Nature of geography as a discipline Nios chapter 1st

The proposed course aims at explaining the nature of the subject. It throws light on the importance of geography and describes the nature of geography as a subject. It attempts to enrich knowledge and illustrate basic concepts as well as technical terms which are building blocks of geographic knowledge. Effort, however, has been made to develop the concepts in a graded and sequencial manner and deepen the interest in the subject.

Geography is one of the oldest earth science and its roots date back in the works of the early Greek scholars. The word ‘geography’ was first used by the Greek scholar Eratosthenes in the third century B.C.

Geo “ Earth” and Graphy “ to describe” literal meaning of geography is to describe about the earth’s surfaces. In other words “Geography is largely the study of the interaction of all physical and human phenomena and landscapes created by such interactions.”

It is about how,why,and where human and natural activities occur and how these activities are interconnected. Geography has undergone changes in its approach. The earlier geographers were descriptive geographers. Later, geography came to be developed as an analytical science. Today the discipline is not only concerned with descriptions but also with analysis as well as prediction. In this lesson you will learn how important geography is in everyday life. This study will encourage you to understsnd your own place and spaces with greater interest.


After seen this video, you will be able to:

  • appreciate the use of Geography in daily life;
  • trace development of Geography as a discipline;
  • understand man-environment relationships and their impacts on each other;
  • illustrate the systematic and regional approaches of Geography;
  • understand various analytical techniques in Geography;
  • identify the different branches of Geography and its scope.

Nature of geography as a discipline Nios chapter 1st


You must have noticed that the earth’s surface is ever changing; In general, the natural phenomena like mountains, rivers, lakes etc. change slowly while the cultural elements like buildings, roads, crops, change fast. Travelling from one place to another you notice that the trees number and types of trees change from area to area. All this is because of the continuous interaction between the enviroment in which we live in and the way we use it. The study of Geography is about observing such patterns. Another aspect of geography is to understand the factors or reason behind areal differentiation, how do social, cultural, economic and demographic factors change our physical landscape and create new or altered landscapes by human interventions. For example, human settlements are transformation of forest or barren lands for living purpose by human being.

Today, all over the world there are problems related to providing food security, health, effective energy use and environmental conservation. Equally important are equality issues and sustainable development. All these can be achieved by using our resources in sustainable ways. Study of geography is, therefore, necessary to learn more about environmental processes and to understand how land use planning can help us to overcome problems.

Basic Concepts

Geography has been defined differently through different periods of its history Geographical work in ancient Greece had followed two distinct traditions. One was the mathmatical tradition which was focused on fixing the location of places on the earth’s surface, and the other was gathering geographic information through travels and field work. According to them, the purpose of geography was to provide a description of the physical features and conditions in different parts of the world. The emergence of regional approach in geography also emphasied the descriptive character of geography. According to Humboldt, geography is the science related to nature and it studies and describes all material things found on earth. Another important school of thought defined geography as the study of man environment relationships.

1. Geography as a study of the earth’s surface
2. Geography as the study of man-environment relationships.


Ancient Period – The earliest records illustrate the interests of scholars in understanding the physical domain of the earth by making maps and astronomical measurements. The Greeks are given the credit of being the earliest geographers, prominent among them being Hower, Herodotus, Thales Aristotle and Eratosthenes.

Pre-Modern Period – This period starting from the middle of 15th century and continuous with 18th early provides us enormous information about the physical and cultural nature of the world by the travels and explorations of early gergrophers. The early seventeenth century witnessed the beginings of a new scientific geography. Christopher Columbus and Vasco de gama, Fesdinend Meghellan and Thomas cook were important explorers and travelles among those. Varenius, Kant, Humboldt and Ritter led the geographers of this period. They contributed in the development of cartography and discovering new lands, and developing geography into a scientific disciplines

Modern Period – Ritter and Humboldt are frequently referred to us the founders of modern geography. Generally, latter half of nineteenth century is considered as a period of modern geography. The first modern geographer in true sense was Ratzel who built the structure of modren geography on the foundations laid down by classical geographers.

Recent Period – The development of geography during the post Second World War period has been very rapid. The American and European geographers such as Hartshorne have contributed the maximum during this phase. Harthshorne described geography as a science dealing with areal differentiation. The present day geographers look upon regional approach and systematic aproach as complimentary rather than contradictory.


Geography has now acquired the status of science that explains the arrangements of various natural and cultural features on the earth surface.Geography is a holistic and interdisciplinary field of study engaged in understanding the changing spatial structure from past to the future. Thus, the scope of geography is in various disciplines, like armed services, environment management, water resources, disaster management, meteriology and planining and various social sciences. Apart from that, a geographer can help in day to day life like tourism, commuting, housing and health related activities.


Systematic Approach

A study of specific natural or human phenomenon that gives rise to certain spatial patterns and structures on the earth surface is called systematic study. Ordinarily, systematic geography is divided into four main branches.

  1. Physical geography,
  2. Biogeography, including environmental geography,
  3. Human geography,
  4. Geographical methods and techniques
• Geography has developed in four periods i.e. ancient period, pre-modern period, modern period and recent.
• Contribution of Harthshorne is pioneering in the field of geography in recent period.
• Geography is a holistic and interdisciplinary field of study engaged in understanding the chaning speatial structure at different territorial levels

Regional Geography

Unlike systematic geography, regional geography starts with the spatial imprints of one or all the systematic geographic processes discernible as regions of different sizes. Regions could be based on a single factor like relief, rainfall, vegetation, per capita income. They could also be multificator regions formed by the association of two or more factors. Administrative units like, states, districts, tehsils also can be treated as regions. The main sub branches of regional geography are:

(i) Regional studies
(ii) Regional analysis
(iii) Regional development
(iv) Regional planning including areas and community planning


Geographical thinking and concepts affect our daily decisions in a number of ways– For example when urban master plans are made or rural development strategies are considered, it is importannt to undersatand the physical structure, climatic conditions and availabilities of resources in an area. The decision to shift industries from city areas would require the extension of industrial land use into farming areas. This would displace farmers and their source of income. Similarly, the construction of a railway line or highway causes ribbon development. Many economic activities concentrate along such corridors.


Cartography – Most of us are fascinated with maps. “Cartography” is the study and practice of making maps and diagrams. It represents the earth with maps and abstract symbols. Maps have traditionally been made using pen, ink and paper, but computers have revolutionised cartography and with GIS methods one can prepare maps and diagrams with greater choice and efficiency.

Quantitative methods in Geography – These aspects of geographical techniques deal with numerical methods most commonly found in geography. In addition to spatial analysis, you are likely to find methods like cluster analysis, discrimnant analysis in geographic studies. These statistical techniques are introduced to you in later chapters and you will find that when you undertake the local area study, you yourself will see how useful these methods are in finding patterns and identifying relationships between space and the activities that are performed in them.

Regional science method – In the 1950s, the regional science movement arose led by Walter Isard. This provided a more quantitative and analytical base to geographical questions, in contrast to the more qualitative tendencies of traditional geography. Regional Science comprises the body of knowledge in which like regional economics, resource management, location theory, urban and regional planning, transportation and communication, human geography, population distribution, landscape ecology, and environmental quality are examined for regional development.


Geography has its strong relation with mathematices, natural sciences, and social sciences. While other sciences deal with distinctive types of phenomena, geography studies several kinds of phenomena,each already studied by another science. In an integrated manner thus, geography has firmly established itself as a discipline of systhesis. Fig. 1.2 Gives the idea of integrating science.

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