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Plant & Animal Domestication in Geography

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  • 0:08 Domestication and…
  • 1:20 Questions in Geography
  • 3:28 Consequences to Society
  • 5:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine has an M.A. in American Studies. She is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

This lesson discusses why plant and animal domestication holds such significance to human geographers. You'll also gain perspective on the length of time this practice has been a part of our history.

Domestication and Human History

The evolution of our human family diverged from our chimpanzee relatives about six million years ago. For what percentage of this six million years do you think we've been cultivating animals and plants in the form of agriculture? More than half of that time? Less than half? Or perhaps a third or a quarter of that time?

The actual percentage of human history that we've been involved in agriculture is about 0.2%. So, for 99.8% of human history, our genetic family had survived without domesticating plants and animals. As you might guess, this change altered the last 10,000 years of human history a great deal, including the pace of technological advancement we experience today.

This lesson discusses why geographers take such a great interest in this aspect of human history. We'll look at how plant and animal domestication affected the way different regions of the world changed over time. We'll also explore how geographers look at the consequences of these changes.

Questions in Geography

The innovation of plant and animal domestication makes geographers want to investigate: What made this happen 10,000 years ago? Why not any sooner or any later? Why did a variety of regions develop this innovation? Separate from one another? And why did some regions cultivate more animals and crops than others?

While we can't cover all of the answers in this one lesson, we'll explore one key topic to give you an idea of what insight a geographer can gain by diving into these questions and exploring the answers. Let's take the question of 'Why did some regions cultivate more animals and crops than others?'

One major reason is that some areas had access to plants and animals that were good candidates to become domesticated, while others were presented with less options or less flexible climates. This affected which plants and animals would flourish easily. In many cases, those with better conditions and resources for domestication were at a great advantage to accumulate wealth and power over time.

Geographers have also noticed that food production, based on domestication, tended to happen quickly east to west in the world, rather than north to south. For instance, wheat was able to be spread quickly across an East-West axis, into Europe and Asia from its origins in the Middle East, but not as easily into Africa. This is due to the fact that similar latitudes have similar climates, and these crops will often grow without much adaptation, compared with sending those crops northward or southward. This helps to explain why the domestication of a grain called sorghum was more likely in certain areas of the African continent, rather than wheat. Certain African climates were more suited to this.

Investigating this topic helps geographers understand why certain regions were more likely than others to work with particular animals and crops, and why some were more successful in the process.

Consequences to Society

Geographers are interested in plant and animal domestication because of these differences between regions of the world and also because of the dramatic consequences this innovation had on the world.

One of the many changes that occurred as a result of this trend was an increase in population size. Women gave birth more frequently in this more sedentary situation, resulting in shorter birth intervals. Why have children more frequently when you are settled rather than nomadic? Imagine you have a newborn and several toddlers, and you have to walk many miles to get to your food - not so easy! Now compare this with living in a home where you do not need to trek far with your children. Women in the latter situation, where they don't need to go very far, would be more likely to have children more often.

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