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Geo 201. Chapter 1: Human Geography, A Cultural Approach. Where, What, Why, How. Geographers want to know: - where places are - why people live where they live - what these people do for a living - how these places have changed over time

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geo 201

Geo 201

Chapter 1: Human Geography, A Cultural Approach

where what why how
Where, What, Why, How
  • Geographers want to know:
  • - where places are
  • - why people live where they live
  • - what these people do for a living
  • - how these places have changed over time
  • They also want to know if regions share characteristics
  • The term region is defined as a grouping of similar places or places
  • with similar characteristics.
the term geography
The Term Geography
  • Invented by an ancient Greek scholar named Eratosthenes
  • GEO = earth GRAPHY = to write
  • To write about the earth
  • In this class we look at geography as a Social Science. That is how geography
  • influences humans and their activities.
  • We’ll look at cultural characteristics like: religion, population, agriculture,
  • politics, and the environment.
your text
Your text
  • The Table of Contents will give you a brief overview of each chapter
  • At the back of your text: Glossary of Terms, pp. 425 -434
  • Index, pp. 435-452
  • In the front of your text: Preface, p. xiii
  • The Preface introduces the 5 themes applied throughout the text: Region,
  • Mobility, Globalization, Nature-Culture, and Cultural Landscape
  • - Self-Study on the Web: 11e
  • Contains study guides, maps, links, short videos with questions
human geography a cultural approach
Human Geography, A Cultural Approach
  • examines the relationships between people and the places where they live – both locally and how they fit in globally
  • examines how people arrange themselves
  • a cultural approach emphasizes meanings, values, attitudes, and beliefs that
  • people give to their places
  • Culture: learned, collective human behavior, not innate, inborn behavior
  • It is a common way of life for a group of people: common language,
  • clothes, food, holidays, memories, beliefs, traditions, and attitudes
  • that shape our behavior
  • Culture can and does change over time. Ways of living change, and this can cause
  • tension between generations or between opposing views. Do you live like your
  • your parents, grandparents, etc.? What are some of the changes? Any tensions?

The cultural approach studies the relationships among space, place, environment, and culture

  • It looks at how culture is expressed through cars, housing, landscapes, economy, government, and parks.
  • It looks at why things are similar here and different over there
  • Differences may occur because of the physical environment: terrain, climate, vegetation, or animals. Example: Florida vs. Garrett County
  • We cannot understand culture removed from its physical setting
  • Why is one crop, wheat, important in one area but not in another? p. 3, fig. 1.2
  • Environmental factors are called into play: terrain, water sources, soil, and climate
  • People do modify the effects of climate through irrigation, special strains of wheat, for example, terracing, and fertilizers
  • What is grown is also affected by food preferences
three ways geographers look at diversity of place
Three ways geographers look at Diversity of place
  • Spatial Models

a. Look for patterns and things that are repeated

b. Try to apply the scientific method to the study of people

c. Try to come up with theories, principles, that can be applied to all


d. Set up models stressing certain similarities

Hard to do when applying these to changing groups of people.

Page 4 in text


Sense of Place

  • Geographers:
  • a. look at people who exhibit a “strong sense of place”
  • (ex: desks in classroom)
  • b. examine why certain places evoke strong emotions for some people
  • ( ex: site of Twin Towers in N.Y.C. or a concentration camp)
  • c. wonder why we feel as we do about a place: attached? can’t wait to
  • leave? fights over construction?

Power and Ideology

  • Power:
  • People are not the same. Often one group dominates another, and their
  • beliefs and way of living also dominate.
  • Those with less power may take part in alternative cultures. The division
  • between the two may be based on gender, class, race, ethnicity,
  • or sexual orientation. The hierarchies are maintained even though there
  • there may be clashes, verbal or physical.
  • Example: 1960s demonstrations and riots

Some geographers examine Ideology:

  • - a set of dominant ideas and beliefs
  • - expressed in writings, songs, and laws
  • - part of national identity (some may view it differently: Native Americans or
  • newcomers)
themes in human geography
Themes in Human Geography
  • Your text is organized around the 5 themes mentioned earlier. Each stresses a different aspect of human geography, but they all relate to one another. We will examine each.
  • Region
  • - is a geographical unit based on characteristics and functions of culture
  • - geographers name 3 types of region: Formal, Functional, and Vernacular
  • A. Formal
  • 1. shared traits
  • 2. has center core or node
  • 3. predominant characteristics
  • Examples: religion, language, voting patterns, word usage

