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Themes and Traditions of Geography

Jennifer Friedrichsen

Geography 100

Dr. Siri Nimal Wickramaratne

Themes and Traditions of Geography

“Geography is the science that studies the relationships among natural systems, geographic areas, society, culture activities, and the independence of all of these over space.” (Christopherson, 2010, p. 4) Over time there have been two attempts that have influenced the basic understanding of geographic information, which allows us to gain additional and improved knowledge as well as appreciation for environmental changes and the different cultures around the world. These attempts are The Four Traditions of Geography and The Five Themes of Geography.
Four Traditions of Pattison The four traditions consist of the spatial tradition, area tradition, man-land tradition and earth science tradition. Spatial Tradition is an “academic tradition in modern Geography that investigates geographic phenomena from a strictly spatial perspective” (Pidwirny, 2006). Spatial Tradition focuses on the mapping, positioning, direction, and distance, the characteristics of the form and movement related to these aspects or the distribution of phenomena. Area Studies Tradition is “an academic tradition in modern Geography that investigates an area on the Earth from a geographic perspective at either the local, regional, or global scale” (Pidwirny, 2006). This is the descriptions of different areas or regions. The nature of these areas or regions and how they are different from one another. Man-Land Tradition is “an academic tradition in modern Geography that investigates human interactions with the environment” (Pidwirny, 2006). This is the relationship between humans and their environment that they are physically in. As well as what the impact humans have on nature and what impact nature has on humans. Earth Science Tradition is “an academic tradition in modern Geography that investigates natural phenomena from a spatial perspective” (Pidwirny, 2006). This tradition studies the physical surface of the earth such as landforms, climate, vegetation and how it varies from place to place around the world. It also studies the atmosphere that surrounds the earth, as well as the interaction between the earth and the sun.
Five Themes of Geography
The Five Themes of Geography are location, human/environmental interaction, region, place and movement. Location is where people or places are on the Earth, it can also be absolute or it can be relative. Absolute location is the latitude or longitude of a feature, such as a global location. Relative location is a location of a place in relation to another place or nearby landmarks. Human/Environmental Interaction is how humans affect their environment and how the environment affects humans. There are three concepts to human/environmental interaction which are how humans depend on their environment for basic needs as in shelter, food, and water. How humans modify their environment by constructing buildings, houses, schools, and roads. Also, how humans adapt to their environment such as wearing certain clothes for different seasons. Regions are how one area is similar to or different from another area. A formal region has official boundaries for instance a city or state. Functional regions are outlined by a function such as a school district. Then there are vernacular regions that are a person’s perception of where a place is, for example when I think of the South, I think of Texas. Place is a combination of physical and human characteristics that are unique and different from its surroundings. Physical characteristics consist of rivers, mountains, climate, and landforms and human characteristics include the population, culture, religion, and language. Movement is how and why people and places are connected to one another. Everything somehow moves as in transportation, communication, weather, and ideas.

Four Traditions and Five Themes The Four Traditions and Five themes have both made attempts to determine what is significant for geographers to study and why. The Four Traditions and Five Themes are also similar in the way, that the first three of the five themes resemble Pattision’s four traditions that continue to be the foundation to the study of geography. “Both approaches portray the multidimensional nature of geography as it is practiced” (Archer, 1995, p. 406). One difference between the traditions and themes is the more modernized knowledge and tools geographers have to help measure and record new data, as well as the expansion of themes; place and movement being added by the National Geographic Society, 1986.
The Five Themes of Geography help understand what geography is about because geography is the study and knowledge of where things are located on a map, why things are located in a specific place and how those things impact or affect our lives. The five themes help with the understanding of geographic information, so we can gain a better appreciation of cultural and environmental changes around the world. These themes also provide an establishment for a broader understanding of geography and its many components, it also enables you to discuss and explain people, places, and environments of the past and present.

Archer, Kevin. “A Folk Guide to Geography as a Holistic Science.” Journal of Geography 94 (May/June 1995): 405-6
Christopherson, Robert W. Elemental Geosystems. NJ: Pearson Education Inc., 2010. Print.
Matthews, Lisa Keys. “The Five Themes of Geography.” 10 Oct. 1998. 12 April 2012
Pidwirny, M. (2006). "Glossary of Terms: A, E, M, S". Fundamentals of Physical Geography,

2nd Edition. 20 April 2012.

W.D. Pattison, “The Four Traditions of Geography,” Journal of Geography 63 (May 1964): 211-16

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