Human geography studies the relationship between human societies and spaces and places.
It is a branch of the social sciences that concerns itself with our relationships with place, how we move through spaces, and the politics of space, place, and nationhood.
Students who study human geography will examine patterns of migration, how humans are nourished by the earth, how we use (and abuse) the earth, and how we can live more sustainably on our planet.
According to the Advanced Placement Human Geography course, there are five themes of human geography:
Location holds fundamental importance in human geography as it pertains to the ways in which we shape and are shaped by the spaces in which we inhabit. So, human geography might explore how our location affects our lives (e.g. if we live in a food desert), or how our proximity to the city affects our job prospects.
The theme of Place encompasses physical characteristics (natural environment or landscape) and human aspects (structures and cultural influence) that make one place different from another (Marston, 2013). It also pertains to the concept of ‘sense of place’, explaining how place becomes a part of our cultures and identities.
3. Human-Environmental Interactions
Human-Environmental Interactions involve how humans adapt to, modify, and affect nature, for example, building a dam to control a river’s flow (Peet, Robbins, & Watts, 2011). In the era of the Anthropocene, it’s believed human actions are able to impact the entire global ecosystem, such as through human-induced climate change.
The theme of Movement concerns the continuous interaction among people, places, and environments that facilitates exchange, along the pathways of transportation routes, communication networks, or economic associations (Knox, Marston & Imort, 2015). It also examines how and why people migrate, and the impacts that has on both migratory and host populations.
Region refers to an area distinguished by particular physical and human characteristics, that includes formal regions (countries or climate zones), functional regions (based on interaction), and perceptual regions (associated with cultural identity or mindset) (Cresswell, 2010). People living within regions tend to have a strong impact on one another due to their interdependence for food and resources, and the fact they tend to share resources.
While above I’ve presented five broad themes, below are summaries of some of the most important terms and concepts in human geography. You would need to familiarize yourself with these as a human geography student.
Human Geography Examples
This term refers to a point on the Earth’s surface defined with precision using geographic coordinates such as latitude and longitude; it provides a unique numerical identity for each location.
This term proposes a new geological epoch characterized by the significant global impact of human activities on the Earth’s ecosystems, including biodiversity loss, climate change, pollution, and land use changes; its usage reflects the recognition of human influence on the planet’s health.
This is a geopolitical process where a region or state fractures into smaller autonomous entities due to ethnic, social, political, or economic divisions; it represents the conflict and disintegration often driven by ethnic enmity.
This concept signifies the maximum population of a species that an environment can sustain indefinitely given available resources like food, water and habitat; it showcases the balance between resource availability and consumption.
This notion relates to the rapid, widespread dispersion of a characteristic, idea, innovation, or disease throughout a population by contact from person to person; it demonstrates how phenomena can spread organically across regions.
This term delineates the adoption or borrowing of elements from a culture by individuals from a different culture, usually dominant ones, without understanding, respect, or proper acknowledgment; it often unveils sensitive issues related to power dynamics and fairness.
This term signifies the process in which members of a minority group adapt or adopt dominant social norms, traditions, and behaviors, merging into the prevalent culture; it highlights important aspects of cultural integration and homogeneity.
This is a sociocultural process where a new cultural idea, material, or practice spreads from its place of origin to other locales, fostering cultural interconnectedness; it forms an integral part of cultural evolution, often leading to cultural diversity.
This concept relates to the transmission of ideas, meanings, and values around the world in such a way as to extend and intensify social relations, often leading to the mingling or confluence of cultures; it shows the dynamic interplay between global and local cultures.
This indicates the diversity of human societies or cultures in a specific region, or in the world as a whole; it underscores the dynamic interplay of cultural variations and similarities.
This refers to the reduction in cultural diversity through the popular spread of certain languages, practices, or values across regions, often due to globalization; it signals the growing similarity among cultures.
These are natural landscapes that have been altered by human societies, reflecting the cultural imprint on the environment through buildings, agriculture, or other modifications; they embody the intertwined relationship between people and their environments.
This denotes the fusion of different cultural beliefs, practices, or expressions to create new combined forms; it illustrates the dynamism and pluralism within cultures.
