Unit I

GEOGRAPHY

AS A

DISCIPLINE

CHAPTER 

Y

NATURE

AND

SCOPE

OF

GEOGRAPHY

ou have already been introduced to geography as a part of social science in secondary school. As such you learnt about the world — its people and places; distribution of various natural and cultural features and phenomena over the earth’s surface; and the emerging patterns of humanenvironment interactions at local, regional and global levels. Now, at this stage, you are being introduced to geography as a ‘discipline’ for the first time. In this chapter, you will get to know the nature and scope of geography and its evolution over the years and the main branches. Soon you would realise that this fascinating area of study, offers immense possibilities to use and apply the knowledge and skills required for living and working in today’s world. NATURE OF GEOGRAPHY You must have noted that geography is concerned with the study of the earth’s surface where all life forms including human beings live and all human activities take place. The earth’s surface includes the oceans, the atmosphere, the upper part of the earth’s crust and the biosphere. The earth’s sur face is ever changing, sometimes slowly and imperceptibly, while at others, rapidly and perceptibly. In general, the natural phenomena like mountains, rivers, lakes etc. change slowly while the cultural phenomena like buildings, roads, crops, etc. change fast. Geography studies the origin of these changing phenomena; the processes that change them and have brought them to the present state and arranged them in space in the way they exist. It also studies the

implications of location and arrangement of these phenomena for human beings. Over 6,000 million people live on the earth in innumerable places called villages, towns and cities spread over many continents and countries. Continents, mountains, rivers, plains and many other physical features are the outcome of natural processes in action, while countries, villages, towns, cities, agriculture, industry, means of transport and communication etc. are the products of human activities. A process is a sequence of change systematically related through a chain of causes and effects. Human beings use the natural resources of the earth such as land, water, air, minerals, animals, forests and many others to make a living and to shape their culture. In doing so they change the earth surface enormously. It is no longer natural in the real sense except in remote areas that are still inaccessible, such as Antarctica. The inhabited part of the earth has a clear imprint of the human use of nature. Geography thus, studies the sur face features of the earth and their association with one another and derives meaningful spatial or regional patterns. It studies the factors and processes, which change these features; their mutual relationships; and their spatial arrangement. And finally it studies the implications of the above changes for human beings and their activities. It would be pertinent to note that all surface features of the earth that attract the attention of geographers are not visible; many of them are conceptual and, therefore, cannot be seen on the ground. For example, we cannot see education, health, per capita income as we can see rivers, mountains, roads

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FUNDAMENTALS OF PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY

etc. We can, however, see their social topography when we convert their intensities into patterns on maps. Thus, we have maps that show literacy, mortality, longevity of life, environment, prevalence of diseases, quality of life, etc. Nature provides the base, the resources as well as the resistances. Human beings use these natural endowments to evolve their cultures and civilisations. Culture is the cumulative product of experiences; it consists of values, norms, beliefs, thoughts, ethical standards and styles of life and living. Civilisation is the physical manifestation of culture. Houses, villages, cities, means of transport and communication, agriculture, industry, etc. forms part of civilisation. Apparently, the two are closely related and almost inseparable. In our discussion, we will use the term culture to include civilisation. Culture is cumulative and therefore, ever changing. In ancient societies human interaction with nature was rather direct: As time passed, experience accumulated to give rise to various kinds of cultures. Cultures are not only the outcome of the interaction between humans and nature but also among the humans living in different natural environments. It is an ever evolving and ever changing phenomenon. That is why in similar natural settings, cultures and civilisations are not always the same. The earth surface that geographer studies is, therefore, not homogeneous or isometric; it is marked by vast differences in both natural and cultural features. Geography is thus, a natural-cum-human science engaged in the study of factors and processes, both natural and human, that shape the earth surface and give rise to different cultures and civilisations. It classifies and delineates the earth features to arrive at regional patterns and structures; it identifies the agencies and processes at work to change the existing patterns; and predicts the possible outcomes of the processes at work. Thus, geography tries to answer the following questions: • What are the natural and cultural features on the surface of the earth?

