· Physical Geography studies
· Origin & nature of continents & landforms
· Origin & nature of oceans
· Climates (past & present)
The discipline of geography has a history that stretches over many centuries. Over this time period, the study of geography has evolved and developed into an important form of human scholarship. Examining the historical evolution of geography as a discipline provides some important insights concerning its character and methodology. These insights are also helpful in gaining a better understanding of the nature of physical geography.
Geographic knowledge saw strong growth in Europe and the United States in the 1800s. This period also saw the emergence of a number of societies interested in geographic issues. In Germany, Alexander von Humboldt, Carl Ritter, and Fredrich Ratzel made substantial contributions to human and physical geography. Humboldt's publication Kosmos (1844) examines the geology and physical geography of the Earth. This work is considered by many academics to be a milestone contribution to geographic scholarship. Late in the 19th Century, Ratzel theorized that the distribution and culture of the Earth's various human populations was strongly influenced by the natural environment. The French geographer Paul Vidal de la Blanche opposed this revolutionary idea. Instead, he suggested that human beings were a dominant force shaping the form of the environment. The idea that humans were modifying the physical environment was also prevalent in the United States. In 1847, George Perkins Marsh gave an address to the Agricultural Society of Rutland County, Vermont. The subject of this speech was that human activity was having a destructive impact on land, especially through deforestation and land conversion. This speech also became the foundation for his book Man and Nature or The Earth as Modified by Human Action, first published in 1864. In this publication, Marsh warned of the ecological consequences of the continued development of the American frontier.
During the first 50 years of the 1900s, many academics in the field of geography extended the various ideas presented in the previous century to studies of small regions all over the world. Most of these studies used descriptive field methods to test research questions. Starting in about 1950, geographic research experienced a shift in methodology. Geographers began adopting a more scientific approach that relied on quantitative techniques. The quantitative revolution was also associated with a change in the way in which geographers studied the Earth and its phenomena. Researchers now began investigating process rather than mere description of the event of interest. Today, the quantitative approach is becoming even more prevalent due to advances in computer and software technologies.
In 1964, William Pattison published an article in the Journal of Geography (1964, 63: 211-216) that suggested that modern Geography was now composed of the following four academic traditions:
Spatial Tradition - the investigation of the phenomena of geography from a strictly spatial perspective.Area Studies Tradition - the geographical study of an area on the Earth at either the local, regional, or global scale.Human-Land Tradition - the geographical study of human interactions with the environment.Earth Science Tradition - the study of natural phenomena from a spatial perspective. This tradition is best described as theoretical physical geography.
Today, the academic traditions described by Pattison are still dominant fields of geographical investigation. However, the frequency and magnitude of human mediated environmental problems has been on a steady increase since the publication of this notion. These increases are the result of a growing human population and the consequent increase in the consumption of natural resources. As a result, an increasing number of researchers in geography are studying how humans modify the environment. A significant number of these projects also develop strategies to reduce the negative impact of human activities on nature. Some of the dominant themes in these studies include: environmental degradation of the hydrosphere, atmosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere; resource use issues; natural hazards; environmental impact assessment; and the effect of urbanization and land-use change on natural environments.
Considering all of the statements presented concerning the history and development of geography, we are now ready to formulate a somewhat coherent definition. This definition suggests that geography, in its simplest form, is the field of knowledge that is concerned with how phenomena are spatially organized. Physical geography attempts to determine why natural phenomena have particular spatial patterns and orientation. This online textbook will focus primarily on the Earth Science Tradition. Some of the information that is covered in this textbook also deals with the alterations of the environment because of human interaction. These pieces of information belong in the Human-Land Tradition of geography.