Overview of Political Geography

Investigates the Geography of Internal and External Relations of Countries

Flags of Many Countries
Flags of 200 nations are displayed on Regent Street on June 15, 2012 in London, England. Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Political geography is a branch of human geography (the branch of geography concerned with understanding the world's culture and how it relates to geographic space) that studies the spatial distribution of political processes and how these processes are impacted by ones geographic location. It often studies local and national elections, international relationships and the political structure of different areas based on geography.

History of Political Geography

The development of political geography began with the growth of human geography as a separate geographic discipline from physical geography. Early human geographers often studied a nation or specific location's political development based on physical landscape attributes. In many areas the landscape was thought to either help or hinder the economic and political success and therefore the development of nations. One of the earliest geographers to study this relationship was Friedrich Ratzel. In 1897 his book, Politische Geographie, examined the idea that nations grew politically and geographically when their cultures also expanded and that nations needed to continue to grow so that their cultures would have sufficient room to develop.

Another early theory in political geography was the heartland theory. In 1904, Halford Mackinder, a British geographer, developed this theory in his article, "The Geographical Pivot of History." As a part of this theory Mackinder said that world would be divided into a Heartland consisting of Eastern Europe, a World Island made up of Eurasia and Africa, Peripheral Islands, and the New World.

His theory said that whoever controlled the heartland would control the world.

Both Ratzel and Mackinder's theories remained important before and during World War II. By the time of the Cold War their theories and the importance of political geography began to decline and other fields within human geography began to develop.

In the late 1970s however, political geography again began to grow. Today political geography is considered one of the most important branches of human geography and many geographers study a variety of fields concerned with political processes and geography.

Fields within Political Geography

Some of the fields within today's political geography include but are not limited to the mapping and study of elections and their results, the relationship between the government at the federal, state and local level and its people, the marking of political boundaries, and the relationships between nations involved in international supranational political groupings such as the European Union.

Modern political trends also have an impact on political geography and in recent years sub-topics focused on these trends have developed within political geography. This is known as critical political geography and includes political geography focused on ideas related to feminist groups and issues gay and lesbian as well as youth communities.

Examples of Research in Political Geography

Because of the varied fields within political geography there are many current and past political geographers. Some of the most famous geographers to study political geography were John A. Agnew, Richard Hartshorne, Halford Mackinder, Friedrich Ratzel and Ellen Churchill Semple.

Today political geography is also a specialty group within the Association of American Geographers and there is an academic journal called Political Geography. Some titles from recent articles in this journal include "Redistricting and the Elusive Ideals of Representation," "Climate Triggers: Rainfall Anomalies, Vulnerability and Communal Conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa," and "Normative Goals and Demographic Realities."

To learn more about political geography and to see topics within the subject visit the Political Geography page here on Geography at About.com.

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Briney, Amanda. "Overview of Political Geography." ThoughtCo, Mar. 3, 2017, thoughtco.com/overview-of-political-geography-1435397. Briney, Amanda. (2017, March 3). Overview of Political Geography. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/overview-of-political-geography-1435397 Briney, Amanda. "Overview of Political Geography." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/overview-of-political-geography-1435397 (accessed May 26, 2018).