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What is Geography?

Geography (from Greek γεωγραφία - geographia, lit. "earth describe-write") is the science that studies the lands, features, inhabitants, and phenomena of 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 the spatial analysis of natural and human phenomena (geography as a study of distribution), area studies (places and regions), study of man-land relationship, and research in 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.

History of Geography

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.

Anaximander (c. 610 BC-c. 545 BC) is credited with the invention of the gnomon,the simple yet efficient Greek instrument that allowed the early measurement of latitude. 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.

The first rigorous system of latitude and longitude lines is credited to Hipparcus. 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).

During the Middle Anges, the fall of the Roman empire led to a shift in the evolution of geography from Europe to the Islamic world. Muslim geographers such as Muhammad al-Idrisi produced detailed world maps (such as Tabula Rogeriana). Aby Rayhan Biruni (976-1048) first described a polar equi-azimuthal equidistant porjection of the celestial sphere.

The European Age of Discovery during the 16th and 17th centuries, where many new lands were discovered and accounts by European explorers such as Cristopher 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.

The 18th and 19th centuries were the times when geography became recognized as a discrete academic discipline and became part of a typical university curriculum in Europe (especially Paris and Berlin). The development of many geographic societies also occurred during the 19th century with the foundations of the Société de Géographie in 1821, the Royal Geographic Society in 1830, Russian Geographical Society in 1845, American Geographical Society in 1851, and the National Geographical Society in 1888. The influence of Immanuel Kant, Alexander von Humboldt, Carl Ritter and Paul Vidal de la Blache can be seen as a major turning point in geography from a philosophy to an academic subject.

Over the past two centuries the advancements in technology such as computers, have led to the development of geometics 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.

Source: Wikipedia.

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