• • • •

How have they come into being? How are they distributed and why? How are they associated with each other? Are the existing patterns of distribution conducive to human welfare? • What can be done to modify them? • What are the implications of the proposed changes for humans? To sum up, geography is a science that studies the spatial arrangement of things on the surface of the earth resulting from a dynamic interaction between humans and nature. Unlike other disciplines, geography cannot be defined by its subject matter for anything present on the earth surface can be and is studied by it. Geography uses information provided by various disciplines, all the way from nuclear physics to, let us say, ancient history, as raw materials to analyse the emerging patterns and structures of the earth sur face and their implications for human beings. SCOPE OF GEOGRAPHY Literal meaning of the term ‘geography’ is ‘description of the earth’ (geo = earth + graphos=description). The term was first used by Eratosthenes, a Greek geographer who lived in Alexandria, Egypt during 276-192 BC. This is how geography was conceived in ancient times. At present, it is no longer confined to the description of the earth. It has now acquired the status of a science that explains the arrangement of various natural and cultural features on the earth surface. In this section we will examine the scope of geography in greater details. Geography is often called the mother of all sciences. There is some truth in it. Humans in their early stages of civilised life had to cope with an omnipotent and omnipresent nature. Nature was most important object of curiosity. As apparent from ancient literary works of practically all cultures, nature was often personified and its elements were presented as Gods and Goddesses, and devils and evil spirits, depending upon how they affected human life. Humans suffered from serious limitations imposed by nature because nature

NATURE AND SCOPE OF GEOGRAPHY

5

was overpowering and the technological means to control it were primitive and toothless. As such humans adjusted themselves to natural environment; they did not try to transgress the dictates of nature; they cooperated with nature and felt one with it. Domestication of animals and plants set in motion a great change in human life. It culminated in Agricultural Revolution, which lasted until eighteenth century in Europe and nineteenth century in Asia, Africa and Latin America. As the cultural base of humans expanded, their relationship with nature changed from subservience to cooperation. Their tools and techniques improved, as did their knowledge pool. By the seventeenth century, they broke the shackles of nature and ventured to control it to their advantage. They developed a great variety of mechanical and chemical devices to usher in a change that is popularly known as Industrial Revolution. It took about three centuries, eighteenth to twentieth to spread all over the world. The strength of the Industrial Revolution lay in scientific inventions on the one hand and European discovery of the sea routes to reach sparsely settled rich lands of Americas, Australia, Africa and highly advanced cultures of Asia on the other. With increasing interaction, knowledge about continents and oceans, mountains and plains, rivers and lakes, and peoples and places increased many fold and measurements of distances, directions, heights, and depths along with details of cultural landscapes became necessary for preparing maps and charts. Geography became really global. The attitude of human beings changed and they started moving away from mythology to scientific presentation of both natural and human phenomena. Once the spirit of scientific enquiry was kindled and information about the world became more copious, the urge for deeper analysis of the processes that gave rise to such a great variety of natural and cultural features in the world grew. This necessitated

