Human geography

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Population density (people per km2) by country, 2007

Human geography is a branch of geography that focuses on the study of patterns and processes that shape human interaction with the built environment, with particular reference to the causes and consequences of the spatial distribution of human activity on the Earth's surface.


Human geography broadly differs from physical geography in that it has a greater focus on studying intangible or abstract patterns surrounding human activity and is more receptive to qualitative research methodologies. It encompasses human, political, cultural, social and economic aspects of the social sciences. While the major focus of human geography is not the physical landscape of the Earth (see physical geography), it is not possible to discuss human geography without going into the physical landscape, on which human activities are being played out and environmental geography is emerging, as an important link between the two. Human geography is methodologically diverse, using both qualitative methods and quantitative methods, including case studies, survey research, statistical analysis and model building, among others. Thematically, human geography may be concerned with an array of human enterprises, from villages and cities, schools, health, commerce and trade, to name a few. The spatial human architecture of a variety of institutions and practices unites these entities within the discipline. For example, a human geographer might be concerned with the geographic patterns of communicable diseases, school performance in rural versus urban school districts or the rise of innovative technology clusters.

Fields of human geography

The main fields of study in human geography focus around the core fields of:


Cultural geography is the study of cultural products and norms and their variation across and relations to spaces and places. It focuses on describing and analyzing the ways language, religion, economy, government, and other cultural phenomena vary or remain constant from one place to another and on explaining how humans function spatially.[1]

  • Subfields include: Children's geographies, Animal geographies, Language geography and Religion geography


Development geography is the study of the Earth's geography with reference to the standard of living and quality of life of its human inhabitants.


Economic geography is the study of the location, distribution and spatial organization of economic activities across the Earth. The subject matter investigated is strongly influenced by the researcher's methodological approach.


Health geography is the application of geographical information, perspectives, and methods to the study of health, disease, and health care.


Historical Geography is the study of the human, physical, fictional, theoretical, and "real" geographies of the past. Historical geography studies a wide variety of issues and topics. A common theme is the study of the geographies of the past and how a place or region changes through time. Many historical geographers study geographical patterns through time, including how people have interacted with their environment, and created the cultural landscape.


Political geography is concerned with the study of both the spatially uneven outcomes of political processes and the ways in which political processes are themselves affected by spatial structures.


Population geography is the study of the ways in which spatial variations in the distribution, composition, migration, and growth of populations are related to the nature of places.


Tourism geography is the study of travel and tourism as an industry, as a human activity, and especially as a place-based experience.


Urban geography is the study of urban areas with specific regards to spatial and relational aspects and theories. That is the study of areas which have a high concentration of buildings and infrastructure. These are areas where the majority of economic activities are in the secondary sector and tertiary sectors. They probably have a high population density.

Philosophical approaches

Within each of the subfields, various philosophical approaches can be used in research; therefore, an urban geographer could be a Feminist or Marxist geographer, etc.

Such approaches are:

  • Behavioral geography
  • Critical geography
  • Feminist geography
  • Marxist geography
  • Non-representational theory
  • Poststructuralist geography
  • Psychoanalytic geography