This term outlines the shift from high birth and death rates to low birth and death rates that typically occurs as a country develops economically; it offers a macro view of population change over time.
This is the statistical and scientific study of population dynamics, including size, structure, movement, birth, death, and migratory trends; it provides vital insights into societal characteristics and trends.
This represents a scattered population outside their original geographic homeland, maintaining cultural connections to it; it unveils the complexities of migration and cultural identity.
This term designates an interconnected world economy where countries are economically dependent on each other through trade, investment, and capital flows; it underscores the integrated nature of the modern global economy.
This term emphasizes fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people in environmental policymaking, implementation, and enforcement, regardless of race, color, national origin, or income; it draws attention to social justice aspects of environmental issues.
This is the belief in the superiority of one’s own ethnic group or culture and viewing other cultures from that perspective; it underscores bias and prejudice in understanding and valuing other cultures.
This denotes a type of cultural diffusion where an idea or innovation spreads outward from its hearth, maintaining its influence there while being adopted elsewhere; it indicates the spread and uptake of cultural trends.
These are urban or rural areas with limited access to affordable and nutritious food, often due to systemic socioeconomic barriers; they depict disparities in food access tied to social and economic inequities.
A formal region is an area characterized by a certain degree of homogeneity in one or more phenomena; such as climate, soil, vegetation or human activity such as religion or language.
This term pertains to a region defined by the particular set of activities or interactions that occur within it; it usually consists of a central place or hub and the surrounding places affected by it.
This is an urban development trend characterized by the influx of wealthier individuals into deteriorating urban neighborhoods leading to increased property values and the displacement of lower-income residents; it raises concerns about social inequality and housing justice.
This term signifies an ongoing process that involves increasing interaction and integration among people, governments, and companies worldwide; it’s often driven by international trade, investment, and aided by information technology.
This geopolitical theory postulates that the landlocked Eurasian “heartland,” due to its huge resource base and inaccessibility, is the key to global domination; it sought to explain political power dynamics in the first half of the 20th century.
In this form of diffusion, an idea or innovation spreads by trickling down from larger to smaller adoption units, often with the help of opinion leaders; it explains the different stages of adoption in a social system.
Human Impacts on Climate Change
This refers to the significant anthropogenic contributions to global climate change, primarily through greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels; it illustrates the critical influence of human activity on the planet’s climate.
This involves any intersection of human and wildlife where interactions result in negative effects on human social, economic or cultural life, or on the conservation of wildlife populations; it spotlights the challenges of coexistence in shared habitats.
This system of agriculture involves greater inputs of labor and capital relative to land area for increased agricultural output; it involves practices like terracing, agroforestry, and multi-cropping.
This term is employed for cities with a total population in excess of 10 million inhabitants; these urban agglomerations, often setting trends in culture, politics, and economics, grapple with challenges of congestion, pollution, and social disparity.
This denotes the act of moving from one geographical area to another, often for reasons such as employment, education, or escape from adverse conditions; it impacts the social, economic, and political strategies of the departed and destination places.
This signifies the coexistence of diverse cultures where each maintains their identities within a larger society; it signifies a societal approach advocating for diversity, pluralism, mutual respect, and integration (see also: pluralism in sociology).
This term refers to a form of political entity in which a nation (a group of people sharing common elements of culture, such as language or history) coincides with a political state; it represents an ideal wherein cultural boundaries match up with political ones.
This is a subfield of geography that studies the spatial distribution of political phenomena and processes, inclusive of boundaries, divisions, and resources; it underscores how political structures and actions influence and are influenced by the spatial layout.
This refers to the intensification and expansion of political interrelations across the globe, marked by international treaties, global regulations, and the emergence of international organizations; this phenomenon highlights how nation-states navigate within an increasingly interconnected global political landscape.
This term denotes a stage of society’s development when the service sector generates more income than the manufacturing sector; it showcases a societal transition towards information- and service-based economies.
Primary Sector of the Economy
This component of the economy involves industries involved in the extraction and collection of natural resources, such as mining, agriculture, or forestry; it represents the foundation of all economic activity.
These are conditions that attract people to a new area, including job opportunities, political stability, or better services; they play a significant role in patterns of human migration.