specialisation, which ultimately gave rise to systematic disciplines like physics, chemistry, biology, economics, sociology, political science, etc. that once formed part of one unified discipline called geography. Today there are hundreds of disciplines and sub-disciplines aiming at unravelling the mysteries of nature and human behaviour, not holistically, but from one or the other perspective. They individually see part of the reality even if in great depth, not the whole of it. The branching off of specialised disciplines did not, however, diminish the place and importance of geography. The need for a discipline, which looked at the causes and consequences of the arrangement of various natural and cultural features of earth surface holistically existed before and exists even today. Geography does not compete with specialised sister disciplines; apart from generating its own information, it takes knowledge generated by them and processes it to build up theories and principles to explain the ongoing changes on the earth surface. Geography is, therefore, a truly holistic and interdisciplinary field of study engaged in understanding the changing spatial structure at different territorial levels, global to local, and at different times, from past to the future. EVOLUTION OF GEOGRAPHY As noted earlier, geography is perhaps the oldest intellectual preoccupation of man. Its foundation was laid by Indian, Chinese, Greek, Arab, and other scholars of times immemorial who ventured out beyond their own locale to write about other lands and peoples. Atharva Veda written around tenth century BC gives the details of the then known earth; its physical features, biogeography and human settlements. Indian Rishis went to different parts of the world to carry the message of Indian culture particularly of Hinduism and Buddhism to Central Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, eastern coast of Africa, etc. The Chinese scholars made similar trips to different parts of the then known world particularly to India, and so did the Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Greek and Arab

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travellers. They were the first discoverers of the unknown lands. The experiential knowledge of these itinerants produced a unique culture, the imprints of which still persist in the commonality of certain human values in South, Southeast and East Asia. One gets a sense of unity in diversity . In sixth century BC, Thales of Miletus, a Greek geographer gave the size and shape of the earth; in second century BC, Ptolemy gave latitudes and longitudes for map making and locating places. In first century BC, Strabo, a Roman geographer gave detailed description of the world in 17 volumes. The contributions of Indian astronomers and geographers were highly advanced for their times. Aryabhatta propounded the theory of heliocentric universe a century before Copernicus, and Bhaskaracharya mentioned about the gravity of the earth, 1,200 years before Newton. Kalidasa’s description of the geography of central India in Meghdoota is highly professional. Arabs too made significant contributions and carried the known knowledge to far off places. In fourteenth century AD, Ibn Batuta, travelled to India and wrote about its land and people. During fourteenth to eighteenth centuries, discoveries of new lands and ocean routes generated vast amount of information about physical configurations of the world and the places and people beyond the shores of Europe. These details enabled Europeans to migrate from overpopulated Europe to less populated lands of Americas, Australia and parts of Africa relieving Europe from the growing pressure of population. It also enabled the Europeans to politically and economically subjugate practically the whole of the resource rich Asia, Africa, Australia and Americas. Control over the resources of the world and the opportunity for emigration to other lands, were the main factors behind the rise of Eur ope as the most developed continent of the world. By the end of the eighteenth century, efforts were afoot to scientifically analyse the geographical accounts available from various sources. Two German geographers, A.V.

Humboldt and Karl Ritter played a leading role. Prior to them Imanuel Kant, the great German master of logical thought, had given geography its place in the overall framework of organised objective knowledge otherwise known as science. He enumerated five sub-fields of geography: mathematical geography; moral (cultural) geography; political geography; commercial geography, and theological (religious) geography. Geography became a very popular subject in schools because it gave knowledge about the lands to prospective migrants, administrators and traders. Gradually, along with the description of places and peoples, explanation for varying responses of people to natural environment was also presented. Thus, geography, in the later half of the nineteenth century, emerged as the study of the dynamics of man-environment relationship and its imprints on the earth surface. Geographers were not however united on the question of man-environment relationship. Those who postulated that environment controlled or determined human activities were called ‘determinists’. They were lead by Friederich Ratzel and Elsworth Huntington. And those who said that man could modify the environment to create new opportunities for himself were lead by Vidal de la Blache and L. Febvre. They were known as ‘possibilists.’ In early twentieth century, H.J. Mackinder, a British geographer of German origin, looked at geography as a science of relationships; as a study of arrangement and association of things on the face of the earth to form regional systems and structures. He strongly advocated for synthesis of physical and cultural streams of geography into a regional frame. According to him humans could not exist without nature and nature could not escape the influence of humans. The two together shaped the earth surface and gave rise to regional patter ns and structures. Thus, Mackinder defined geography as an outlook, as a way of looking at the earth; it did not confine itself to any specific domain of factual information; it

