What is Geography? (History and Branches)

Geography helps to discover information about the Earth’s landforms, environment, oceans, and ecosystems. Read about the field of study, and learn what goes into the different branches of the subject. Plus, discover what geologists focus on during modern research.

 A captivating and interesting subject, geography is a scientific discipline and is devoted to the careful study and analysis of the Earth’s landforms, environment, oceans, and ecosystems. It is also the study of the interaction between the human society and their environment.  It is worth mentioning that the word geography actually means “earth writing”. Keep in mind that geography has been discussed and elucidated by a variety of sources time and again.

What is Geography? Here’s What We’ll Cover

Curious about what is geography and the details involved in the study? Well, we’re going to overview all you need to know. We’ll start with a historical summary of geography, dating way back to ancient Greece. The study evolves greatly as time passes, so we’ll walk through major findings and contributions. Next, we’ll define geography in a modern sense. From there, we’ll review the major branches of geography and why they are important. Plus, we’ll make sure to talk about the reasons why so many study the field.

Geography is the study of various environments, places as well as spaces on the surface of the earth and their relations. It endeavors to find the answer why things are the way they are and where they are. Today geography is based on the ancient practice, which is concerned with the characteristics of places, especially in their natural environments and people and how the two relate. The history is largely influential on the present. Geography is a changing field, and even today, you can see it adapt to new technologies. At the same time, history is very present in the field of study.

Historical Summary of Geography

Geography as an independent entity was first formulated about 2000 years ago by the Greeks. The name comes  from the terms ‘Geo’ and ‘graphy’  which were combined to mean ‘earth writing.’ Later on, there came a further explanation from the Arabs.

 Ptolemy was the author of the first book that acted as a guide in geography. It described geography as a representation of the whole world contained in pictures. Essentially, geography is the description of the earth using maps. Later on, words incorporated with the maps to bring a comprehensive study of geography.

Most people view geography as of where they are whereas to others, geography means the topographical patterns such as relief and drainage, weather, climate as well as human responses towards it such as agriculture, industrial, settlement, and the trends in the urban centers.

Although geography had been in existence over the years, the academic teaching of the discipline started in the 20th century. It formed a bridge between natural and social sciences.

History of geography is the thought about the idea of spaces, places, and environments. Its components comprise of the understanding of the physical environment and the transformations that take place in areas that seem comfortable to inhabit even though many such activities involve the destruction of the surroundings.

What is the Importance of Geography?

Geography gives useful insights into major contemporary issues, for instance, globalization and environmental changes, local differences and change off disciplinary interests.

The branches of geography include human geography which studies the human race. It involves backgrounds on how they interact with the environment and how the environment affects them. Additionally, it also explores how people inhabit the earth and organize themselves in specific regions. Factually, most of the branches of geography fall the category of human geography.

Physical Geography is a branch of geography interested in the study of features surrounding the human environment. Mainly it covers the surface of the earth and its surrounding and their functions.

Cartography is a branch of geography dealing with mapping of things. It’s critical for every geographer to know how to study and interpret the data in maps. It pays interest on how the process can improve technologically through the generation of high-quality maps.

To sum it up, geography is a vast subject comprising of numerous subsets within it. However, the various branches interact having different principles governing them.

Geography remains essential in day to day life as it provides the understanding of the past times and the role it plays in human evolution, the places they lived, the ideas, places and environments that marked the development of the map of the communities. It provides the understanding of issues revolving about the situation and sustainable developments.

Information about Geography

What is Geography?

 Geographers tend to explore the Earth’s physical properties as well as the human societies that are spread across it. Moreover, they examine and evaluate how human culture often interacts with the natural environment, as well as the way that places and locations could have a big impact on people. Geography also aims to understand where specific things are found, why they’re there, and the way they develop as well as change over time. 

Discussion of a location or area’s geography often refers to its specific topography—its unique relief and drainage patterns as well as predominant vegetation, coupled with weather patterns and climate — along with human responses to the environment, like in industrial, agricultural, and other land uses as well as in urbanization and settlement patterns.

There was a considerably earlier teaching of what is currently known as geography. Keep in mind that this academic discipline is mainly a 20th-century creation. All information in the field forms a bridge between the social and natural sciences. The history of geography is mainly the history of considering the key concepts relating to places, environments, and spaces.

The subject’s contents cover an in depth understanding and study of the physical reality. The reality is something we all occupy and the transformations of our environments into desirable places. These places are ones that we usually find more comfortable and convenient to inhabit. Although, in many cases, such modifications usually have negative or adverse long-term impacts.

Geography as a discipline also provides valuable insights into major and important contemporary issues. The issues include environmental change and globalization, and a detailed and comprehensive appreciation of various local differences. Also, changes in many disciplinary interests as well as practices reflect these issues.

History of Geography

Throughout the years as the schooling and academic systems of different countries are coming into their own, geography has become a compulsory discipline among all students. Depending on the country and sometimes the state, the contents of the subject can change drastically. However, geography differs greatly from country to country in subject and scope. The history of geography is in many ways more interesting than the contents of the subject itself.

Egypt and Babylon

Two of the first civilizations to construct proper maps date back to nearly 600 B.C. Maps exist as a common finding among other civilizations and countries of the time. No civilization ever made a map to properly show political ties and properly divide the land mass. With two very esteemed and advanced races, there came two very different maps of the world.

The Egyptians thought the river Nile, to be the center of the world. The river Nile sits in the center. From here, they begin to distribute the many Egyptian tribes among the land using different colors for each. Color grading each tribe was very important, as some tribes were very hospitable whereas other tribes would be incredibly hostile. Along the land there were also various oases. Many people at the time considered to be homes and houses of the gods.

