Geography (from Greekγεωγραφία, geographia, lit. "earth description") is a field of science dedicated to the study of the lands, the features, the inhabitants, and the phenomena of the Earth. A literal translation would be "to describe or write about the Earth". The first person to use the word "geography" was Eratosthenes (276–194 BC). Four historical traditions in geographical research are spatial analysis of the natural and the human phenomena (geography as the study of distribution), area studies (places and regions), study of the man-land relationship, and research in the Earth sciences. Nonetheless, modern geography is an all-encompassing discipline that foremost seeks to understand the Earth and all of its human and natural complexities - not merely where objects are, but how they have changed and come to be. Geography has been called "the world discipline" and "the bridge between the human and the physical science". Geography is divided into two main branches: human geography and physical geography.
Traditionally, geographers have been viewed the same way as cartographers and people who study place names and numbers. Although many geographers are trained in toponymy and cartology, this is not their main preoccupation. Geographers study the spatial and the temporal distribution of phenomena, processes, and features as well as the interaction of humans and their environment. Because space and place affect a variety of topics, such as economics, health, climate, plants and animals; geography is highly interdisciplinary. The interdisciplinary nature of the geographical approach depends on an attentiveness to the relationship between physical and human phenomena and its spatial patterns.
...mere names of places...are not geography...know by heart a whole gazetteer full of them would not, in itself, constitute anyone a geographer. Geography has higher aims than this: it seeks to classify phenomena (alike of the natural and of the political world, in so far as it treats of the latter), to compare, to generalize, to ascend from effects to causes, and, in doing so, to trace out the laws of nature and to mark their influences upon man. This is 'a description of the world'—that is Geography. In a word Geography is a Science—a thing not of mere names but of argument and reason, of cause and effect.
Geography as a discipline can be split broadly into two main subsidiary fields: human geography and physical geography. The former largely focuses on the built environment and how humans create, view, manage, and influence space. The latter examines the natural environment, and how organisms, climate, soil, water, and landforms produce and interact. The difference between these approaches led to a third field, environmental geography, which combines the physical and the human geography, and looks at the interactions between the environment and humans.
Integrated geography is the branch of geography that describes the spatial aspects of interactions between humans and the natural world. It requires an understanding of the traditional aspects of the physical and the human geography, as well as the ways that human societies conceptualize the environment.
Geomatics is a branch of geography that has emerged since the quantitative revolution in geography in the mid-1950s. Geomatics involves the use of traditional spatial techniques used in cartography and topography and their application to computers. Geomatics has become a widespread field with many other disciplines, using techniques such as GIS and remote sensing. Geomatics has also led to a revitalization of some geography departments, especially in Northern America where the subject had a declining status during the 1950s.
Regional geography is a branch of geography which studies the regions of all sizes across the Earth. It has a prevailing descriptive character. The main aim is to understand, or define the uniqueness, or character of a particular region that consists of natural as well as human elements. Attention is paid also to regionalization, which covers the proper techniques of space delimitation into regions.
Urban planning, regional planning, and spatial planning: Use the science of geography to assist in determining how to develop (or not develop) the land to meet particular criteria, such as safety, beauty, economic opportunities, the preservation of the built or natural heritage, and so on. The planning of towns, cities, and rural areas may be seen as applied geography.
Interplanetary Sciences: While the discipline of geography is normally concerned with the Earth, the term can also be informally used to describe the study of other worlds, such as the planets of the Solar System and even beyond. The study of systems larger than the Earth itself usually forms part of Astronomy or Cosmology. The study of other planets is usually called planetary science. Alternative terms such as Areology (the study of Mars) have been proposed, but are not widely used.
As spatial interrelationships are key to this synoptic science, maps are a key tool. Classical cartography has been joined by a more modern approach to geographical analysis, computer-based geographic information systems (GIS).
In their study, geographers use four interrelated approaches:
Systematic — Groups geographical knowledge into categories that can be explored globally.
Regional — Examines systematic relationships between categories for a specific region or location on the planet.
Descriptive — Simply specifies the locations of features and populations.
Analytical — Asks why we find features and populations in a specific geographic area.
Cartography studies the representation of the Earth's surface with abstract symbols (map making). Although other subdisciplines of geography rely on maps for presenting their analyses, the actual making of maps is abstract enough to be regarded separately. Cartography has grown from a collection of drafting techniques into an actual science.
Cartographers must learn cognitive psychology and ergonomics to understand which symbols convey information about the Earth most effectively, and behavioral psychology to induce the readers of their maps to act on the information. They must learn geodesy and fairly advanced mathematics to understand how the shape of the Earth affects the distortion of map symbols projected onto a flat surface for viewing. It can be said, without much controversy, that cartography is the seed from which the larger field of geography grew. Most geographers will cite a childhood fascination with maps as an early sign they would end up in the field.
