a. The Five Themes of Geography



What do we mean by "location"?
When we talk about "location" in geography, we are talking about two ways of locating things - by absolute location or relative location.

Absolute: A location can be absolute (specific) as in coordinates of a map using longitude and latitude

Relative: A location can be relative - examples: next door, nearby, a short drive, down the road a ways. Or, it can be in the same general location as another location - example: next to the post office.

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Latitude and Longitude:
Latitude and longitude movie and quiz
Using maps to find locations - interactive
Interactive 3D globe

The Theme of “Place”

A place is an area that is defined by everything in it. All places have features that give them personality and distinguish them from other places.
If you refer to your school as a place, then that place would include walls, windows, gym, cafeteria, classrooms, people, clothing, books, maps, mops, brooms, hallways, mice (if you have them) and everything else in the school, including the languages spoken.

The place is a description of what the place is like, rather than where it is (location). It is a description of what makes that place different to others. If I was trying to tell you about the bedrooms in a house, and I wanted to explain to you exactly which one I meant, I could say, "the one with two beds and one window". If the other rooms had only one bed each, or two windows, then you could easily tell which room I meant.

“Place” can be divided into 2 parts:
Physical Differences and Human Differences

Physical differences, or characteristics, include things that occur naturally, such as mountains, rivers, type of soil, wildlife, climate etc.
I might say that a place is flat with rich soil and many rivers. I'm still being vague, but already you can see a picture of it in your head, and maybe even begin to imagine what the land is used for.

Physical Characteristics Include:
a) Climate – long-term average weather condition at a particular location. c) Soil – the material that forms Earth’s surface, in the thin interface between the air and the rocks. Erosion and the depletion of nutrients are two basic problems concerning the destruction of the soil.
d) Landforms – Earth’s surface features (geomorphology), limited population near poles and at high altitudes

Human differences, or characteristics, are things that have changed due to people, such as roads and buildings, how people live and their traditions.
This is where you can really go to town in your description. You can discuss the cities, lifestyle, culture and all sorts of other interesting facts that make the place you are talking about different and special.

Human Characteristics Include:
a) Culture – people’s lifestyles, values, beliefs, and traits, what people care about: language, religion, ethnicity
b) What people take care of: 1) daily necessities of survival (food, clothing, shelter) and 2) leisure activities (artistic expressions, recreation)
c) Cultural institutions: political institutions (a country, its laws and rights)

Scandinavia's Sami Reindeer Herders
The Sami


Movement refers to the way people, products, information and ideas move from one place to another. This can be local such as how did you get to school today, or it can be global such as how did humans get to North America?

We can describe the type of communications a place has and the main forms of transportation, as well as what goods are exported and imported. These all come under the heading of movement.

We can also think of movement as interconnections between areas; the mobility of people, goods, and ideas across the surface of the planet.

Here are some of the ways the theme of Movement impacts culture:

Culture Hearths – sources of civilization from which an idea, innovation, or ideology originates (e.g. Mesopotamia, Nile Valley), viewed in the context of time as well as space

Cultural diffusion – spread of an innovation, or ideology from its source area to
another culture. An innovation, or ideology develops in a source area and remains strong there while also spreading outward. Sometimes diffusion is contagious - nearly all nearby individuals are affected (e.g. spread of Islam, disease). People can spread ideas, as an underlying principle (e.g. idea of industrialization). People can spread ideas by relocating. We often see the spread of an innovation, or ideology through physical movement of individuals.

Acculturation – when a culture is substantially changed through interaction with another culture.

Migrations or Diasporas – Times in history where major movements of a population from one place to another carried ideas and cultural traditions and values along with it that were then assimilated into the new culture of the place they moved to. Examples are the African Slave Trade, and the migrations of Europeans to America. Even today, we can see aspects of their home cultures (culture hearths) that have blended with and become a part of our American culture.

My Furthest Back Person by Alex Hailey - click the file to download

The Theme of “Regions”

A region is an area that is defined by certain similar characteristics. Those unifying or similar characteristics can be physical, natural, human, or cultural.

