Introduction: The "Why of Where" 🌐🌎
Unit 1 is all about the skills, concepts, and phenomena required to think like a geographer. A common phrase introduced in this unit that serves as the foundation for the entire course is the "why of where"—why are things where they are? Rather than simply memorizing geographic terms and concepts, you'll need to think 🧠 like a geographer by constantly asking why things (people, places, phenomena) are where they are. Here are few examples from each unit in the course:
Why are there more people 👱👲👳👴👵👦👧 in China and India than anywhere else in the world? (Population)
Why are some countries wealthy 💰💲 while many others are not? (Economic Development)
Why do so many migrants 🚶 come from African and the Middle East? (Migration)
Why is the English language 🗣 and Christianity ⛪ so dominant throughout the world? (Culture)
Why does globalization—the increasingly interconnectedness 🔗 of the world 🗺—serve as a strength and threat people groups? (Culture/Industry)
Why does the European Union exist, and why did Great Britain leave the EU? (Political)
Why have Americans become obsessed with organic foods 🍅🍇🍉🍌🍏🍑🍓🌾🌿 in recent years? (Food & Agriculture)
Why are our clothes, smartphones 📱, and cars 🚙 made in factories 🏭 outside the US? (Industry)
Why are the largest cities 🌆 in the world in some of the poorest countries? (Urbanization)
Spatial Analysis 🔎🌍
Unit 1 also serves as an introduction the the practice of spatial thinking and analysis. Geographers employ a variety of concepts, skills, and tools to enhance their understanding of the world. Developing an understanding of location, distance, direction, patterns, and interconnections are essential to developing spatial analysis skills.
Location & Place
Spatial thinking involves understanding the difference between absolute and relative location—what's the exact location of El Paso, Texas (absolute location) vs. El Paso, Texas borders Mexico (relative location). A spatial perspective also includes a proper understanding of the concept of place—the specific human 👪 (race & ethnicity) and physical characteristics 🌄 (climate, presence of rivers, mountains, etc.) of a location.
Distance & Connection
Understanding how far apart people and places are from each other is another crucial component of spatial thinking. Knowing the physical distance and the "time-distance" ⏰📏 between people and places are equally important to geographers. Time-distance simply means the amount of time between places ("a 2-hour drive from Sacramento to San Francisco"). Geographers are increasingly analyzing the concept of time-space compression to better understand how modern communication 📞📱 and transportation technologies 🚙✈🚁 have decreased the time-space between places and increased connections between people and places throughout the world.
Image from The Condition of Postmodernity
Density & Distribution
Other tools in a geographer's skillset are looking at density and distribution patterns of different places. Density is simply the number of something in a defined area (the population of Brooklyn, New York), while distribution is the way something is spread out over an area (where different types of people live in neighborhoods throughout Brooklyn). Geographers look for distribution patterns to better understand unique places.
Maps are arguably the most important tool utilized by geographers. Unit 1 introduces a variety of types of maps, the difference between map scale and geographic scale, and various types of map projections and the strengths 💪 and weakness 😩 of each. While understanding how to read physical and political maps is important, the unit will cover how to analyze data presented in thematic maps—those that show illustrate spatial aspects of information or various phenomena.
Finally, Unit 1 will introduce the concept of regionalization—the division and categorization of places into smaller areas. Regions are important in the process of spatial analysis because they allow geographers to learn about patterns, processes, and connections 🔗 between places at different scales. The maps below show the regions and sub-regions you'll need to become familiar with as you progress through the course.
World Sub Regions
*Cover image from Unsplash