Regional Geography of North America

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

North America is a bog, and full of people. We can categorize all of this land in terms of physical features, but that's not always how humans think about space. In this lesson, we'll explore ideas of regional geography and see what this shows us about North America.

Regional Geography

When people think about geography, they're typically thinking in terms of physical features: the mountains, the plains, etc. But, when's the last time someone asked where you were going over spring break and you answered 'the subtropical barrier islands in the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway'?

We don't always talk in terms of physical geography, because that's not always how we think. Often, our ideas about geography are determined by a variety of factors, from political borders to shared cultural experiences. We call the study of physical space in terms of combined physical, cultural, economic, and political traits regional geography.

Regional Geography of North America

Let's take a quick tour through the major regions of North America, but first: disclaimers. Regions are not as static as a physical feature, like mountains. They change, shift, and don't have firm borders. So, this isn't an exact science, but reflects shared lifestyles within a common space.

Mexican Regional Geography

Let's start in Mexico. Mexico has strong local identities, at times stronger than its national unity. Generally, we can categorize these local identities into three major regions.

Mexican regions have strong local identities

Southern Mexico

Dense jungles and spectacular beaches physically characterize the southern part of Mexico. The people of Southern Mexico tend to be more culturally connected to the Caribbean than other Mexicans, which is reflected in their food, festivals, and music. Southern Mexico is also notable for a strong Maya heritage, which can sometimes put these people in conflict with Central Mexico and its Aztec obsession. The largest Maya communities live in the Yucatán Peninsula, which many characterize as a separate region altogether.

Central Mexico

The heartland of Mexico, culturally and politically, is in the high mountains of Central Mexico. This is where Mexico City is now located, and where the former Aztec Empire operated back in the 15th century. The people, and especially politicians, of Central Mexico tend to elevate this region as the 'true' Mexico. Much of Mexico's business is conducted here, but the South still holds a grip on the tourist industry.

Northern Mexico

North of Central Mexico is an entirely new region, characterized by vast expanses of desert. The people of Northern Mexico claim heritage from dozens of Amerindian nations. Both the Mexican War of Independence and Mexican Revolution started largely in Northern Mexico, giving these people a strong claim over national heroes of Mexico like Pancho Villa. Northern Mexico also features a sub-region called Baja California, which is more tropical and has its own unique culture.

The United States

The United States of America also has its regions, and historically the divisions between them have been important. Generally, there are six regions recognized in the nation.

Regions of the USA

New England

New England includes the northeastern states along the Atlantic. New England was the undisputed cultural and economic center of the United States for a long time. Massachusetts was also one of the most important colonial centers before 1776, where revolutionary ideas about the republic turned into full on revolution.

The Mid-Atlantic

Just south of New England is the Mid-Atlantic region. Today, this region plays a major role in American society with cities like New York, but historically it was another major colonial center with cities like Philadelphia. During America's industrial revolution, the waterways of this region helped transform the national economy as well.

The South

Perhaps the most identifiable region of the USA is the South. Prior to 1860, the South was characterized by a strong local identity, its belief in states' rights over the federal government, as well as an agricultural economy and slavery. The South tried to form its own nation in 1861, resulting in the Civil War. Southern states still pride themselves on a strong local culture.

The Midwest

The American Midwest is known for its agricultural heritage, focused around corn. To many, the 'traditional American farm' originates from this region and is stereotypically defined by small towns, open space, and honest people.

The Southwest

South of the Midwest is the aptly named the Southwest. This is one of those tricky regions, sometimes seen as part of the South, sometimes as part of the West, and often its own thing. The Southwest includes most of the states that were once part of Mexico, and still retains a strong Spanish heritage.

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