CHAPTER 1: Introduction to Physical Geography


Summary of the Chapter

This chapter examines the nature, history, and future of Physical Geography. Opening topics establish working definitions for Geography, Human Geography, Physical Geography, and Physical Geography's sub-fields. A historical approach is used to discuss the evolution of Geography as a discipline. Physical Geography's role in Geography is explained. A relationship between Physical Geography and Environmental Science is discussed and it is suggested that the curriculum of Physical Geography provides important knowledge for understanding and rectifying environmental problems. The history of the development of Physical Geography is presented as having two important periods of academic development before and after 1950. Before 1950, academic work in Physical Geography was governed by the ideas generated from uniformitarianism, the theory of evolution, exploration of the world, and the early beginning of the conservation movement. After 1950, the use of quantitative techniques for process focused research and the study of human/land relationships dominant intellectual endeavors in Physical Geography. Finally, the last topic closes this chapter by examining Physical Geography's future.


List of Key Terms

Applied Physical Geography, Area Studies Tradition, Astronomy, Atmosphere,

Biogeography, Biosphere,

Cartography, Climatology,

Earth Science Tradition, Ecology, Environment, Evolution,

Geographical Information Systems, Geography, Geology, Geomorphology,

Human-Land Tradition, Hydrology, Hydrosphere,

Latitude, Longitude,

Map, Meteorology,

Natural Hazards,


Pedology, Physical Geography,

Quantitative Revolution,

Remote Sensing,

Science, Spatial Tradition,

Uniformitarianism, Urbanization


Study Questions, Problems, and Exercises

Essay Questions

(1). Outline the major themes and ideas in Physical Geography before and after 1950.

(2). How does Physical Geography differ from Human Geography?

(3). Define Physical Geography.

(4). What are some of the sub-fields of Physical Geography? What do they study?

(5). What are some of the important future academic trends in Physical Geography?

(6). What is uniformitarianism? What theory did it oppose?

(7). How does Physical Geography relate to study of environmental issues and science?

(8). Describe Pattison's four traditions of Geography.







Created by Dr. Michael Pidwirny & Scott Jones University of British Columbia Okanagan

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Copyright © 1999-2009 Michael Pidwirny

05/25/2009 9:52