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Human geography is one of the two major sub-disciplines of geography. It studies the world, its people, communities, and cultures with an emphasis on relations of and across space and place. Human geography differs from physical geography mainly in that it has a greater focus on studying human activities. As a discipline, human geography is particularly diverse with respect to its methods and theoretical approaches to study.

Development of Human Geography

  • environmental determinism: exemplified the emphasis on the natural environment in explaining human actions
  • focused on the unique blend of factors (both physical and human) that produced distinctive throughout the middle decades of the 20th century
  • spatial analysis: the “Age of Models” (e.g. Von Thünen’s land-use zones and Walther Christaller’s central place theory)
  • humanistic geography: asserted the centrality of people and focused on the meanings of place (i.e. focused on qualitative meanings and values and on the diversity of human behaviour)
  • structuralism: offered a grand theory that explained both human behaviour and its societal outcomes; a central idea was that there were powerful forces within society that conditioned the kinds of lifestyles that could be followed
  • debate between structure (deeper forces) and agency (individual decision-makers)
  • post-structuralism and postmodernism: emphasised the differences and diversity within human populations
  • became organised around systematic themes
  • the “cultural turn”: first concerned with the outcome of culture as it worked on the world, but later concerned with the inner workings of culture (i.e. meanings and values that underlie places and activities)

Characteristics of Modern Human Geography

  • new issues introduced (e.g. gender and sexuality, ethnicity and race)
  • issue-based approaches (e.g. geography of money and consumption)
  • a variety of approaches exist currently
  • there is a desire to defend a particular approach
  • but there is also a willingness to recognise and learn from other approaches

Sub-fields of Human Geography

  • population geography
  • political geography
  • urban geography
  • development geography
  • economic geography
  • cultural geography
  • social geography
  • etc.

Notable Human Geographers

  • Carl Ritter (1779 – 1859), considered the father of human geography
  • Carl O. Sauer (1889 – 1975), critic of environmental determinism and proponent of cultural ecology
  • Walter Christaller (1893 – 1969), economic geographer and developer of the central place theory
  • David Harvey (born 1935), world's most cited academic geographer, also noted for his work in critical geography and critique of global capitalism

Contemporary Issues in Human Geography

  • geography of crime
  • geographical meanings in literature and film
Human geography