GY202 Geographic Thought
Essay #1 - The Five Themes in Geography
September 6, 1995
During the 1980's the United States showed unacceptably low test scores on simple Geographic tests. The point Committee on Geographic Education could only attribute these results to Geographic Illiteracy, not only on the part of the students, but more importantly on the educators themselves. By 1984 it had become inexplicably clear that immediate action must take place to counteract this ongoing problem in our educational institutions (Journal of Geography 89). In response, the Joint Committee on Geographic Education produced a landmark publication entitled "Guidelines for Geographic Education". This document contained a scope and sequence in Geography with suggested learning results for the nations primary and secondary school systems, as well as suggested educational strategies for analysis on the part of the students and teachers. Most importantly, this article provided the Five Fundamental Themes in Geography, which have evolved to become an integral element of social studies education, because they take the world of geographic study beyond the realm of basic memorization, and into a new plane of analysis and implementation. These five themes include location, place, human-environment interactions, movement, and regions.
Location answers the question of "where?". If you plan to meet someone at a specific time, and a specific place, the question of "Where will you meet?" must first be answered. To resolve this situation, Geography employs Absolute Location, and Relative Location.
Absolute Location applies a grid-matrix system to the earth's surface in the form of coordinates. These coordinates, longitude and latitude, allow geographer s to pinpoint exact areas of the earth's surface, and other planetary bodies as well. If Geographers wish to apply satellite technology to observe an area of the earth's surface, coordinates are used to pinpoint an exact location.
Relative Location answers the simple question of where you would meet a person. For example: "Let's meet at Martin Hall, the building next to the Library." But, relative location is much deeper than simple location. It also involves interdependence of a location based upon its resources, people, and environment.
If one wishes to build a ski resort, the location of that resort must be relative with the environment of the location. It would be illogical, and non-profitable to build a ski resort in the Mojave desert. However, it would be logical to build a resort in the higher elevations of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, Idaho, or Montana.
Every area on the surface of the earth is defined by some type of characteristic. Siberia is known to be very cold, but also a part of the Soviet Union, a formerly communist country. Belize is known to be very warm, but it is also an English speaking country which houses a tropical rain forest. To define these basic geographical characteristics, Geographers have placed them into three categories under the heading of "place" - Physical, Human, and Observed Characteristics.
Physical Characteristics are those characteristics which define the physical environment of a place . This environment includes the climate, physical terrain, and plant and animal life.
Human Characteristics are those things which people have done to an environment to change them. People construct buildings in which to live, shop, work, pray, and play. People are also defined by their religion, race, languages they speak, and philosophies and ideologies in which they live.
Observed Characteristics are in part an overflow of human characteristics. People change their environment, this change can be observed in everyday life; the roads we use to get to work or school, the power lines used to heat our homes, the pollution exuded from our factories to produce the luxuries we crave, all of these represent changes to our environment. These physical changes represent the observed characteristics of a place.
Human- Environment interactions are the way people react with their environment (Guidelines for Geographic Education). Living with the environment is not a one way street, we can not continually expect to take from mother earth without giving something in return. We take for granted the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we consume, and the houses in which we live. The important thing to remember is where did these amenities come from?
The human population continues to pour thousands of tons of combustion emissions into the atmosphere every day, these emissions include not only