NATURE AND SCOPE OF GEOGRAPHY

7

studied the spatial patterns on the earth surface, the processes involved in their evolution, and the impacts they produced on humans and their activities. Thus, geography in the twentieth century became a discipline, which studied the earth surface from two perspectives: systematic and regional. The former produced subdisciplines like geomorphology, climatology, biogeography, political geography, economic geography, health geography etc., while the latter gave rise to regional geography, regional science, regional development, regional planning, area planning, etc. The first started with systematic knowledge to arrive at regional patterns, while the second started with regions to arrive at systematic details. In both cases, humans remained a central theme: how systemic processes and regional patterns affected humans and their activities. In the second half of the twentieth century, search for an acceptable definition of geography was abandoned. It was realised that no living discipline could be defined once for all. It must change with time. Geography too must change and no definition could be considered final. A group of geographers, economists, and statisticians under the leadership of Walter Isard of University of Pennsylvania, USA joined hands to evolve a new and hybrid analytical discipline called Regional Science. It brought geography closer to other social sciences and mathematics and triggered of f what is now known as quantitative revolution in geography. As quantitative methods and techniques of Regional Science penetrated other social sciences, an environment of cross-fertilisation set in and quantitative geography became a craze during 1960s and 1970s. It provided scientific tools to study the relationship between physical and human phenomena, and carry out regional analysis with a precision never attempted before. It enabled geographers to handle large number of factors and processes together to discern meaningful patterns and structures. Along with quantitative revolution, the signs of another major revolutionary change

became apparent in 1970s. It was Information Revolution; its impact became apparent in 1990s. Apart from the fact that it enabled geographers to use their newly acquired quantitative techniques with greater ease and swiftness, it produced immense amount of information in photographs taken from several thousand metres above the earth otherwise known as remote sensing. Such photos were taken from aircrafts in post- World War II decades. To begin with, it was meant to secure information about enemy positions and movements during the war but soon it became an important source of information for development of agriculture, industry, transportation, communication and public utilities. Along with the air photographs came photogrammetry, the technique of air photo interpretation. The 1980s brought artificial satellites, which circled the earth at a set speed and route, several kilometres above the earth to take photographs of much larger chunks of the earth and with far greater precision and sharpness than the aircrafts could ever do. It is possible to get satellite imageries (photographs) with a resolution of less than one metre, that is to say that even a metre long thing could be photographed and identified. Further, practically all details of the earth surface, above it and below it, can be photographed. It is possible to image mineral deposits and sources of ground water, to chart weather conditions, to locate various features of the earth surface and changes therein, and to trace the movement of people, armies, goods and services from place to place The satellite imageries have made air photograph antiquated. The information they provide is unimaginably vast and detailed. They have enabled geographers to develop Geographic Information System (GIS), Land Information System (LIS), and Global Positioning System (GPS) as location decision, administrative and managerial tools. Geography of the twenty-first century is set to enter a new era of Spatial Information Technology (SIT). Geographers of tomorrow would be trained not only in answering the question what is where and

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FUNDAMENTALS OF PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY

why but also in what should be where and why; not only in generating information for decision making but also in actively participating in decision making. The last quarter of the twentieth century has put geography on a new trajectory of development with SIT as the main source of information and information processing. It was also a period when concern about the deteriorating environment became vocal. Pollution of land, water, and air reached an alarming state. Environment had always been a major concern of geography. Environmental geography thus, emerged as a major branch of geography. BRANCHES OF GEOGRAPHY Today geography is the only discipline that brings all natural and human sciences on a common platfor m to understand the dynamics of the spatial configuration of the earth surface. It is an interdisciplinary and integrative science having numerous branches (Fig.1.1). Space in geographic terminology is the congregation of places on earth sur face to form patter ns and structures, which support life particularly human life. Systematic Geography Geography looks at the earth surface from two perspectives: systematic, and regional. A study of specific natural or social phenomenon that gives rise to certain spatial patterns and structures on the earth surface is called systematic study. There can be as many systematic branches of geography as the phenomena studied. Ordinarily, systematic geography is divided into four main branches: • Physiography, conventionally known as physical geography; • Biogeography, including environmental geography; • Human geography, also referred as cultural geography; and • Geographic methods and techniques.