B. Functional pp. 8,9

  • 1. area organized for some purpose or function; Ex: social,
  • political, or economic
  • 2. has a center, a focal point called a node
  • Ex: school – president
  • diocese – bishop
  • city hall - mayor

C. Vernacular

  • 1. perceptual
  • 2. perceived to exist by its inhabitants
  • 3. lacks organization
  • 4. hard to fix boundaries
  • Ex: Dixie
  • Bread Basket
  • Laker Country


- one way to look at movement/mobility is to examine the concept of


A. Diffusion

1. the movement of people, ideas, or things from one location to another

2. the spread of something

Ex: ideas

independent invention- a similar innovation developed in

different places, by different people at the

same time


2 Types of Diffusion:

  • 1. Relocation – the spread of ideas through the movement of people
  • Ex: English system of law, religion, language
  • 2. Expansion - spread of characteristics among people within a region
  • a. Hierarchical – ideas go from one major city to another first
  • or from one political leader to another
  • b. Contagious - spreads like a disease
  • c. Stimulus - spread of the underlying principle or idea
  • Ex: Pets – dog not a reindeer
  • See p. 11, fig. 1.9

When an idea spreads, it is strongest where it starts – like a rock thrown into a pond.

  • As the idea spreads, it may weaken just like the ripples in the pond. Acceptance generally decreases with distance and time, and this is called:
  • Time – Distance Decay
  • The idea may also run into barriers:
  • Absorbing Barriers - completely halt the spread; Ex: South Africa/ Cosby Show in
  • the 1980s
  • Absorbing barriers are hard to achieve.
  • Permeable Barriers - allows part of the innovation to get through; they do weaken
  • the spread. EX: Voice of America Radio

Today, diffusion can be rapid: phones, internet, digital photos

  • Transportation also facilitates the rapid diffusion of people; they can migrate from one place to another easily and quickly.
  • Faster communication can help people keep in touch with those in the places they
  • left. In the 1970s, it could take a year for a letter or package from the U.S. to get to me in Cameroun.
  • Some may go back and forth between the place they migrated from and the new country where they now live. They are today called Transnational Migrants. They used to be called Birds of Passage.


  • - refers to a world increasingly linked, where international borders are
  • diminished in importance, and a worldwide marketplace is created
  • - worldwide transportation networks and modern communication systems allow for the instantaneous diffusion of ideas
  • - lives of individuals in different parts of the world are increasingly
  • intertwined.
  • Ex: A transnational firm based in one country takes advantage of
  • low-cost labor in another -- Clothing
  • -- Outsourcing: in 2003, 400,000 jobs left
  • the U.S. for China, India, & Russia

Some see globalization as a way for people around the world to share in the prosperity of a growing world economy.

  • Others see it as an increasing divide between the haves and have nots.
  • Some are afraid that it is Western values being spread around the world. This makes certain groups hostile. They feel globalization undermines their cultures and see it as exploitive, repressive, and harmful to most people in many places.
  • Globalization has help spread diseases, caused pollution, aided global warming, desertification, acid rain, smog, soil erosion, and groundwater decline. It has sparked international terrorism.
  • Are there any positives???? What?
  • Globalization has been embraced and resisted. It has touched some more than others. It can be good and bad.


  • - focuses our attention on how people inhabit the earth – their
  • relationships with the physical environment
  • - these relationships are seen by human geographers as a 2-way street
  • - people’s cultural beliefs, values, perceptions, and practices have an
  • impact on the environment
  • - and the environment influences cultural practices and perceptions
  • Ecology is a term used to describe the complex relationships among living
  • organisms and their physical environment
  • Cultural Ecologyis a relatively new field of study that deals with the interaction
  • between culture and the physical environment

4 Schools of Thought on the Interaction between Humans and the Land

  • 1. Possibilism
  • 2. Environmental Determinism
  • 3. Environmental Perception
  • 4. Humans as modifiers of the earth
  • We will examine each one. However, up until the 19th century , geography was primarily descriptive studies of people and their environments.
  • During the 19th century geographers began to develop scientific principles about the earth’s surface that help explain the questions: where, why what, & how
  • The modern academic study of geography began with 2 19th century German geographers: Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) and Carl Ritter (1779-1859)

Ritter and von Humboldt have been called the Fathers of Modern Geography.

  • Ritter and von Humboldt said geography should be more than just a series of descriptions.
  • It should explain the reasons for the presence or absence of phenomena.
  • Geographers should find relevant general laws. These general laws can be found by observing the relationship between humans and their environment, so they called this the Human-Envrionment Approach.
  • Ritter and von Humboldt posed the question: How does the physical environment cause social development?
  • Their answer became known as Environmental Determinism.

