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Geography Department at SUNY Oneonta
317 Milne Library
(607) 436-3459

 
 

What is Geography?

 
 

"Geography is the only subject that asks you to look at the world and try to make sense of it. The field never stops being exciting because that's what geography is all about - trying to make sense of the world."   --Peirce F. Lewis, Geographer

Geography is the science of place and space. Geographers ask where things are located on the surface of the earth, why they are located where they are, how places differ from one another, and how people interact with the environment. Geography is unique in linking the social sciences and natural sciences together. Geography is the study of patterns on the Earth caused by humans and nature. Since many types of such patterns have formed and are constantly forming, geography encompasses very diverse fields:

  • nature-society interactions,
  • spatial distributions and patterns of human activities or human geography, and
  • methods and models for measuring and interpreting patterns on the Earth. 

You want to understand the world. Why not start with a river, a city, a mountain, a road, and follow it to the ends of the earth? Geography asks the big questions — How? Why? What if? — and lets you answer them with advanced technology and a solid knowledge of the world in which you live.

1.         Manage natural and urban environments
2.         Analyze the evolving relationship between people and places
3.         Plan transportation routes
4.         Investigate sustainable land use worldwide
5.         Create Geographic Management Systems for industries and government agencies
6.         Help understand and restore natural ecosystems

Geographers make a difference!  You can too!


What Geographers Do
Geographers work in many different areas, such as environmental management, education, disaster response, city and county planning, community development, and more! Geography is an interdisciplinary field that offers diverse career opportunities.

There are two main branches of geography: human geography and physical geography. Human geography is concerned with the spatial aspects of human existence — how people and their activities are distributed in space, how people use and perceive space, and how they create and sustain the places that make up the earth's surface. Human geographers work in the fields of urban and regional planning, transportation, marketing, real estate, tourism, and international business.

Physical geographers study patterns of climates, land forms, vegetation, soils, and water. They forecast the weather, study land and water resources, and manage forests, rangelands, and wetlands.

Geographers also study the relationships between human activity and natural systems. Geographers were, in fact, among the first scientists to sound the alarm that human-induced changes to the environment were beginning to threaten the balance of life itself. They are active in the study of climate change, desertification, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, groundwater pollution, and flooding.

Geographers use many tools and techniques in their work, and geographic technologies are increasingly among the most important emerging fields for understanding our complex world. They include Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Remote Sensing, Global Positioning Systems (GPS), online mapping such as Google Earth, and others.

How do I Know if I Want to be a Geographer?

If you answer yes to a majority of these questions, you may have a bright future in geography.

  1. Are you curious about places? If so, geography channels this interest into a rigorous study of the makeup of places and what makes them tick.
  2. Do you like to study maps? The geographer's first inclination is to put information on a map in order to see how it looks spatially.
  3. Do you prefer the window seats on airplanes? Geography tries to explain the constantly changing patterns of human activity and natural phenomena on the landscape.
  4. Are you interested in foreign areas? Many geographers specialize in a particular part of the world such as Latin America, Europe, Asia or Africa.
  5. Do you like to work outside? Many geographers obtain their basic data from field investigation in environments that range from wilderness areas to cities.
  6. Are you a problem solver? As scientists, geographers are naturally curious about how the world is arranged. They ask lots of questions about why things are located the way they are and then they try to answer those questions.
  7. Are you good at seeing connections among seemingly unrelated processes? One of geography's strengths is its ability to integrate ideas about human behavior, social institutions and the natural environment.
  8. Can you adapt to rapid technological change? Geography has been buffeted by monumental changes in technology. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) has revolutionized the way geographers collect, store, analyze and present spatial information.
  9. Do you try to see the big picture? Geographers look at how places interact with each other and how they are influenced by larger more global forces. Geographers think big!
  10. Are you interested in connections between people and the environment? Geographers see the world as the human habitat, one that we have transformed and that has transformed us.

Source: Modified from the Association of American Geographers. Visit AAG.org for more information.