List of notable human geographers

Carl Ritter - considered to be one of the founding fathers of modern geography
  • Carl Ritter (1779 – 1859), considered to be one of the founding fathers of modern geography and first chair in geography at the Humboldt University of Berlin, also noted for his use of organic analogy in his works.
  • Paul Vidal de la Blache (1845 - 1918), founder of the French School of geopolitics and possiblism.
  • Sir Halford John Mackinder (1861 – 1947), author of The Geographical Pivot of History, co-founder of the London School of Economics, along with the Geographical Association.
  • Carl O. Sauer (1889 – 1975), critic of environmental determinism and proponent of cultural ecology.
  • Walter Christaller (1893 – 1969), economic geographer and developer of the central place theory.
  • Richard Hartshorne (1899 – 1992), scholar of the history and philosophy of geography.
  • Torsten Hägerstrand (1916 - 2004), critic of the quantitative revolution and regional science, noted figure in critical geography.
  • Waldo R. Tobler (born 1930), developer of the First law of geography.
  • David Harvey (born 1935), world's most cited academic geographer and winner of the Lauréat Prix International de Géographie Vautrin Lud, also noted for his work in critical geography and critique of global capitalism.
  • Steve Butcher, Professor of Human Geographical Studies at Kent State University
  • Allen J. Scott (born 1938), winner of Vautrin Lud Prize in 2003 and the Anders Retzius Gold medal 2009; author of numerous books and papers on economic and urban geography, known for his work on regional development, new industrial spaces, agglomeration theory, global city-regions and the cultural economy.
  • Edward Soja (born 1941), noted for his work on regional development, planning and governance, along with coining the terms synekism and postmetropolis.
  • Doreen Massey (born 1944), key scholar in the space and places of globalization and its pluralities, winner of the Vautrin Lud Prize.
  • Nigel Thrift (born 1949), developer of non-representational theory.
  • Derek Gregory (born 1951), famous for writing on the Israeli, U.S. and UK actions in the Middle East after 9/11, influenced by Edward Said and has contributed work on imagined geographies.
  • Cindi Katz (born 1954), who writes on social reproduction and the production of space. Writing on children's geographies, place and nature, everyday life and security.
  • Gillian Rose (born 1962), most famous for her critique: Feminism & Geography: The Limits of Geographical Knowledge (1993), which was one of the first moves towards a development of feminist geography.

Human geography journals

As with all social sciences, human geographers publish research and other written work in a variety of academic journals. Whilst human geography is interdisciplinary, there are a number of journals with a human geography focus.

These include:

See also

  • Advanced Placement Human Geography
  • Geography of food


  1. Jordan-Bychkov, Terry G.; Domosh, Mona; Rowntree, Lester (1994). The human mosaic: a thematic introduction to cultural geography. New York: HarperCollinsCollegePublishers. ISBN 978-0-06-500731-2. 


Further reading

  • Blij, Harm Jan, De (2008). Geography: realms, regions, and concepts. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley. ISBN 978-0-470-12905-0. 
  • Cloke, Paul J.; Crang, Philip; Goodwin, Mark (2004). Envisioning human geographies. London: Arnold. ISBN 978-0-340-72013-4. 
  • Cloke, Paul J.; Crang, Phil; Crang, Philip; Goodwin, Mark (2005). Introducing human geographies (2nd ed.). London: Hodder Arnold. ISBN 978-0-340-88276-4. 
  • Crang, Mike; Thrift, Nigel J. (2000). Thinking space. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-16016-2. 
  • Daniels, Peter; Bradshaw, Michael; Shaw, Denis J. B.; Sidaway, James D. (2004). An Introduction to Human Geography: issues for the 21st century (2nd ed.). Prentice Hall. ISBN 978-0-13-121766-9. 
  • Flowerdew, Robin; Martin, David (2005). Methods in human geography: a guide for students doing a research project (2nd ed.). Harlow: Prentice Hall. ISBN 978-0-582-47321-8. 
  • Gregory, Derek; Martin, Ron G.; Smith, Graham (1994). Human geography: society, space and social science. Basingstoke: Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-333-45251-6. 
  • Harvey, David D. (1996). Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference. Blackwell Pub. ISBN 978-1-55786-680-6. 
  • Johnston, R.J. (2000). The Dictionary of Human Geography. Blackwell Publishers, London. 
  • Johnston, R.J (2002). Geographies of Global Change: Remapping the World. Blackwell Publishers, London. 
  • Moseley, William W.; Lanegran, David A.; Pandit, Kavita (2007). The Introductory Reader in Human Geography: Contemporary Debates and Classic Writings. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Limited. ISBN 978-1-4051-4922-8. 
  • Soja, Edward (1989). Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory. Verso, London. 

External links

  • [1] - Social and Spatial Inequalities

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