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Christophe Tournu

Professeur, LSHA
© Université de Strasbourg, 2011
Outline of the course

This course will fall into 6 parts:

 Physical and human geography of the US
(Part 1)
 Physical and human geography of the US
(Part 2)
 Myth and History
 US Political Institutions
 The US Economy and Welfare
 American Culture
Useful material

 A 50-page color booklet booklet accompanies

the course. It is on sale at the Photocopying
Service (FR: Reprographie) (5€).
It contains different color maps and charts as well as a chronology of US history and the
original Constitution of the United States of America. You will also find a fascinating
chapter on US culture.
For the final exam, you will be asked questions on the course as well as on the material I
have included in the booklet.

 Information will be regularly posted on our

websites : E-Langues
Guide pédagogique, p. 48 :

S2 – UE5 Civilisation
Appliquer les concepts étudiés au semestre 1 aux aires
géographiques américaine et britannique. Lire un ouvrage en lien
avec le cours.
Contrôle des connaissances, session 1 :
« Type de questions analogues à ce qui est proposé au semestre 1. »
[20 questions de type QCM; questions fermées ou questions
ouvertes nécessitant une réponse courte]
Epreuve portant sur le cours et sur un texte de civilisation au
programme (document d’une taille comprise entre 50 et 100
Course #1 – 18 January 2011
Location and map of the US
Physical and human geography of
the US (Part 1)
 The United States is a large country of 9,631,418 sq square
kilometers situated in North America (with Canada and Mexico). It is
seventeen times as big as France, or as large as Europe from the
Atlantic to Oural, or sligthly larger than China.
 What is called Continental US are the 48 contiguous states
bounded on the north by Canada, on the east by the Atlantic Ocean,
on the south by the Gulf and Republic of Mexico, and on the west by
the Pacific Ocean.
 Two more states joined the Union in the 20th century: Alaska and
Hawaii (1959). Alaska is separated from Continental US by more
than 500 miles of Canadian territory. Hawaii, a chain of volcanic and
coral islands, lies about 2,400 miles southwest of California in the
Pacific Ocean.
 In addition to the 50 states the US has territories and possessions,
located in the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean
US Commonwealths and Territories
- Puerto Rico
- The Virgin Islands
- Guam
- American Samoa
- Northern Mariana Islands
Physical Map of the US
The 8 physiographic divisions

1. The Gulf and Atlantic coastal plains

They are low-lying flatlands near the seashore and

extend from Massachusetts, in the NE, to Texas, in
the SE.
The 8 physiographic divisions – Ctd.

 1. 1. The Atlantic coastal plain is a 2,200 mile

flat stretch of land bordering the Atlantic
Ocean from Cape Cod in Ma. to Fl.
The Atlantic Coastal plain includes many rivers
descending from the Piedmont Plateau, hence the
presence of rapids and waterfalls. There are also many
sandy beaches, but also lagoons and marshy wetlands,
e.g. Beaufort, South Carolina:
The 8 physiographic divisions – ctd.

 1. 2. The Gulf Coastal Plain

The Gulf Coastal Plain stretches west along the Florida
Panhandle and southwest along the coast of Texas. It
extends northwards with the alluvial plain of the
Mississippi River.
 It is a mixture of flat land, hills, and mineral-rich soil.
 There are deltas and bayous in the gulf coastal plains. A bayou is a
sluggish, marshy stream connected to a river (e.g. the Mississippi):

See also the Everglades in Florida.

 And a delta refers to alluvial deposits on either side of a
river, e.g. the Mississippi River:

 The Coastal Plains are low-leveled and bounded

landward by highlands.
The 8 physiographic divisions – ctd.

 2. The Appalachians

The Appalachian Mountains are located eastward of the

Atlantic Coastal Plain. They extend from northern
Alabama to southeastern Canada.
Appalachians are an ancient mountain range – hence
their relatively low elevation – and they stretch 1,250
miles. They are forest covered. See, e.g., the Great
Smoky Mountains running through Tennessee and
The 8 physiographic divisions – ctd.

 3. The Interior Plains

West of the Appalachians, you come across the huge

Interior Plains. They stretch to the Great Plains just east
of the Rockies.

They are a huge region of flat lands and low hills. They
stretch for 1,200 miles across the center of the US and
extend from the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico.
They are crisscrossed by many rivers (Missouri, Arkansas,
Platte River, Mississippi, and Ohio River) and bounded by
the Great Lakes (Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake
Huron, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario).
At about the 100th meridian, they gradually rise to the
Great Plains, which occupy 502,000 square mile of west-
central North America …
The 8 physiographic divisions – ctd.

 The Interior Highlands : Ozarks and Ouachita

The Interior Highlands are located just W of the Mississippi River
between the Interior Plains and the Gulf Coastal Plain. This region
consists of the rolling Ozarks to the north and the Ouachita
Mountains, to the east.
 The Ozarks
 The Ouachita Mountains
The 8 physiographic divisions – ctd.

 5. The Rockies
The Rockies is a great mountain chain, which stretches
NW – SE from northern British Columbia in Canada to
the southern US State of New Mexico. They run more
than 3,000 miles and their width ranges from 120 to
650 kilometers.
The Rockies
Geologically young, they are much taller than the
Appalachians (above 5,000 feet) and considerably more

They form a majestic mountain barrier.

See The Old faithful – webcam >>).

The 8 physiographic divisions – ctd.

 6. The Intermontane Plateaus

They lie west of the Rocky Mountains and

consist in a large, arid desert between the
Rockies and the Cascades and Sierra Nevada
 6 – (a) The Colorado Plateau

It includes large barren areas, spectacular geological

formations – such as the Grand Canyon (>>), the Arches
(>>), and Bryce Canyon (>>)
 6 - (b) The Basin and Range Province

It is a series of separate and parallel mountain ranges

sitting parallel to low, broad valleys (basins).

It spans almost 800,000 square kilometers.

The Death Valley is to be found there.
Three well known towns are located there:
Las Vegas, capital of Nevada;
Phoenix, capital of Arizona;
and Salt Lake City, capital of Utah.
 6 - (c) The Columbia Plateau

It is an area of flat land and gently rolling hills cut by

the river canyons of the Columbia and its tributaries.
The 8 physiographic divisions – ctd.

 7. The Pacific system (Cascade Range and

Sierra Nevada)

It is one of the most geologically young and

tectonically active in North America.
 7 – (a) The Cascade Range

The Cascades are a lofty mountain range of the north-

western US. They lie from about 100 to 150 miles inland
from the Pacific Ocean and stretch over 700 miles across
California, Oregon and Washington. The highest point is
Mount Rainier (4,392 m/ 14,410 ft), in Washington.
 7 (b) The Sierra Nevada

Spanish for “snowy mountain range”

The Sierra Nevada is a high, rugged, and dense mountain
It extends more than 250 miles (400 km)in California
from the Cascades in the north to the Mojave Desert in
the south.
It averages 50 miles in width.
Mount Whitney (>>), at 14,494 feet (4,418 metres), is the
highest peak in the coterminous United States.
Yosemite National Park is part of SN.
The 8 physiographic divisions – ctd.

8. The Laurentian Upland

An eighth and last physiographic division could be the
Laurentian Upland, a U-shaped region of ancient rock
located mostly in Canada but which extends over parts
of Northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and New
York State. It consists in rolling hills, lakes and wetlands.
The Adirondack Mountains in the state of NY and the
Superior Highlands might be regarded as parts of the
Laurentian Upland.
The 8 physiographic divisions – ctd.
To go further…

 A more detailed physiographic map >>

 Summary (video) >>