What Is Geography, And How Did Its Study Begin?

Ancient Greek polymath Eratosthenes, one of the foremost geographers of the ancient world, and one of the first to use the term "geography" to describe the trade.
Ancient Greek polymath Eratosthenes, one of the foremost geographers of the ancient world, and one of the first to use the term "geography" to describe the trade.

5. Defining Geography

The term Geography is directly derived from a Greek term meaning "description of the earth". There are many purported origins as to the word geography, though it likely came from the Greek word, geographia, which is the source of the French word geographie and the Latin geographia as well. Today it is defined as the study of the topography, terrain, and atmosphere of the earth. This would include the rivers, lakes, oceans, mountains, and the lay of the land. The study also includes people, land use and industries as in demography. There is much about geography that includes cartography but ancient texts and maps point to the fact that cartography preceded geography in the ancient world.

4. History of Geography

In Ancient Greece, Eratosthenes is credited to have been the person who coined the word "geography." The first books on the subject were thought to be Homer's Iliad and The Odyssey. Thales the philosopher is credited with laying the foundation for the study of geography. But all these were preceded by the ancient Babylonians who made the first world maps in the 9th Century BC. One of these is the Imago Mundi, which showed Assyria, Babylon, and Urartu in the middle of Oceanus. It further depicts seven islands around the same ocean. The Phoenicians, meanwhile, already had more extensive geographical knowledge due to their circumnavigation of the African continent.

3. Notable Geographers Through the Ages

The Babylonians were the first cartographers but the Greeks were the first geographers. These were the men who science owes for their contribution to geography. Eratosthenes was the first to simplify the science of geography with his works on longitude and latitude. The 12th Century geographer Al Idrisi made a map of North Africa and Eurasia that included the histories of the peoples and cultures in these areas. The 18th Century Prussian naturalist Alexander Humboldt wrote Kosmos, a book about geography and natural science. Another 18th Century scholar, the German Emmanuel Kant, was known for treating geography as an intellectual science. The 19th century saw Carl Ritter, also of Germany, as one of the most important geographers in history. The 20th Century Italian Arnold Faustini also made his mark in geography, and one of the moon's craters was later named after in his honor.

2. Geographic Techniques, Past and Present

Geographic techniques are important tools that help in interpreting data that geographers need for their particular work. Cartography leads in this respect as it precedes geography in their respective discovery and development. In 1500 BCE, early Polynesian sailors utilized shells and sticks to determine their boats' positions in the ocean. Polynesian navigation was about star movements, ocean waves speed and direction, sea and sky color, cloud clusters above islands, and wildlife flights being observed based on seasons. At present, satellites orbiting above the earth help navigators pinpoint their exact location and destination anywhere on the planet. Other techniques involve sensors, satellite photographs, and computerized data information systems called Geographic Information Systems (GIS). These are used by governments, institutions, and businesses.

1. Geography Careers in the Information Age

Geography careers in the 21st Century are represented in many exciting fields that offer careers in government, business, non-profit organizations, and education. All these sectors offer standard to above standard remunerations that are competitive with other careers. The new information age GIScience courses offer basic and advanced geographic information systems, remote sensing, cartographic visualization, and spatial statistics. The American Association of Geographers (AAG) website is a starting point in getting oriented with the field of geography. The website includes answers and links to those interested in a career in geography. There are also Graduate Student Assistants programs, post-Doctoral programs, and internships in information assistance, each of which also helps in prospective geographers' professional development and career planning.


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