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The 5 Themes of Geography

Geography is the study of locations, and how we think about and interact with them. When we think about the field, we might picture maps and labels (which some think are boring). But, while it does use those things, it’s about much more than that. There are actually 5 different themes (or topics) in geography. Only one deals with location. As we’ll see, the others are equally, if not more important.
An image of a globe in front of a global map.

Location

The simplest of the 5 themes of geography is location. Location describes where something physically is. For example, the United States is located in the Western Hemisphere.

An illustration of the globe with clouds.

Location can be either vague or specific. I could say I’m located in the US. Or, I could say which state I live in.

This might seem like a bland theme. Yet, we can’t underestimate its usefulness. For one, we can think of location in terms of distance from the equator. This allows us to estimate how hot or cold it is somewhere. Another way to think about location is its distance from water. Locations closer to water have cooler, windy weather. They might also need protection from tropical storms.
 

Place

The next major theme in geography is place. Place describes the general feeling of a location. It’s like the setting of a book, but for somewhere in the real world.
 
We might think about it like this. If I told you to describe a jungle, what might you say? Personally, I’d talk about the dark soil, tall trees, and abundant wildlife. I’d mention that these things make me feel a little scared, but also excited. Notably, these things aren’t described by location alone. They describe the overall look and mood of a location. This is our sense of place.

An image from within a jungle, surrounded by trees and vines.

Welcome to the jungle.

It may be a familiar concept to you, and it’s certainly an important one. People often choose where to live with the concept of place. Perhaps they like the gloomy feeling of a rainy town. Oppositely, they may prefer the sunny heat of a desert. Each environment affects our day-to-day experiences differently.
 

Relationships with Places

We often say that humans have conquered nature, but that’s not totally true. We’re still very reliant on the Earth! In fact, we tend to form very close bonds with our environment. The two-way relationship between humans and their surroundings makes up another geographic theme. It’s termed, for obvious reasons, relationships with places.

An image of two men drilling in a cave.

Our activities are shaped by where we live. Near caves, for example, people might mine for a living.

An important fact, relating to this theme, is that 39% of Americans live on or near a coastline. And why might this be? Well, humans depend on the oceans for a lot. In the past, before we could transport food easily, living near the coast was a matter of nutrition. Nowadays, research shows that living near the coast might actually make us happier. There’s more on that in the links below if you’re interested.
 

Relationships Between Places (Movement)

Our world is a moving one! In the US, there are 253 million active cars and trucks on the road. And, every year, over 100 million people travel through New York’s major airports. That’s a great deal of movement. For all our talk about places and locations, we can’t forget that people are always moving between them.

An  illustration of the globe made with dots of light.

Our world is becoming increasingly connected. And I don’t just mean by the internet!

This is the base for our fourth theme: relationships between places (or movement). Movement is one of the most important themes for understanding today’s interconnected world. In reality, no (man-made) place can stand on its own. Most rely on trading to get what they need. What’s more, people travel all the time for work or leisure. This wasn’t always the case.
 

Region

Our last geographic theme is the region. Region is kind of a confusing word here. You might ask, how is it different from place or location? Well, a region is really a place defined by its components. It’s a group of places or locations, like a country. Another way to think about region is as the space in which a group of people lives.
 
Notably, regions are not permanent. They are, instead, a man-made creation (like a country or a city). As a result, their boundaries can be re-defined if the people living inside the region agree. This is what happens when a country adds a new state.

Other Great Resources:

Location and Health – Living Near the Coast: https://www.bbc.com/news/health-24214646

Interactive Notebook (with worksheets) on the 5 Themes of Geography:  https://www.cabarrus.k12.nc.us/cms/lib09/NC01910456/Centricity/Domain/2836/Five%20Themes%20of%20Geography%20Project.pdf

Videon the 5 Themes of Geography: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6eKjwr8qo4I

 

Written by: Noah Louis-Ferdinand