Geography as a Social Science: Definition & Explanation

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  • 0:01 What Is Geography?
  • 1:07 The Human Side of Geography
  • 1:49 Geography as Social Element
  • 2:59 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
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.

Is geography a social science or physical science? This lesson will examine the social aspects of geography. But don't be too social while you're reading this lesson - once you're done, it's time to take a short quiz.

What Is Geography?

When you think about geography, what comes to mind? The first thing most people think of is maps. And that certainly isn't bad, because geography is very much focused on space and position. It focuses on questions like where things are relative to each other and why that matters. But geography isn't about creating maps (that's cartography). Geography is concerned with how space and position affect things shown on maps. Why is a river where it is? Why is a town where it is? Are the river and town related? These are the kinds of questions geography asks. But there is much more to geography.

Geography concerns itself with the Earth's atmosphere and physical surface, including how humans affect those things and, in turn, are affected by them. So, humans are right there in the definition, being part of the landscape. In modern times, humans impact the landscape more than any other force on earth. Therefore, understanding how and why humans affect this, as well as the way the landscape affects our lives, is valuable and important.

The Human Side of Geography

The social side of geography considers how humans and human society relate to the natural landscape and atmosphere. The most common name for this is human geography, and it's a major part of the subject today.

That probably isn't surprising, since human geography is more important today than it ever has been. As the population of the world increases every year, its impact on the landscape and atmosphere increases as well. Humans today are responsible for more extinctions of animals and plants than we've seen in millions of years. Humans are also responsible for pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, changing the climate of the Earth in dangerous ways. So, understanding humans and what motivates them to change the landscape and climate is essential.

Geography as Social Element

What motivates us to change the landscape? Well, lots of things. A supermarket might cut down trees to build its business because it wants to support the livelihoods of those who own the business or who work there. Humans might set also up a national park system to protect an area, because they care about preserving it for future generations.

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