Basic Geography Vocabulary & Concepts

Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

The study of geography covers a lot of ground, and, as such, has an extensive vocabulary. In this lesson, we will learn some of the key vocabulary and concepts necessary for the study of geography.

What is Geography?

Geography is the study of the earth's surface and atmosphere, including how those things affect humans, and how humans in turn affect them. Geography is very much a subject that is concerned with the spatial, relating to space, organization of things in the world. Whether you're looking at the path of a river across the landscape, or a map of traffic congestion inside the city, geography is very much about location.

Geography involves learning about things with respect to location
Geography involves learning about things with respect to location

One thing that can make geography challenging is the wide array of terms and concepts that need to be understood. In this lesson, we are going to take a look at some basic geography terms and their definitions.

Vocabulary & Concepts

Interdependence is the idea that the world is increasingly connected and that countries and companies depend on each other. For example, companies and countries increasingly rely on the manufacture of goods. The economies of developed countries benefit when citizens buy goods, but the developed countries that make those goods also benefit because of how interconnected we are globally.

Assimilation is where people of a particular culture gradually adopt the traits of the new society in which they live, losing their traditional traits like speech, dress, mannerisms, and attitudes. On the other side of this, there is also cultural appropriation, where traits from one (usually less dominant) culture are adopted (or some would stay, stolen) by the primary culture for their own benefit. An example of this would be the popularity of rap and hip-hop music.

Cultural assimilation of Native Americans
Cultural assimilation of Native Americans

Diffusion is simply spreading out, whether the spreading out of culture, settlements, religions, or diseases. It can apply to a lot of things, but the basic idea is that things tend to spread out, and the spread can be studied in geography.

Site and situation are about the location of a particular place - site is the actual location of an area and includes physical characteristics of the land itself, while situation is the site's location relative to its surroundings.

Absolute location is a way of describing the location of something on earth that is not dependent on anything else. For example, you could give something's absolute location by using latitude and longitude coordinates. In addition, a complete address is also considered an absolute location. This is different from relative location, where reference to a location is relative to something else, some type of landmark, like being 3 miles south of the bookstore. Understanding the distinction between these is important since location is at the center of geography.

Climate is the average weather conditions of a particular area over a long period of time. To study climate, you need long-term data and any particular individual weather pattern is irrelevant. Since climate affects the landscape, including how and where people live, it's directly relevant to geography.

Cartography is the study of maps, and the processes involved in their creation. Since geography is all about location, maps are extremely important.

Culture is the sum total of the customs, mannerisms, habits, beliefs, art, morals and laws, dress, diet, practices, and collective history of a particular group of people that are, or historically were, part of the same society. Geography might study how cultures interact, develop, and how they vary across space.

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