Physical Geography Physical geography can be divided into four main sub-branches: • Geomorphology; • Climatology; • Hydrology; • Soil geography. Geomorphology is a genetic study of landfor ms like continents, mountains, plateaus, plains, river valleys, and a vast number of other features. Climatology is the systematic study of climate and its constituent elements like temperature, pressure, winds, rainfall, storms, etc. and their distribution. Hydrology is the study of the role water plays in nature and human life through oceans, rivers, glaciers, and water vapour. Soil geography is the study of soil formation, its typology and distribution. Biogeography The main sub-branches of biogeography are: • Plant geography; • Zoogeography; • Human ecology; and • Environmental geography. Plant geography studies the distribution of various kinds of forests and grasslands. Zoo geography studies the distribution of animals and micro-organisms, and human ecology studies the changing human-nature relationship and its consequences for human life and living. Environmental geography studies the quality of the living environment and its implications for human welfare. Human Geography Human beings working with the nature create a great variety of cultural phenomena like villages, towns, cities, countries, factories, roads, houses, etc. They are also responsible for destroying many things through conflicts and wars. Study of location and distribution of all such phenomena fall under the purview of human geography. The main sub-branches of human geography are: • Cultural geography; • Social geography;

Geography

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Systematic

Regional

NATURE AND SCOPE OF GEOGRAPHY

t t t t t

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Physical Human/ Cultural Methods and Techniques of Geography

Bio

Regional Studies

Regional Planning

Regional Analysis

Regional Development

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Plant
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Zoo Field Survey Cartography Quantitative

Environmental
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Human Ecology

Geo-Informatics

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Geomorphology

Climatology

Hydrology

Soil

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Cultural

Social

Population

Urban Rural Economic

Agricultural

Industrial

Political

Geography of Trade and Transport

Fig1.1 : Geography — Branches and Sub-Fields

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FUNDAMENTALS OF PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY

• • • • • • • •

Population geography; Urban geography; Rural geography; Economic geography; Agricultural geography; Industrial geography; Political geography; Geography of trade and transport. Each of these studies the distribution of the relevant elements, tries to find out the processes involved in their origin and uneven distribution, delimits the patter ns of distribution, and predicts the emerging patterns and structures. Geographic Methods and Techniques Under geographic methods and techniques come: • Field studies (physical as well socioeconomic surveys); • Cartography; • Quantitative geography; • Spatial information system (GIS, LIS, GPS). Regional Geography Unlike systematic geography, regional geography starts with the spatial imprints of one or all the systematic geographic processes discernible as regions of different sizes. Regions could be based on a single factor like relief, rainfall, vegetation, per capita income, literacy and so on. They could also be multifactor regions created by the association of two or more factors. Administrative areas like states, districts, tehsils/taluks, revenue villages also can be treated as regions, even if they have no rationale other than convenience. For planning and development purposes, one can form specialised regions. Identification of the relevant geographical characteristics of a region; study of interplay between nature and human and its regional implications; delimitation of regions using given criteria; tracing of mutual relationship among the regions, both vertical and horizontal; finding regional structures of economy, society, and polity; and regional

