10 Basics On Geography

Since many people (mostly Americans) struggle with geography, why not take a few minutes to understand some basics?

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1. Definition of Geography


Geography is the science dealing with the areal differentiation of the earth's surface, as shown in the character, arrangement, and interrelations over the world of such elements as climate, elevation, soil, vegetation, population, land use, industries, or states, and of the unit areas formed by the complex of these individual elements.

Essentially what this means is that Geography is the study of any phenomenon (physical, or other) on Earth as it relates to human activity. Geography is oftentimes paired with History since History is the study of human activity over time.

Simply put:

Geography = Spatial

History = Temporal

2. PROTIP: Africa is NOT a country

Frequently I have encountered people that believe Africa is an entire country to itself, which leads to a myriad of other ignorant claims.

Africa is a CONTINENT! Remember that.

I'll say it again:

Africa is a CONTINENT!

Africa is comprised of nearly 60 SEPARATE countries (trying to make it clear that Africa is a continent). Each of these countries has different cultural backgrounds, as well as different economic systems. Just because someone is from Egypt (which many people don't realize is a country in Africa) does not mean that they will know someone from Kenya.

Do not generalize an entire continent, and do not call Africa a country.

3. Difference between Latitude and Longitude

Another difficulty geographiphobes have trouble with is handling the difference between latitude and longitude.

Latitude lines run east to west (or west to east), which is horizontal when looking at a globe/map that is oriented north, and will always be marked as N or S in degrees (in the simple way). Latitude lines run horizontal, but each line is placed North or South of the main latitude line the Equator (0 degrees).

Longitude lines run vertically, or North to South. The main (and arbitrary) longitudinal line is the Prime Meridian which is 0 degree. Longitude lines are marked east and west because even though they run vertically, they are still placed either east or west of the Prime Meridian.

4. GPS

View this video on YouTube

Lance Lefebure / Via YouTube

GPS (Global Positioning System) is a part of nearly everyone's life anymore. But what exactly is it? Here's a short video explaining the basics.

5. Earthquakes

Earthquakes are no longer measured by the Richter Scale, but rather the "moment magnitude scale."

The magnitude is based on the seismic moment of the earthquake, which is equal to the rigidity of the Earth multiplied by the average amount of slip on the fault and the size of the area that slipped.

This neat tool to discover where recent earthquakes have happened on the USGS website.

6. "Why is [City A] located where its at, as opposed to where [City B] is located?"

Being able to understand where a city or town lies is relatively easy by looking at a map of the area, or experiencing the area firsthand.

Most successful and large cities are located next to bodies of water because if you are near a body of water you have a mode to travel (boat) and trade with other cities and if you are near a fresh-water body of water you have a means of getting drinking water.

Such as cities on ocean coasts would be Sydney (Australia), New York City (USA) and Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), while cities such as Cincinnati, Cleveland and Toledo (all three Ohio) all are next to fresh bodies of water. Chances are that if you are in a large city that there is a large body of water (be it a river or lake at minimum) nearby.

7. Climate / Via NASA

Climate and "weather" often get confused for one another.

Climate is
: the composite or generally prevailing weather conditions of a region, as temperature, air pressure, humidity, precipitation, sunshine, cloudiness, and winds, throughout the year, averaged over a series of years.

Climate is what happens throughout the year during certain time periods of the year after years of compiled data. So just because somewhere in Alaska has an unreasonably hot day does not mean Alaska is in a hot climate, rather that day's weather is just unusual for that region.

Remember climate =/= weather.

8. "Who makes the maps?" / Via History.Maps

The term used to describe those that make maps is cartographer.

Cartographers used to have to make maps by hand and use all the information they gathered on their own, or information received from others. It was difficult at the time because there weren't any satellite images or airplanes to help correctly draw landmasses. For being severely limited technologically, cartographers did a fantastic job "back in the day."

You will, however, find maps (old and new) that are mostly Eurocentric and Americentric. This could be merely accidental, but you must remember that Europe nor North America are "the center of the Earth." To add to this point, you must always be cautious when reading ANY map because there may be intended and unintended biases included.

9. Geospatial Information Systems

View this video on YouTube

Geospatial Information Systems, or G.I.S., is an emerging and very popular science in the world. Above is a great video on the impact of GIS, not only on developed countries, but countries ravaged by natural disasters. GIS is an incredible tool and can be used by anyone (with the proper training).

10. "Why should I know where a country is located?"

To add to point #2, many Americans have no idea where a country is located, as they do not know where most states are located.

You should have a general idea where most countries are located because it will give you a general understanding of the culture, climate, political atmosphere, physical attributes, and etc. It never hurts to learn more about the Earth, and, who knows, maybe it will help you win at trivia.

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