So what is geography?

"As a young man, my fondest dream was to become a geographer. However while working in the customs office I thought deeply about the matter and concluded that it was far too difficult a subject. With some reluctance, I then turned to physics as a substitute."

Attributed to Albert Einstein

Geography has been many things to many people across history. Yes, in many respects geography could be called the mother of history. That is, however, another discussion for another time. To my way of thinking, geography is a discipline that brings together and integrates the physical and human dimensions of our home earth and allows us to study its interaction with life. It is location, place, movement, environment, interaction, and life. The past ten years has seen a tremendous change in the way geographers now define the discipline. This is based in large part by the tremendous support of the National Geographic Society and their leadership in bringing the new geography to kids across the world.

Location

How many times have you asked someone, "Where are we?" Location answers this question. But, there are two different kinds of location. Relative Location tells us our approximate location. On the other hand, Absolute Location tells us exactly where we are.

Relative location is the kind of location we give most often. We simply give two or three variables to describe where we are. As an example, I live in Sheboygan, Wisconsin which is located in eastern Wisconsin about one hour north of Milwaukee on the beautiful western shores of Lake Michigan. Did you note the variables of direction, time, and distance? Cool. But suppose you wanted the location more exact. Here we would use map cooridinates to determine absolute location. Sheboygan's earth address is 43 degrees north latitude and 87 degrees west longitude. Remember we share location variables when we want to answer the "Where" question.

Place

Place answers the "What" question. Place comes from those characteristics that make it different or unique from other places. My adopted hometown of Sheboygan is very unique. For many years it was called the city of the four "Cs." The "fours Cs" stood for "Churches," "Cheese," "Chairs," and "Children." They defined its unique characteristics. But like every other dynamic place, Sheboygan is changing. As I discuss with my students what makes Sheboygan unique today, I added a fifth "C" and it is representative of "Compounds."

Interaction

People are constantly interacting with the environment. As humans we invent, change, and adapt. Sit back and think about your hometown for a second. What changes have taken place because of the pressure of population? In my hometown we recently added the first Roundabout in Wisconsin. A roundabout moves traffic in a circular way and reduces the amount the amount of time waiting at signs or lights. Not everybody thinks it is a good idea, but it seems to be moving a lot of traffic. It is an example of what we sometimes call in the western world "Progress." But not all "progress" is healthy interaction. Geographers study these positive and negative effects. Pollution, overcrowding, water quality, and loss of productive agricultural land are all serious negative effects of interaction in Sheboygan County that we are trying hard to change.

Movement

Moving from one place to another every day is something we all take for granted. But so do ideas, inventions, and technologies move. It is a critical dynamic in the establishment of society and culture. Almost all living things move for two and two reasons alone. First, they move to improve their standard of living. Sheboygan's history is rich and diverse because of repeated immigrations from Europe, Central America, and Asia. Second, species move to escape danger. Yes, many of Sheboygan's most recent residents fled as refugees from the dangers of the political climate of Southeast Asia.

Region and Realm

A region is a collection of places united by common characteristics. Sheboygan is a part of many regions. Our Wisconsin license plates state "Americas Dairyland." Yes milk production is very important here and across the state. Wisconsin is found in "North Central" America with other states like Michigan and Minnesota. We are very proud of Lake Michigan so we are also part of a region called the Great Lakes states. Several geographers also believe that regions grow or link together to create what they call a "Realm." You may read geographers like Harm J. de Blij for more information.

Geography is a dynamic, exciting discipline that brings together and integrates the physical and human dimensions of our home earth and allows us to study its interaction with life. It is location, place, movement, environment, interaction, and life.

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