Types of Boundaries: Physical & Cultural

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  • 0:08 Boundaries
  • 0:43 Physical Boundaries
  • 1:24 Political Boundaries
  • 1:57 Cultural Boundaries
  • 2:31 Socio-Economics & Religion
  • 3:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will seek to explain physical, political, and cultural boundaries. In doing so, it will identify differences in socio-economics, language, and religion as foundations for boundaries.


Living in the tightly placed states of the Northeastern US, I live rather close to the political boundaries of New Jersey, New York, and Maryland. In fact, I don't have to drive very far to see signs that say things like 'State Line' or 'Welcome to the Empire State.'

Adding to this, I also live very close to the Delaware River, the body of water that separates New Jersey from Pennsylvania. These state lines and the Delaware River are all examples of boundaries, which just so happens to be the topic of today's lesson, specifically physical, political, and cultural boundaries.

Physical Boundaries

We'll start with physical boundaries. Very simply stated a physical boundary is a naturally occurring divide between two areas. Unlike things like politically-drawn state lines, boundaries are not man made. Instead, they are part of nature. A great example of a physical boundary is a mountain. For example, the Pyrenees Mountains, which serve to separate France and Spain, are a physical boundary; so are the Ural Mountains which separate Europe and Asia.

Along with mountains, oceans, seas, even deserts are examples of physical boundaries. For example, Africa is often referred to in terms of Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa, as in part of the desert or south of the desert.

Political Boundaries

Although physical boundaries are not man-made, they are often used by man to create logical political boundaries. Political boundaries are the officially drawn dividing lines between nations, states, cities, and so on. In order to understand this, all one needs to do is look at a map of the Mid-Western US and see how many state boundaries are defined by the Mississippi River. Proving further that physical boundaries often form political boundaries, we can move our eyes to the Southwest, witnessing how the Rio Grande separates the United States from Mexico.

Cultural Boundaries

Moving away from physical boundaries, we now come to cultural boundaries. Also called an ethnographic boundary, a cultural boundary is a boundary line that runs along differences in ethnicity, such as language and religion.

When speaking of cultural boundaries based on language, a great example of this is found within the country of Canada, where French is the official language of Quebec. It is also spoken in pockets or other provinces, whereas much of the rest of the country speaks English. Another good example of this is the almost mini-nation of Chinatown that exists in New York City.

Socio-Economics & Religion

Adding to cultural boundaries being drawn by differences in language, they can also be drawn by socio-economics, a position in relation to others based on income, education, and occupation. Seen very often in more urban areas, an often cited example of this is the very wealthy area of Beverly Hills, California, and its proximity to the lower income areas of inner-city Los Angeles.

There are no official signs that say this is where perceived wealth ends and perceived poverty begins, but there are cultural boundaries that are often way more impactful than any road sign. Putting it differently, cultural boundaries are often intangible yet very powerful.

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