Overview of Political Geography

The Internal and External Relations of Countries

Various Flags At Government Building
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Human geography is the branch of geography concerned with understanding the world's culture and how it relates to geographic space. Political geography is the further offshoot that studies the spatial distribution of political processes and how these processes are impacted by one's geographic location.

It often studies local and national elections, international relationships and the political structure of different areas based on 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 his 1897 book Politische Geographie, Ratzel 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.

Heartland Theory

Halford Mackinder's Heartland Theory was another early theory in political geography.

In 1904, Mackinder, a British geographer, developed this theory in his article, "The Geographical Pivot of History." Mackinder said the 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 the age of seapower was ending and that whoever controlled the heartland would control the world.

Both Ratzel and Mackinder's theories remained important before and during World War II. The Heartland Theory, for instance, influenced the creation of buffer states between the Soviet Union and Germany at the end of the war.

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
  • 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 gay and lesbian issues as well as youth communities.

Examples of Research

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 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."


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Briney, Amanda. "Overview of Political Geography." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/overview-of-political-geography-1435397. Briney, Amanda. (2023, April 5). 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 29, 2023).