THE RELEVANCE OF GEOGRAPHY FOR SCIENCE AND SOCIETY
Geography is both a natural science and social science; it forms an interdisciplinary bridge to be sure, individual geographers tend to emphasize different aspects of the spatial world. Some geographers focus in physical geography by devoting their study to such patterns as climate, vegetation, soils, and landforms, while others focus on patterns resulting from human activities and characteristics. Among the later, economic, social, and political geographers, investigate such problems as agricultural land use, settlement patterns boundary disputes, the trade areas of cities, cultural diffusion, the incidence of pollution and the perception of the environment.
Geography is concerned with the patterns of phenomena and the processes that created them. Therefore, there is no special or specific subject matter which it studies, but rather its subject matter is the Earth, described and explained using the spatial perspective. History is somewhat similar to geography because its subject matter is Earth in the historical perspective.
Understanding how the world works is a pretty tall order, so let us break down the study of geography into some manageable parts. At the most basic level, think of geography as a coin with two sides.
On one side we have Physical Geography or the study of the spatial distribution and attributes of naturally occurring phenomena.
On the other side we have Human Geography or the study of the spatial distribution and attributes of human induced/engineered phenomena.
Physical geography looks at the natural processes that make the surface of the earth the way it is. Physical geography includes the three major sub-disciplines of Geomorphology, Meteorology, and Climatology.
Geomorphology is the study of landforms and landform processes. Geomorphologists want to know:
What are the different landforms
Where are the different landforms
Why are they where they are
How do they form
What will happen to them over time
Meteorology is the study of atmospheric weather processes. Meteorologists want to understand:
What are the different atmospheric processes that create our weather
Where do these weather phenomena occur
How and why does the planetary weather system work the way it does
What will happen with the weather in the future so they can forecast the weather
Climatology is the study of climate, which is basically the long term pattern of temperature and precipitation. Climatology, like meteorology, is a branch of the inter-disciplinary field of Atmospheric Science. Climatologists seek to understand:
The different climate types found on earth,
The processes that cause these different climate types to occur in specific places (i.e. why are there different climate types),
The places where these climates occur,
How and why climates change over time,
and so that they can forecast the effects of climate change, what will happen to the earth’s climate in the future.
Human geography looks at the human activities that make the surface of the earth the way it is. Human geography includes numerous sub-disciplines, some of which are:
And many others
Human geography is essentially synthesizing a spatial perspective with one of the topical disciplines to come up with new knowledge and a new perspective to understand how the world works.
The world is fortunate that geographers through the ages have developed a set of spatial tools to help us understand how the world works. These tools are often referred to as the geographic techniques and they include the sub-disciplines of:
Cartography: The art and science of making maps and the oldest of the geographic techniques.
Remote Sensing: The art and science of obtaining information about the earth by study from afar.
Geographic Information Systems: A GIS is a computer based system that collects, stores, analyzes, and displays spatial information to solve problems.
Global Positioning Systems: The use of a system of satellites, ground stations, and receivers to obtain precise locational information of phenomena on the earth.
Geospatial intelligence relies heavily on the geographic techniques (collectively known as Geographic Information Science and Techniques (GIS&T or GIScience) for the collection, analysis, and communication of results.
The science of geography is likely the oldest of all sciences. Geography is the answer to the question that the earliest humans asked, “What’s over there?” Exploration and the discovery of new places, new cultures, and new ideas have always been basic components of geography.
Thus, geography is often called the “mother of all sciences” as studying other people and other places led to other scientific fields such as biology, anthropology, geology, mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, among others.
The study of geography stimulates an interest in and a sense of wonder about places. It helps young people make sense of a complex and dynamically changing world. It explains where places are, how places and landscapes are formed, how people and their environment interact, and how a diverse range of economies, societies and environments are interconnected. It builds on pupils’ own experiences to investigate places at all scales, from the personal to the global.
We have a natural curiosity to know more and more about the life style of people in other lands and countries. The knowledge of geography helps to satisfy this natural curiosity and also throws light on the various factors that influence our life style. Thus geography has an important role in satisfying our natural curiosities.