What is Geography? Branches of Geography - gk lokam

3 February 2020

What is Geography? Branches of Geography

 What is Geography? Branches of Geography


What is Geography?

Geography is concerned with the description and explanation of the areal differentiation of the earth’s surface. (Richard Hartshorne)

Geography studies the differences of phenomena usually related in different parts
of the earth’s surface.(Hettner)


Geography is an interdisciplinary subject of study. The study of every subject is done according to some approach. 

Approaches to study geography

The major approaches to study geography have been (i) Systematic and (ii) Regional.

The systematic geography approach is the same as that of general geography. This
approach was introduced by Alexander Von Humboldt, a German geographer (1769-1859)while regional geography approach was developed by another German geographer and a contemporary of Humboldt, Karl Ritter (1779-1859).

Systematic geography:

In systematic approach a phenomenon is studied world over as a whole, and then the identification of typologies or spatial patterns is done.

For example, if one is interested in studying natural vegetation, the study will be done at the world level as a first step.

The typologies such as equatorial rain forests or softwood conical forests or monsoon forests, etc. will be identified, discussed and delimited. 

Regional geography:

In the regional approach, the world is divided into regions at different hierarchical levels and then all the geographical phenomena in a particular region are studied. 

These regions may be natural, political or designated region. 

The phenomena in a region are studied in a holistic manner searching for unity in

Dualism is one of the main characteristics of geography which got introduced from the very beginning. 

This dualism depended on the aspect emphasised in the study. 

Earlier scholars laid emphasis on physical geography. 

But human beings are an integral part of the earth’s surface. They are part and parcel of nature. 

They also have contributed through their cultural development.  Thus developed human geography with emphasis on human activities.


1. Physical Geography

(i) Geomorphology is devoted to the study of landforms, their evolution and related

(ii) Climatology encompasses the study of structure of atmosphere and elements of weather and climates and climatic types and regions.

(iii) Hydrology studies the realm of water over the surface of the earth including oceans, lakes, rivers and other water bodies and its effect on different life forms including human life and their activities.

(iv)Soil Geography is devoted to study the processes of soil formation, soil types,their fertility status, distribution and use.

2. Human Geography

(i) Social/Cultural Geography encompasses the study of society and its spatial dynamics as well as the cultural elements contributed by the society.

(ii) Population and Settlement Geography (Rural and Urban). It studies population
growth, distribution, density, sex ratio, migration and occupational structure etc. Settlement geography studies the characteristics of rural and urban settlements.

(iii) Economic Geography studies economic activities of the people including agriculture, industry, tourism, trade, and transport, infrastructure and services, etc.

(iv) Historical Geography studies the historical processes through which the space gets organized.

 Every region has undergone some historical experiences before attaining the present day status.

The geographical features also experience temporal changes and these form the concerns of historical geography.

(v) Political Geographylooks at the space from the angle of political events and 
studies boundaries, space relations between neighbouring political units, delimitation of constituencies, election scenario and develops theoretical framework to understand the political behaviour of the population.


3. Biogeography

The interface between physical geography and human geography has lead to the development of Biogeography which includes:

(i) Plant Geography which studies the spatial pattern of natural vegetation in their habitats.
(ii) Zoo Geography which studies the spatial patterns and geographic characteristics of animals and their habitats.
(iii) Ecology /Ecosystem deals with the scientific study of the habitats characteristic of species.
(iv) Environmental Geography concerns world over leading to the realisation of environmental problems such as land gradation, pollution and concerns for conservation has resulted in the introduction of this new branch in geography.



1. Regional Studies/Area Studies Comprising Macro, Meso and Micro Regional Studies
2. Regional Planning Comprising Country/Rural and Town/Urban Planning
3. Regional Development
4. Regional Analysis

There are two aspects which are common to every discipline, these are:
(i) Philosophy
(a) Geographical Thought
(b) Land and Human Interaction

Human Ecology

(ii) Methods and Techniques
(a) Cartography including Computer Cartography
(b) Quantitative Techniques/Statistical Techniques
(c) Field Survey Methods
(d) Geo-informatics comprising techniques such as Remote Sensing, GIS, GPS, etc.

The above classification gives a comprehensive format of the branches of geography.

Generally geography curricula is taught and learnt in this format but this format is not static. Any discipline is bound to grow with new ideas, problems, methods and techniques. 

For example, what was once manual cartography has now been transformed into computer cartography.

Technology has enabled scholars to handle large quantum of data. The internet provides extensive information. 

Thus, the capacity to attempt analysis has increased tremendously.

GIS has further opened vistas of knowledge. GPS has become a handy tool to find out exact locations. 

Technologies have enhanced the capacity of attempting synthesis with sound theoretical understanding.

Physical geography

Physical geography includes the study of ; 

lithosphere (landforms, drainage, relief and physiography), 

atmosphere (its composition, structure, elements and controls of weather and 

climate; temperature, pressure, winds, precipitation, climatic types, etc.), 

hydrosphere (oceans, seas, lakes and associated features with water realm) and biosphere ( life forms including human being and macro-organism and their sustaining mechanism, viz. food chain, ecological parameters and ecological

Soils are formed through the process of pedogenesis and depend upon the parent
rocks, climate, biological activity and time. Time provides maturity to soils and helps in the development of soil profiles.

Each element is important for human beings. 

Landforms provide the base on which human activities are located. The plains are utilised for agriculture.
Plateaus provide forests and minerals.
Mountains provide pastures, forests, tourist spots and are sources of rivers providing water to lowlands.
Climate influences our house types, clothing and food habits. The climate has a profound effect on vegetation, cropping pattern, livestock farming and some industries, etc.

 Human beings have developed technologies which modify climatic elements in a restricted space such as air conditioners and coolers. 

Temperature and precipitation ensure the density of forests and quality of grassland. In India, monsoonal rainfall sets the agriculture rhythm in motion. 

Precipitation recharges the ground water aquifers which later provides water for agriculture and domestic use. 

We study oceans which are the store house of resources. Besides fish and other sea-food, oceans are rich in mineral resources.

India has developed the technology for collecting manganese nodules from oceanic
bed. Soils are renewable resources, which influence a number of economic activities such as agriculture.

The fertility of the soil is both naturally determined and culturally induced. Soils also provide the basis for the biosphere accommodating plants, animals and micro organisms.

The study of physical geography is emerging as a discipline of evaluating and managing natural resources. 

In order to achieve this objective, it is essential to understand the intricate relationship between physical environment and human beings.

Physical environment provides resources, and human beings utilise these resources and ensure their economic and cultural development. 

Accelerated pace of resource utilisation with the help of modern technology has created ecological imbalance in the world.

Hence, a better understanding of physical environment is absolutely essential for sustainable development.

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