Environmental Determinism

  • - says climate determines how civilizations develop
  • - says that:
  • 1. people in temperate climates are more efficient
  • 2. people in the mountains are more backward
  • 3. people on the coast fish and like it
  • Environmental Determinism was discarded in the early 20th century for obvious reasons.
  • It was replaced by the law of Possibilism developed by a Frenchman, Paul Vidal de la Blache and later adopted by an American geographer, Carl Sauer (1889-1975).


  • - says the environment, climate do not determine culture, but may have an influence.
  • The Regional Studies Approach rejects the idea that physical factors determine human actions.
  • Geographers should observe both the physical and cultural characteristics of a people.
  • - look at the relationships of people to their environment
  • - things are interrelated
  • - that is Possibilism

Environmental Perception

  • - Another approach to Nature-Culture, focuses on how humans perceive nature based on knowledge, ignorance, experience, values, andemotions.
  • - Those following this approach believe the choices people make depend on what they perceive the environment to be rather than on the actual character of the land
  • - Perception is often influenced by the teachings of culture
  • - Geographers who study this approach have examined people’s reactions to natural hazards: floods, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, insect infestations, and droughts
  • a. Some say they are acts of God, divine retribution.
  • b. Some try to placate the gods to keep them happy.
  • c. Others want the government to take care of them when disaster happens.
  • d. Some feel technology can solve these problems like building dams to prevent
  • flooding. It didn’t work during Katrina
  • - People still live in hazardous areas.

Environmental Perception - How do different cultures view nature?

  • 2 Different Views
  • 1. Organic View - held by many traditional societies
  • a. say people are a part of nature
  • b. the habitat possesses a soul, is filled with nature-spirits that
  • must not be offended
  • 2. Mechanistic View - held by many Western people
  • a. say humans are separate from and hold dominion over
  • nature
  • b. they see habitat as integrated systems governed by external
  • forces that can be explained by natural laws & understood by
  • humans

Humans as Modifiers of the Earth

  • - Some geographers observe the environmental changes humans have brought about and see them as modifiers of the earth.
  • - Opposite of Environmental Determinism.
  • - These geographers believe humans mold nature.
  • - Some are deliberate modifications: mining, logging, irrigation
  • - The effects can be catastrophic
  • 1. denuded fields or regions
  • 2. erosion
  • 3. CFCs in air conditioners and sprays can hurt the air
  • 4. fossil fuel emissions cause air pollution and global warming

- Geographers look at how these alterations vary from region to region

  • - Some who believe in the Mechanistic View of Nature feel what we do is divinely ordained; humans are completing God’s creation
  • - Others who lean toward the Organic View of Nature try not to offend the forces of nature; they feel they must live in harmony with their environment; find the balance; do no harm
  • Gender is also seen as playing a role in the human modificationof the earth.
  • - Ecofeminism, coined by Karen Warren, says women are better ecologists and environmentalists than men; Ex: Rachel Carson did start the modern environmental movement – Silent Spring
  • - Women traditionally raised the children, gardened, nurtured the family, and gained food from the earth while men hunted, fished, and were involved in more destruction than women

Cultural landscape

  • - is comprised of all things we have built on this earth - roads, farm fields,
  • houses, parks, gardens, & malls
  • - each reflects the culture from which it came
  • - landscape mirrors a culture’s needs, values, desires, and attitudes
  • towards the earth
  • - landscape is said to reflect our basic needs of food, clothing, & shelter
  • - it also reflects our development of culture
  • - mainstream and alternative cultures manipulate the landscape to
  • express their attitudes towards the earth

- it shows our past and our present

  • - it reflects the cultural practices of a particular time
  • -Symbolic Landscapes: urban skyline, tall buildings of financial companies reflecting their power OR a landscape of religious buildings ( Vatican, Cathedrals)
  • - housing shows what we think is important in a home like individual rooms, privacy
  • Geographers study 3 aspects of landscape:
  • 1. Settlement forms – arrangement of buildings and roads, etc.
  • a. Nucleation which looks at density; Ex: cities densely populated,
  • countryside has dispersed population
  • b. Has an area been planned: grid pattern or “organic” with no planning at
  • all

2. Land Division Patterns – show the uses of a particular area of land as social,

  • economic, or political
  • - They also look at architectural styles, materials used, decoration, layout;
  • this helps to date the construction
  • - It also tells you something about the people who built the structure and
  • their values
  • Doing Geography , p. 27