Geographic information systems (GIS) deal with the storage of information about the Earth for automatic retrieval by a computer, in an accurate manner appropriate to the information's purpose. In addition to all of the other subdisciplines of geography, GIS specialists must understand computer science and database systems. GIS has revolutionized the field of cartography: nearly all mapmaking is now done with the assistance of some form of GIS software. GIS also refers to the science of using GIS software and GIS techniques to represent, analyze, and predict the spatial relationships. In this context, GIS stands for Geographic Information Science.
Remote sensing is the science of obtaining information about Earth features from measurements made at a distance. Remotely sensed data comes in many forms, such as satellite imagery, aerial photography, and data obtained from hand-held sensors. Geographers increasingly use remotely sensed data to obtain information about the Earth's land surface, ocean, and atmosphere, because it: a) supplies objective information at a variety of spatial scales (local to global), b) provides a synoptic view of the area of interest, c) allows access to distant and inaccessible sites, d) provides spectral information outside the visible portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, and e) facilitates studies of how features/areas change over time. Remotely sensed data may be analyzed either independently of, or in conjunction with other digital data layers (e.g., in a Geographic Information System).
The oldest known world maps date back to ancient Babylon from the 9th century BC. The best known Babylonian world map, however, is the Imago Mundi of 600 BC. The map as reconstructed by Eckhard Unger shows Babylon on the Euphrates, surrounded by a circular landmass showing Assyria, Urartu and several cities, in turn surrounded by a "bitter river" (Oceanus), with seven islands arranged around it so as to form a seven-pointed star. The accompanying text mentions seven outer regions beyond the encircling ocean. The descriptions of five of them have survived. In contrast to the Imago Mundi, an earlier Babylonian world map dating back to the 9th century BC depicted Babylon as being further north from the center of the world, though it is not certain what that center was supposed to represent.
The ideas of Anaximander (c. 610 BC-c. 545 BC): considered by later Greek writers to be the true founder of geography, come to us through fragments quoted by his successors. Anaximander is credited with the invention of the gnomon, the simple, yet efficient Greek instrument that allowed the early measurement of latitude. Thales is also credited with the prediction of eclipses. The foundations of geography can be traced to the ancient cultures, such as the ancient, medieval, and early modern Chinese. The Greeks, who were the first to explore geography as both art and science, achieved this through Cartography, Philosophy, and Literature, or through Mathematics. There is some debate about who was the first person to assert that the Earth is spherical in shape, with the credit going either to Parmenides or Pythagoras. Anaxagoras was able to demonstrate that the profile of the Earth was circular by explaining eclipses. However, he still believed that the Earth was a flat disk, as did many of his contemporaries. One of the first estimates of the radius of the Earth was made by Eratosthenes.
The first rigorous system of latitude and longitude lines is credited to Hipparchus. He employed a sexagesimal system that was derived from Babylonian mathematics. The meridians were sub-divided into 360°, with each degree further subdivided 60′ (minutes). To measure the longitude at different location on Earth, he suggested using eclipses to determine the relative difference in time. The extensive mapping by the Romans as they explored new lands would later provide a high level of information for Ptolemy to construct detailed atlases. He extended the work of Hipparchus, using a grid system on his maps and adopting a length of 56.5 miles for a degree.
From the 3rd century onwards, Chinese methods of geographical study and writing of geographical literature became much more complex than what was found in Europe at the time (until the 13th century). Chinese geographers such as Liu An, Pei Xiu, Jia Dan, Shen Kuo, Fan Chengda, Zhou Daguan, and Xu Xiake wrote important treatises, yet by the 17th century advanced ideas and methods of Western-style geography were adopted in China.
The European Age of Discovery during the 16th and the 17th centuries, where many new lands were discovered and accounts by European explorers such as Christopher Columbus, Marco Polo, and James Cook revived a desire for both accurate geographic detail, and more solid theoretical foundations in Europe. The problem facing both explorers and geographers was finding the latitude and longitude of a geographic location. The problem of latitude was solved long ago but that of longitude remained; agreeing on what zero meridian should be was only part of the problem. It was left to John Harrison to solve it by inventing the chronometer H-4 in 1760, and later in 1884 for the International Meridian Conference to adopt by convention the Greenwich meridian as zero meridian.
Over the past two centuries, the advancements in technology with computers have led to the development of geomatics. and new practices such as participant observation and geostatistics being incorporated into geography's portfolio of tools. In the West during the 20th century, the discipline of geography went through four major phases: environmental determinism, regional geography, the quantitative revolution, and critical geography. The strong interdisciplinary links between geography and the sciences of geology and botany, as well as economics, sociology and demographics have also grown greatly, especially as a result of Earth System Science that seeks to understand the world in a holistic view.
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