Geog Sub-disciplines

Geography, Urban, Environment & Sustainability Studies

You are here

 Sub-disciplines in Geography

Human, Cultural & Economic Geography

This concentration focuses on the aspects of geography that relate to different cultures, with an emphasis on cultural origins and movement and the cultural characteristics of regions (e.g., language, religion, ethnicity, politics, historical development, agricultural methods, settlement patterns, and quality of life). Cultural ecology--the ways in which humans have interacted with their cultural and natural environment at various times--is also included. There is a strong relationship between cultural geography, anthropology, and archaeology.

Cultural geographers often try to reconstruct past environments, and to do so they must be equally skilled in library research, field observation, and the interpretation of cultural artifacts. Historical geographers are interested in recreating the geography of past times. In doing this, they work closely with historians and archivists, contributing much to the understanding of present-day geography. Courses in this area include historical geography, cultural geography, cultural ecology, human geography, human use of the earth, and humanity and nature. Many cultural and human geographers are area specialists as well, which means that they focus their attention on a specific region, such as Latin America, Europe, or Asia. Because they often carry out field observation in other countries, they will usually need good foreign-language backgrounds.

Economic geography is concerned with the location and distribution of economic activity. It focuses on the location of industries and retail and wholesale businesses, on transportation and trade, and on the changing value of real estate. Courses in economic geography may cover such topics as transportation, agriculture, industrial location, world trade, and the spatial organization and function of business activity. Students who have a strong interest in economic geography will be likely to see global interdependence as a focus of their academic program. In America in Transition: The International Frontier, a recent report of the National Governor's Association, the following statement was made:

Times have changed. Revolutionary advances in science, technology, communications, and transportation have brought nations and peoples together. World trade, and financial, economic, and political developments have transformed disparate economic systems into a highly interdependent global marketplace. Today the nations that inhabit the planet are often more closely linked than neighboring states or villages were at the turn of the century.

In the same vein, Geography: Making Sense of Where We Are says, "We can no longer afford to divide the world into things American and things non-American. We are as dependent on other nations as they are upon us." The manufacture of a single pencil requires materials from eleven countries. "American" cars contain parts that originate overseas. We send many of our products to other countries for processing, packaging, and shipping to take advantage of lower labor costs. We truly live in a global community, and geography can help us understand this interdependent world as we enter the twenty-first century.

Physical Geography and Earth Science

Geography has a strong link to the natural sciences through physical geography and earth science. Courses that may be offered in these fields include climatology, meteorology, oceanography, geomorphology (landforms), soils, biogeography (distribution and ecology of plants), zoogeography (distribution and ecology of animals), and natural resources. Courses in physical geography are important because they deal with earth processes that concern the human use of the earth. For instance, agriculture is dependent upon such physical processes as climate, weather, and the formation and erosion of soils.

Those with a good background in physical geography are well prepared to deal with problems of air pollution, water pollution, and the management and disposal of solid, toxic, and hazardous wastes. Physical geographers also study the impact of such natural hazards as hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes.

Environmental Studies/Sciences

Environmental problems have become the concern of government officials and citizens alike. Because of catastrophes involving toxic waste, air pollution, and water pollution, great care is now being taken to monitor the delicate balance between nature and the human use of the earth. Much more needs to be done. As a result, hundreds of new jobs have been created in environmental fields.

Environment & Sustainability involves students in course work and research in such fields as biology; chemistry; geology; hazard perception; emergency and disaster planning; and environmental, energy-resource, and waste management. An Environment & Sustainability program might include anything from the preparation of an environmental impact statement to the geographic aspects of environmental law to the general principles of forest and wildlife management. The Environment & Sustainability (ES) program at UMD provides a sound multidisciplinary grounding in the social and natural sciences, focusing on economic, political and social factors that influence the environmental decisions people make at local and global scales. The curriculum includes core courses in the social and natural sciences, as well as courses in social change & advocacy, economics and policy, applications & methodology and courses in the natural sciences.

Regional Geography

Students in this field study major regions of the world, such as Latin America, Europe, and Asia. They become area experts and come to understand the way of life in particular countries. They often complement their major courses in a foreign language, anthropology, history, economics, or comparative political systems. Having done so, they bring real expertise and understanding to issues of U.S. foreign policy and to international business.

GIScience and Geographic Technologies: Cartography, Geographic Information Systems & Remote Sensing

Thousands of geographers have jobs involving maps. Maps are essential. They are used by planners, engineers, utility companies, state agencies, construction companies, surveyors, architects and ordinary citizens. GIScience and geographic technologies is currently one of the top three career growth areas in the US, and it is project to remain so for the next 10 to 15 years.

College geography programs provide a good background in the use of maps. Students usually will learn how to use a variety of sophisticated computer graphics systems to design and create maps. In addition, students will learn how to read and interpret maps, and to answer difficult questions by performing sophisticated spatial analysis on complex spatial processes.

Urban & Regional Planning

Geographers often work as planners to ensure that communities develop in an orderly way, along with the services necessary to support them. Planners must be able to develop building plans for subdivisions and housing projects. They need to understand all factors that affect the value of land and real estate. Planning is a rapidly expanding field, and geographers are filling a great many jobs. Planning courses teach students how to prepare master plans that will benefit neighborhoods, communities, cities, and regions. Support courses include material on the geography of population, transportation, social services, utilities and solid-waste disposal systems. Other topics include resource planning, land-use planning and the delivery of municipal services (which involves the planning of police patrol routes, the location of firehouses and emergency medical services, and ways of making school bus routes shorter and more efficient). The urban and regional studies program at UMD is a multidisciplinary program that prepares students for careers in planning, public administration, policy analysis and related fields. The curriculum consists of courses in public policy & administration, spatial analysis & planning and urban society & culture.

Geographic Education

Now that more and more geography courses are being offered in high schools and colleges, the need for teachers of geography at all levels has risen dramatically. Most college geography departments offer comprehensive teacher certification programs either in geography or earth science or through a multidisciplinary program often called social studies composite. Courses are geared to state curriculum requirements in geography and earth science and normally include regional geography and a selection of physical science courses, such as climatology, oceanography, geomorphology (landforms), and environmental geography. In addition, those planning to be teachers might take courses in economic geography, natural resources, urban geography, and teaching methods. For those who wish to teach geography in a junior college, college, or university, graduate-level study is a necessity. While teaching is not the highest-paid profession, there are numerous benefits, including time off for travel or professional development and the understanding that you are making a real difference in the lives of young people.