This term refers to the reasons that compel people to leave their areas of residence, including war, economic hardship, or natural disasters; understanding push factors helps explain migratory trends.
Quaternary Sector of the Economy
This economic sector encompasses knowledge-based services like information technology, consultation, education, research and development, and financial planning; it underlines the increasing importance of intellectual capabilities in contemporary economies.
Quinary Sector of the Economy
This segment of economy includes the highest levels of decision-making in a society or economy, including top executives or officials in government, science, universities, nonprofits, healthcare, culture, and the media; it reflects the highest levels of societal influence and decision-making power.
This term refers to the location of a place in relation to other places, such as “west of the park” or “south of the city”; it provides a frame of reference that helps depict spatial relationships.
This type of diffusion happens when individuals migrate from one place to another, taking their cultural ideas, practices, or innovations with them; it demonstrates the transmission of cultural traits through human motion.
This geopolitical hypothesis proposes control of the maritime fringes of a landmass (rimland), and not the landlocked center (heartland), as the key to global power; it provided a counterpoint to the Heartland theory in the mid-20th century.
This phenomenon involves a reduction in rural population, usually because of migration to urban areas for better economic opportunities or living conditions; it displays the urban-rural dynamic in population distribution.
Secondary Sector of the Economy
This term pertains to industries that produce goods using the raw materials provided by the primary sector, encompassing activities like manufacturing, processing, and construction; it highlights the value-added aspect of the economy.
This is a branch of human geography focusing on social patterns as expressed in space, exploring dimensions like distribution, identity, behavior, and interaction of diverse social groups; it illuminates the spatial manifestations of social phenomena.
In this form of diffusion, a concept, idea or innovation spreads to new places, but is then changed by those who adopt it to better suit their culture or environment; it highlights the adaptive nature of cultural exchange.
This form of agriculture is characterized by self-sufficiency where the farmers focus on growing enough food to feed themselves and their families; it displays a traditional approach to farming, centered on basic survival.
This signifies a type of alliance where nations surrender some degree of sovereignty to a higher entity for mutual benefits or for pursuing common objectives, like in case of the European Union; it underscores trends towards greater global governance.
This development strategy integrates economic progress, social development, and environmental protection to meet the needs of the present without compromising the future generations’ ability to meet theirs; it embodies a holistic, long-term perspective on global development.
This concept refers to the proliferation and integration of technology across national and cultural borders, facilitating increased connectivity, interaction, and exchange; it underscores the role of technology in creating a globally connected ecosystem.
Tertiary Sector of the Economy
This sector, also known as the service sector, covers all jobs that involve providing a service to individuals and other businesses, including healthcare, education, retail, and entertainment; it signifies a dominant part of most developed economies.
This refers to a corporation that operates in more than one country, driving its efficiencies or gains from utilizing resources or markets across nations; it typifies large-scale business operations in a globally interconnected economy.
This term refers to the uncontrolled expansion of urban areas into the adjacent rural lands often resulting in increased dependence on cars and reduced walkability; it underscores a significant planning challenge associated with rapid urban growth.
This describes the growth and expansion of urban areas, typically involving the migration from rural to urban regions, and corresponding increase in their population and economic activities; it represents a dominant demographic trend in the contemporary world.
This term pertains to areas that people define by their collective mental map of the world’s regions based on perceptions or an accumulation of descriptive facts; it demonstrates how place identities can vary based on personal or collective interpretations.
Human geography helps us to explore the complexity and interconnectedness of the world. The discipline explores spatial relationships, environments, cultural relations to place, and socio-economic systems, providing us with the tools to decipher our shared and unique experiences on this planet. The study of human geography reminds us how interconnected we are, as well as the scope and impact of our actions in shaping the cultural, socio-political, and economic landscapes.
Cresswell, T. (2010). Towards a politics of mobility. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space.
Knox, P. L., Marston, S. A., & Imort, M. (2015). Human geography: places and regions in a global context. Los Angeles: Pearson.
Marston, A. (2013). Geography. New York: Reference Reviews.
Peet, R., Robbins, P., & Watts, M. (2011). Global political ecology. London: Routledge.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]