Geography is more than maps, compasses, and mountain ranges. According to National Geographic, geography is “the study of places and the relationships between people and their environments”.
The importance of geography doesn’t just come from understanding the physical properties of the world, although that is of course important in its own right. It also comes from how it connects people to their environment. The ability to understand this connectedness makes geography an important part of education, of our understanding of the world around us, and our understanding of human history.
The importance of geography in education
While geography is not generally considered a core subject in the same way that English, math, and science are, it can be a vital component of a well-rounded education. Geography helps students to understand the physical world, such as land, air, water, and ecology. It also helps them to understand human environments, such as societies and communities. This also includes economics, social and cultural issues, and sometimes morals and ethics.
Beyond this, it helps students to learn about the interdependence between humans and their environment, particularly in terms of trade, migration, and climate change. This gives students a sense of place and space as well as of scale, with a recognition of the importance of local, regional, national, international, and global focuses.
The importance of geography in education extends out beyond the subject itself. Geography allows students to integrate their learning across different subjects, such as those in the sciences, humanities, and the arts. Geography helps to increase students’ scientific literacy which can be useful throughout life, for example through applying critical thinking to medical news or decisions.
It also provides a bridge to the pure sciences by providing an engaging and tangible way of applying its principles, which can open up this area to students who may have otherwise not pursued it. It also provides students with a sense of global citizenship, which they can apply throughout their lives and careers.
The importance of geography in human life
Many of the reasons why geography is important in education are the same reasons why it is important for human life. Geography provides a different perspective on the world and its events, both spatially and on different scales. This allows, for example, global events and news to be placed in context based on the geographical area and how it relates to the rest of the world.
Beyond this, geography is important for an understanding of globalization. In the modern world, globalization is becoming more and more important, as countries and their people can connect instantaneously. An understanding of different cultures based on their geographical area is key to being able to relate as part of the global community. On the opposite end of the scale, geography allows local events to be placed in the particular context that they require.
An understanding of geography can also be important on an individual level. For example, when traveling to a different country, an understanding of the geographic area and the particularities of the culture can allow for a more meaningful trip and shows a greater respect to the area and its people.
Geography also provides an understanding of navigational skills that can be helpful when taking part in pursuits such as hiking or sailing, or when traveling long distances. It even helps with understanding why towns and cities are laid out in the way they are. As well as this, geography provides an understanding of the physical systems that underlie important current issues such as climate change, deforestation, and water availability. This greater understanding can influence decision making in a positive way to reduce the impact of human behavior on climate change and its damage to the planet.
The importance of geography in history
Arguably, you cannot understand the past without understanding geography. Human events do not happen in a vacuum. They always occur at a particular time, and in a particular place. The geography of history is focused on understanding the place.
Geography can help address the human characteristics that were important for the events (e.g. population or demographics). It can help to understand the geographical environment that the events occurred within (e.g. water sources or elevation). Were there any weather events that influenced the events? Importantly, it can help to uncover the human-environmental relationships that may have influenced the event. For example, what influence did the people have on their environment? And how did the geographical area influence the events that took place?
A good example of geography affecting history is Ancient Egypt. The River Nile was vitally important to Ancient Egyptians and almost the entire empire was situated along its banks. The river provided them with food and water, a place to bathe, a way of easily transporting their goods. It’s regular flooding in September made the land fertile, allowing for agriculture in the middle of a desert.
The mud from the Nile was even used to make the majestic structures that the Ancient Egyptians built, such as the Great Pyramids. In turn, the river seeped into the consciousness of the culture to the extent that they believed in a god of the Nile. In this way, the geography of the area is inextricably linked with the history of the area. Without it, the Ancient Egyptian culture as we know it, and its rich history, would likely never have existed.
The importance of geography relates to a diverse range of areas, and this is because geography is the study of a diverse range of subjects. It is not just the study of physical geography, but it also encompasses the study of culture, society, history, economics, trade, to name a few.
Because of this, geography is important in education. It provides students with a broad understanding of science and the humanities and provides them with several important skills that can be translated both to other subjects and to their life and career later on.
Geography is also important in human life. Without it, a true understanding of important events would be very difficult. Geography allows the placing of these events in their spatial context, locally all the way to globally.
Finally, geography and history go hand in hand. There is no understanding of history and its events without an understanding of the geographical context in which they occurred.