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The Six Essential Elements of Geography Video

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  • 0:02 What Is Geography?
  • 0:46 Six Essential Elements
  • 3:36 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.

Geography is a lot more than maps. Learn what geography actually is, and discover the six essential elements of geography. Test your knowledge of the elements by taking a quiz when you are through.

What Is Geography?

Geography isn't just maps; geography includes science-y topics like the formation of rivers, volcanoes, and earthquakes, and human geography like choosing locations for businesses, local conflicts, and environmental issues. It's an extremely wide-ranging subject. So, if it covers this much stuff, what is the definition of geography?

Geography is the study of the physical features of the Earth's surface and atmosphere, including how humans affect them, and the ways they affect humans. The subject can be broken down into six essential elements:

  1. The world in spatial terms
  2. Places and regions
  3. Physical systems
  4. Human systems
  5. Environment and society
  6. Uses of geography

Six Essential Elements of Geography

The world in spatial terms covers the location of things in the world. While geography isn't just about maps, it does consider the location of places and how that impacts the topic. Geography includes the concepts of absolute and relative location. Absolute location is a location that never changes, like your longitude and latitude, whereas relative location is your location relative to another location, like living between the catholic church and the supermarket.

Places and regions might sound similar, but is more related to the features of a particular place or region. For example, what are the physical and human features of the place being studied, and what are the natural and cultural features of the region? What's the climate like? What about language, religions, government? For example, if you were studying Morocco, you might note that it has a dry climate due to being on the edge of the Sahara desert, that it contains mountains in the East, that the primary religion is Islam, and the primary language is Darija (Moroccan Arabic).

Physical systems is concerned with the natural features and processes of the place you're studying. This includes potential for earthquakes, volcanoes, glaciers, hurricanes, tornadoes, and the plants and animals of the area. Areas like California are prone to earthquakes; the Caribbean is a hot spot of hurricane activity; and glaciers can be found in Canada. Different places have different physical systems to consider.

Human systems is about studying how humans affect the landscape. This includes how humans move around, how ideas and beliefs spread, how goods and services move, how we affect each other, and how we build things and change the landscape. For example, you might study how a small town turned into a giant city: perhaps the steel industry attracted new people to the area during the industrial revolution. That would also lead to goods and services entering and leaving the area. These kinds of things can completely change an area.

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