Regions are areas that can be grouped together by a set of things special to that region. We have countries, ruled by governments, areas speaking the same language, or having the same religion, and we have areas served by a particular service, such as a school district.

The types of Regions are:

Defined by a government:
We have countries, cities and other legally organized areas ruled by governments.

Defined culturally
Areas speaking the same language, or having the same religion are sometimes classified as regions. “Francophone Canada” refers mostly to the eastern part of Canada around Quebec, where the majority of French Canadian speakers live. That doesn’t mean they don’t also live in other parts of Canada, but the majority live in that particular region.

Defined by physical characteristics
Areas that occur within certain geographic characteristics, or within boundaries created by common physical boundaries can also be defined as regions. For example, the Great Lakes Region is defined by the largest chain of lakes in North America. The Great Plains is defined by a large area of plains.

Defined by a function
On a smaller scale, we have areas organized by a particular service, such as a school district, a game management unit for hunting, or a voting district. Take the example of the school district for Geek's Rule School. If Geek's Rule School closes down, then the school district will no longer exist. Of course, it won't just disappear in a cloud of smoke, but it will have to be named or described some other way. Sometimes game management units for hunting change, and sometimes voting districts change. The areas they serve are defined by the function they provide (school attendance, hunting areas, voting areas).

Loosely defined regions are regions that are grouped together in general terms.

These are things such as the North, or the Midlands or the Buddhist World, or even the Far East and Middle East. They are the sort of definitions that people will argue about, and say that a certain place should or shouldn't be included in the definition of that region.

Depending on how a region is defined, one place could easily be classified as part of several regions.

For example, lets take a look at New York City. The city can be classified as part of many different regions – many loosely defined. It is classified by it’s legal city boundaries, and also as part of the state of New York, and The United States of America. It is part of the region we call New England, and also The Northeast. Culturally, New York City falls into the region of the Northeastern Megalopolis. Within New York City are many smaller regions – some of which are physical, Manhattan Island, some of which are functional, like Brooklyn Borough in Kings County. There are also smaller regions within New York City that are culturally defined, like Little Italy, and Chinatown.


The Theme of “Human-Environment Interaction”

Human-Environment Interaction

Human-environment interaction looks at the relationships between people and their environment; how people adapt to the environment and how they change it.

This theme is about the relationship between people and their environment, or how they work together. It answers a lot of important questions: What effects have the people had on their environment? How has the environment affected them, do they depend on it for anything? What changes have they made to their environment to make it easier to live in?

It can be divided into 3 parts:

How to people adapt to the environment (how do they change to fit the environment)? Example: The ancient Egyptians rebuilt their homes each year, after the annual flooding. As time went on, they built their homes above the flood plain.
How people have been changed by the environment can be called adaptation. It is the way humans change to suit their environment. Another example of this is people who live in very cold climates wearing well-insulated clothes to keep warm. It can also include the way people transport things, in a desert the best way to transport some things is by camel.

How do people modify or change the environment? Example: The ancient Egyptians built irrigation ditches to help water the crops. In modern times, Egypt built a dam to control the flood waters of the Nile River. How the environment has been changed or “modification” is the way people change their environment to suit themselves. Artificially watering your lawn, if you live in a dry area is one example, or on a grander scale, creating fertile land in desert areas to grow food crops. Another good example is clearing forests to make room for growing crops.

How do people depend on the environment?
Example: In ancient times, the annual flooding of the Nile River produced good soil for growing crops.

Examples of this are using trees for firewood, or coal to warm us in winter, rivers to transport goods and natural resources like oil and coal, to sell or exchange for other needed items that are not available.
Sometimes it is difficult to tell exactly where something belongs . For example, if people clear forests to get wood for fires and to grow crops, that may be considered changing the environment to suit themselves and depending on the environment for something.

When you think about the environment and people, just remember three important questions:

1. How have the people changed?
2. How have they changed the environment?
3. Do they depend on the environment for anything?