2 What is Regional Geography?


The field of Geography can be divided into various sub-groups, as Geography seeks to answer questions of Where? What? How? Why? Who?

Most people understand that one piece is Physical Geography, the study of the physical landscape of the Earth’s surface.   Some colleges and universities house this portion of Geography quite naturally within their Geography Departments; however, other schools have separate Earth Science Departments to study these topics.  Essentially, Earth Science is the same as Physical Geography.

Within this sub-field of Geography, there are additional categories of study.  Geomorphology examines the Earth’s landmasses and the forces that build and change the lands.  Oceanography considers the Earth’s oceans and seas, while climatology and meteorology address the world’s climates and weather respectively. Biogeography studies the distribution of life on the planet.  All of these sub-fields of Geography interact with each other to cover the land, water, and life on Earth.  There are additional sub-fields of these sub-fields.

The other main piece of Geography is Human Geography, though sometimes this field is called Cultural Geography or Social Geography.  This is the study of people in places.  Human Geography examines the features of individuals and the characteristics of groups of people in order to describe and explain the dynamics of human life in the varied and many locations of the planet.  The sub-fields of Human Geography largely are obvious:

  • Population Geography
  • Political Geography
  • Economic Geography
  • Historical Geography
  • Urban Geography
  • and more.

While Physical Geography basically overlaps completely with Earth Science, the sub-fields of Human Geography clearly overlap at times and partially with other disciplines. Obviously, Political Geography overlaps at times and partially with Political Science, and so on.  In all cases, it is important to understand that Human Geography is interested in describing people’s characteristics at a given location, hopefully to be able subsequently to explain human activity at that location.  Every time, location matters.

Regional Geography utilizes both Physical Geography and Human Geography.  In order to create meaningful regions, geographers look to find places (usually countries) that share numerous characteristics and have few noteworthy differences.  Do Country A and Country B have the same basic physical landscape?  Perhaps they could be included in the same region.  Do Country C and Country D share the same dominant religion?  If so, then this element of Cultural Geography suggests a possible pairing in the same region.  Do the people of Country E and Country F speak the same common language?  They might belong together.  When doing the work of Regional Geography, scholars seek to put many similarities together to form a region.  While that is the main structural pattern of Regional Geography, there are a couple of additional factors to consider.  A region could have only a few countries, but generally these countries would cover a large area.  For instance, North America consists only of Canada and the United States.  A region may have numerous countries, perhaps of smaller sizes.

Countries that belong together in a region must be contiguous, or for islands, adjacent. That is, for a country to be in a specific region, it must border another country that too is in the same region. While New Zealand does share elements of culture with its colonizer – the United Kingdom, New Zealand is thousands of miles distant from the UK; thus, these two lands must not belong to the same region.

Occasionally, a country meet the threshold of adjacency, but is not a good match in many elements of the physical and human landscapes.  It seems like this country should fit, but it doesn’t fit well.  In this case, the regional geographer must consider whether or not there are other possible regions that could include this ill-fitting country.  If there is no other regional fit, then the country must be included in the adjacent region, even if awkwardly.  For example, in many ways Israel is not similar to other countries of the Middle East; however, it is unreasonable or even ridiculous to include Israel in other regions; therefore, Israel must be fitted into the Middle East as a region.

Creating regions is not a simple task, but the study of Regional Geography is fascinating. Learning everything about the people and places of a region is a great and enjoyable challenge.

To complete the picture of Geography, we can add two overlays.  One case is place identification.  In all cases of Geography and certainly in Regional Geography, knowing where places are located is valuable.  Perhaps expressed through map quizzes, locational awareness can affect choices of policy and action.

Another overlay on top of Geography is cartography.  Geographers use maps in all sorts of ways, in all sorts of sub-field, and inherently in Regional Geography.  While people have been making maps for thousands of years, the contemporary approach to mapmaking is Geographic Information Systems (GIS).  GIS creates maps, but also uses various techniques within the computer software in order to develop answers to questions and to demonstrate patterns and solutions.

Thus, Regional Geography uses maps, rules, and geographic patterns of people and places to create coherent regions melding similarities together.


Did You Know?

This textbook is about Regional Geography, but for Geography as a whole, here are two definitions that we like.

  1.  “Geography is the study of the spatial distribution of phenomena.”
  2.  “Geography is the art and science of location.” – George Demko, renowned Geography Professor and former director of the U.S. Office of the Geographer


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The Western World: Daily Readings on Geography Copyright © 2020 by Joel Quam and Scott Campbell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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