planning for problem areas and regions, are some of the principle concerns of regional geography. The main sub-branches of regional geography are: • Regional studies; • Regional analysis; • Regional development; • Regional planning including area and community planning. Regional studies encompass study of selected areas and regions to bring out their geographic personality and potentials. They include regional surveys. Regional analysis is far more technical than regional studies both in terms of methodology used and the scope. Regional analysis uses highly advanced statistical and mathematical techniques in analysing the data and lays greater emphasis on interregional relations and flows to determine the potentials of a region for future development. Regional development is a branch of study that focuses on the processes of development in a region and suggests policies and programs, which can help the region overcome its problems. Regional planning is a technical exercise involving the theory and practice of area planning for urban as well rural areas. To sum up, geography is a unified field of study known for its approach and point of view rather than for its subject matter. It studies the spatial structure of the earth surface and its implications for human life and living. As such the branches of geography listed above are not exhaustive; they are only indicative. There can be as many branches as the subject matters studied to arrive at meaningful scientific conclusions about the causes and consequences of the existing or emerging spatial patterns and structures of the whole or part of the earth surface. There are two ways of studying geographic problems. One of the ways is to select a geographical factor such as climate and study its mechanism to evolve typologies and to examine the causes and consequences of their spatial distribution on the surface of the earth. The focus in this case is on climate and climatic types as modified by local and

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regional factors. Such a study falls within the purview of systematic geography. Alter natively, one can start with a region, let us say a state of India, or a river basin, and then study it from different perspectives to understand its uniqueness, to diagnose its problems and to suggest policies and plans to solve the problems. In either case region is a common denominator. Scientific study of the causes and consequences of the spatial structure of the earth surface forms the core of geography. IMPORTANCE OF PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY This book pertains to physical geography. It covers all that is natural— lithosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere. Lithosphere covers land forms, atmosphere deals with climates, hydrosphere is the study of water features and biosphere focuses on living things like plants, animals, micro organisms and human beings. Soils are the products of all the four elements of physical geography. Modern geography, as it emerged in Europe, was oriented to physical aspects. This tradition continued almost till the end of the nineteenth century. Colonial era was marked by over emphasis on physical environment as a determining factor in human behaviour, but there were dissenting voices particularly from France and the United States where geographic patterns were considered primarily as products

of human mind working on the physical base of the earth rather than of nature working on man. Movement from the theory of environmental determinism to that of social determinism did play a balancing role and made geography once again a broad based discipline but it induced a mindset which treated natural environment — land, water, air, soils, vegetation, animals etc. — as mere resources to achieve economic progress. Resource exploitation became a desirable activity. This led to the destruction, pollution and shortage of practically all natural resources including free gifts like air. By 1950, humans realised the damage they had done to their own future. They realised that natural resources constituted the life support system on the earth. Their destruction could lead to extinction of all life on planet earth. Geographers in India, under the influence of American geographers and guided by theories of economic growth deemphasised physical geography. In the light of the new situation emerging from environmental crisis, geography has sought to return to its physical base. Geography of the twenty-first century has once again become a balanced, integrated and comprehensive discipline giving equal importance to both physical and human geography. There can be no geography without physical geography; nor there can be one without human geography.

EXERCISES

Review Questions 1. Answer the following questions: (i) Who first used the term ‘geography’? (ii) Why is geography often called the mother of all sciences? (iii) Why was the need felt for specialisation, which gave rise to systematic disciplines? (iv) Why did geography become a popular subject in schools by the end of the eighteenth century? (v) Name the two major revolutionary changes in geography, which influenced it most during the second half of the twentieth century. (vi) What are the two ways of studying geographic problems?

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2. Distinguish between: (i) Culture and civilisation; (ii) Systematic and regional geographies; (iii) ‘Deterministic’ and ‘Possibilistic’ schools of thought; (iv) Physical geography and biogeography. 3. Write short notes on the following: (i) Geography in the twentieth century; (ii) Geographic methods and techniques; (iii) Contributions of ancient Greek and Indian scholars to geography. 4. Discuss the scope of geography with changing times. 5. ‘There can be no geography without physical or human geography’. Explain this statement by giving suitable examples. Project Work Collect information regarding some eminent Indian geographers of the twentieth century and their contributions.

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