Geography 101

An Overview of Geography

Group of schoolchildren using atlas together
John Slater/ Digital Vision/ Getty Images

The science of geography is likely the oldest of all sciences. Geography is the answer to the question that the earliest humans asked, "What's over there?" Exploration and the discovery of new places, new cultures, and new ideas have always been basic components of geography.

Thus, geography is often called the "mother of all sciences" as studying other people and other places led to other scientific fields such as biology, anthropology, geology, mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, among others. (See other Definitions of Geography)

What Does the Word Geography Mean?

The word "geography" was invented by the ancient Greek scholar Eratosthenes and literally means "writing about the earth." The word can be divided into two parts - ge and graphy. Ge means the Earth and graphy refers to writing.

Of course, geography today means much more than writing about the Earth but it's a difficult discipline to define. Many geographers have done their best to define geography but a typical dictionary definition today reads, "The science of the Earth's physical features, resources, climate, population, etc."

Divisions of Geography

Today, geography is commonly divided into two major branches - cultural geography (also called human geography) and physical geography.

Cultural geography is the branch of geography dealing with human culture and its impact on the Earth. Cultural geographers study languages, religion, foods, building styles, urban areas, agriculture, transportation systems, politics, economies, population and demographics, and more.

Physical geography is the branch of geography dealing with the natural features of the Earth, the home of humans. Physical geography looks at the water, air, animals, and land of the planet Earth (i.e. everything that is part of the four spheres - the atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere). Physical geography is closely related to geography's sister science - geology - but physical geography focuses more on the landscapes at the surface of the Earth and not what is inside our planet.

Other key areas of geography include regional geography (which involves the in-depth study and knowledge of a particular region and its cultural as well as its physical characteristics) and geographic technologies like GIS (geographic information systems) and GPS (global positioning system).

An important system for dividing the subject of geography is known as the Four Traditions of Geography.

History of Geography

The history of geography as a scientific discipline can be traced back to the Greek scholar Eratosthenes. It was further developed in the modern era by Alexander von Humboldt and from there, you can trace the history of geography in the United States.

Also, see the Timeline of Geographic History.

Studying Geography

Since the late 1980s, when the subject of geography was not well-taught throughout the United States, there has been a revival in geographic education. Thus, today many primary, secondary, and university students are choosing to learn more about geography.

There are many resources online available to learn about studying geography, including one article about earning a college degree in geography. While at the university, be sure to explore career opportunities through internships in geography.

Great Studying Geography Resources:

Careers in Geography

Once you start studying geography, you'll want to look into various careers in geography so don't miss this article specifically about Jobs in Geography.

Joining a geographic organization is also helpful as you pursue a geographic career.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Rosenberg, Matt. "Geography 101." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Rosenberg, Matt. (2023, April 5). Geography 101. Retrieved from Rosenberg, Matt. "Geography 101." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 30, 2023).