12 geographic realms, there are many different regions and some realms may have more regions than others. Regions are defined as smaller areas within the realm that have similar characteristics in their physical landscapes, climates, people, histories, culture, political structure and governments.

The Russian realm includes the following regions: the Russian core and peripheries, the Eastern Frontier, Siberia and the Russian Far East. Each of these regions within the Russian realm is very different from the next. Siberia, for example, is a sparsely populated region and it has a very harsh, cold climate but it is rich in natural resources. By contrast, the Russian core and peripheries, particularly the areas around Moscow and St. Petersburg, are very heavily populated and though this area has a harsher climate than regions in say, the Austral Realm, its climate is milder than the Siberian region within the Russian realm.

In addition to realms and regions, de Blij is known for his work on concepts. Various concepts are listed throughout Geography: Realms, Regions and Concepts and many different ones are discussed in each chapter to explain the different realms and regions throughout the world.

Some concepts discussed about the Russian realm and its regions include oligarchy, permafrost, colonialism and population decline. These concepts are all important things to study in geography and they are important to the Russian realm because they make it different from other realms in the world. Different concepts such as these also make the regions of Russia different from one another. Permafrost, for example, is a significant landscape characteristic found in northern Siberia that makes that region different from the Russian core. It could also help to explain why the region is more sparsely populated since building is more difficult there.

It is concepts such as these that explain how the world’s realms and regions have come to be organized.

Importance of Realms, Regions and Concepts

Harm de Blij’s realms, regions and concepts is an extremely important topic within the study of geography because it represents a way to break down the world into organized, easy to study pieces. It is also a clear and concise way to study world regional geography. The use of these ideas by students, professors, and the general public is shown in the popularity of Geography: Realms, Regions and Concepts. This textbook was first published in 1970 and it has since had 15 different editions and sold over 1.3 million copies. It was estimated to have been used as a textbook in 85% of undergraduate regional geography classes.

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Briney, Amanda. "Harm de Blij - Biography of the Famous Geographer." ThoughtCo, Dec. 6, 2021, thoughtco.com/harm-de-blij-1434999. Briney, Amanda. (2021, December 6). Harm de Blij - Biography of the Famous Geographer. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/harm-de-blij-1434999 Briney, Amanda. "Harm de Blij - Biography of the Famous Geographer." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/harm-de-blij-1434999 (accessed March 28, 2023).