In Egypt, scholars worked on their version of the world map. These scholars in Babylon were already done with their version of a proper map. The oldest map in the world dates back to nearly 9thcentury BC. This map showed Babylon surrounded by the Euphrates, one of the most historically significant rivers in the world. The map also showed the other cities and countries that surrounded Babylon.

The Greco-Roman Period

Many of the first renditions of maps came from Egypt and Babylon. The first proper map that would later lay the ground rules for the rest of time, came from Ancient Greece. At the time, Ancient Greece – and many of the current generation, saw toward a poet by the name of homer as the father of geography.

While many think that Homer was a mere poet, many of his poems contained very detailed geographical information of the world. He believed that the world was a circle, with small patches of water separating major countries while a large ocean encapsulated all of these countries. 

After Homer came various other philosophers with their own theories of the world. Out of all of these only two stood out; they were Hecataeus and Pythagoras. Hectaeus instead of leaning heavily on mathematics turned to a more literal study of the world through the help of sailors. Pythagoras, on the other hand, went the absolute route and with the help of mathematics, and was the first to propose that the earth is a sphere.

Branches of Geography


It is a key branch of geography that deals with the distribution of different species of animals and plants on the Earth surface, and the specific reasons behind these different distribution patterns. Note that the field aims to study in detail why specific species can only dwell or inhabit particular kinds of landforms.


Cartography is the study and practice of making maps. Aspects of cartography include how to represent the terrain of the mapped object on flat media and how to orchestrate the elements of the map to best convey its message to its audience. Modern cartography provides a foundation for geographic information systems.


The comprehensive scientific study of climate and climate change, climatology is an important area of geographical studies today. It studies and examines all aspects that are associated with the local or micro climates of places as well as the macro or global climate. This field also entails an examination of the effect of climate on human society and vice versa.

Cultural Geography

Cultural geography is the study of cultural norms, differences, and products, across spaces and places. It explores the cultural aspects around the Earth and their relationship with the places and spaces where they originated from before moving across various areas of the earth as a people. It is a sub-field of human geography and details the cultural migration of people.

Economic Geography

Economic geography is an interdisciplinary field that cuts across geography, economics, social sciences, and business and it focuses on the study of the location, spatial organization, and distribution of economic activities across the planet. In recent times, this traditional field of research has been approached in an economics-based manner. In a geography-based term, it involves the relationship between economic and physical conditions to the production of raw materials and the process through which they change.

Historical Geography

Historical geography is a field in geography that attempts to master the ways by which geographic phenomena changes over time. The majority of things in historical geography are considered human geography, and the discipline also entails the study of geographic change that is not primarily anthropogenic ? human geography shares both methodological and topical similarities with anthropology, ecology, environmental science, and geology.


 As oceans hold about 96.5% of the Earth’s waters, there was a need for a specialized field of oceanography that is wholly dedicated to the in depth study of oceans. Note that the science of oceanography also covers geological oceanography (the study and analysis of the various geological aspects of oceanic floor, its volcanoes, and mountains etc.), biological oceanography (the study of ocean ecosystems and the marine life), chemical oceanography (the study of the detailed chemical composition of marine waters as well as their impacts on marine life forms) and physical oceanography (the study of various oceanic movements such as the waves, and currents etc.). Put differently, it is a comprehensive study of how geographical processes and landforms determine the type of species, which might dwell in a certain region.


It is the study and analysis of various types of soils in their natural environment. It covers not only processes like soil classification and formation, but also the unique interactions between a variety of physical (water, air, and climate etc.) and biological (microbes, plants etc.) forces and the soil as well as their effects on soil composition.It is worth mentioning that one of the chief aims of pedology is to thoroughly study soil composition in order that the natural nutrients and minerals that it contains could be exploited effectively and efficiently by humans.

Population Geography

Population geography is a branch of human geography that studies the ways which spatial variations in the composition, distribution, growth, and migration of populations concerning the nature of these places. In a geographical perspective, the population geography will also include demography. Population geography encompasses the analysis and spatial variations of demographic components of change. It is a division of geography that deals mainly with the in depth study of how the specific nature of a place or location determines the growth, distribution, composition, as well as migration of human populations.

Social Geography

Social geography is the field of study that focuses on variations within society, in the forms of ethnicity, religion, class, gender, age, and sexual orientation. It is the most closely related to social theory in sociology and deals with the relationship between social phenomena and its geographical components. It can be interpreted as the analysis of social phenomena as shown in space.

Conclusion – What is Geography in Today’s World?

Geography explains much of our natural questions about the world. For example, we often wonder why certain cultures value various geographical elements or features. If you ever want to learn about a civilization’s history, then consider its geography. The topography of an area or region dictates much of its practices. Mountain ranges or rivers can transform an entire group of people. If they live near water, then they likely have a strong connection to its utility. There are numerous ways in which we see geography influence the world today. Many developing nations look vastly different from the developed countries of the globe. For many reasons, the construction of modern cities relies on an understanding of geography.

As the world responds to seismic changes and climate change, geography could be changing before our eyes. For example, many researchers warn that California could detach from North America. Of course, this isn’t by choice or some decision to leave. In fact, many fear what would become of California if this occurs. A major implication in California is not the only way the world might change geographically. For many nations, climate change is a huge predicament.

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David A. Smith at Dave4Math

David Smith (Dave) has a B.S. and M.S. in Mathematics and has enjoyed teaching precalculus, calculus, linear algebra, and number theory at both the junior college and university levels for over 20 years. David is the founder and CEO of Dave4Math.