The World Map: Overview & Major Geographical Regions

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  • 0:02 Mappa Mundi/Regions of…
  • 1:28 North America/South America
  • 2:57 Africa
  • 4:09 Eurasia
  • 5:47 Australia/Antarctica
  • 6:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

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

The world is a big place, but how well do you know it? In this lesson, we're going to look at a basic overview of major world regions and see how they collectively create the world map.

Mappa Mundi

In Medieval Europe, some adventurous groups began exploring the boundaries of their known world. Their ultimate goal was the discovery of a rare and powerful treasure. That treasure was a mappa mundi. Those of you that speak Latin know what's coming. The mappa mundi was a map of the world.

Throughout medieval history, we actually had several attempts to create a mappa mundi, but why? The concept of a world map was extremely powerful. At the time, they were less of navigational charts and more symbols of knowledge - a way to understand a growing world and one's place in it. That tradition has never been lost. The world map remains a very powerful symbol - an expression of who we are, where we belong, and how we relate to each other. It's an ancient treasure, and one that still has immense value.

Regions of the World

When looking at the world map, there are several ways we can begin to understand it. Geography is often easiest to comprehend in terms of regions, or areas with similar traits. Some regions are defined by the humans and cultures residing within them, others by resources, but the most basic is the division by land forms or physical features. Our largest regional unit within geography is the continent, a massive expanse of land and its associated islands. That's how we'll be looking at the world map today.

North America

Let's start with the continent of North America. North America occupies the Northwestern Hemisphere of the globe, bounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the east and Pacific Ocean to the west. Most Americans are pretty familiar with it because, you know, we live here. But fewer are actually able to definitively define its borders. In terms of strict geography, North America extends from the land mass within the Arctic Circle and down through the Isthmus of Panama, the narrow land bridge that links North and South America. The islands of the Caribbean are, therefore, included as parts of North America, as well.

Why is this so confusing? The nations of Mexico through Panama, collectively called Central America, share a cultural heritage with those of South America, so they are often grouped together. However, the land forms of Central America, including the southern most regions of the Rocky Mountains, are connected physically to North America.

South America

Heading south, we find the aptly named continent of South America. South America formally begins below the Isthmus of Panama and encompasses the Southwestern Hemisphere. It is one of the most ecologically diverse places on the planet, featuring remarkable biomes, like the Amazon, containing roughly 10% of all the world's plant and animal species; the high peaks of the Andes Mountains, the world's longest mountain range; and the vast highland Atacama Desert, the driest, nonpolar desert in the world.


Hopping east across the Atlantic, we move from South America to Africa. Africa is a very large continent, which may be best understood through its three primary regions: North Africa is the region along Africa's northern border, along the edge of the Mediterranean Sea. It is wide, narrow, and climatically has more in common with Mediterranean nations of Europe and west Asia than other parts of Africa. Thanks to fertile soils and major river systems like the Nile, some of the world's oldest settled civilizations appeared here.

North Africa is bordered to its south by one of the harshest environments in the world. The Sahara Desert is the world's largest desert, covering roughly 3.5 million square miles. It is largely inhospitable and features relatively little plant or animal life. South of the Sahara, Africa becomes again lush, characterized by massive jungles and dense foliage. This is Sub-Saharan Africa. Historically, people from North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa had little contact with each other since the desert formed such a formidable boundary between them.

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