Chapter 1: Basic Concepts - AP Human Geography - AP Human Geography - 2011-09-04

Chapter 1: Basic Concepts and Key Issues

AP Human Geography Outline Notes

Ch. 1: Basic Concepts

Human Geography – the study of where and why human activities are located where tey are – for example, religions, businesses, and cities. 

Physical Geography – studies where and why natural forces occur as they do – for example, climates, landforms, types of vegetation. 

Map – a 2-D, or flat, representation of the Earth’s surface or a portion of the Earth’s surface.  Best way to show location and demonstrate insights gathered by spatial analysis.  Geography is distinguished from other disciplines by its reliance on maps to display and analyze information.

Place – name given to a portion of the Earth’s surface.  Every place occupies a unique location, or position, on Earth’s surface, and geographers have many ways to identify locations.

Region – an area distinguished by a unique combination of cultural trends and physical features.  3 types:  formal (aka uniform, homogenous), perceptual (aka vernacular) and functional.  Human geographers are especially concerned with the cultural features of a group of people in a region – their body of beliefs and traditions, as well as their political and economic practices.        

Space -  the physical gap or interval between two objects.  Geographers observe that many objects are distributed across space in a regular manner, for discernible purposes.

Connections -  relationships among people and objects across the barrier of space.  Geographers are concerned with the various means by which connections occur.

Key Issue 1:  How Do Geographers Describe Where Things Are?

Cartography – the science and art of map making.  Geography’s most important tool for thinking spatially about the distribution of features across Earth is a map.  Contemporary cartographists are assisted by computers and satellite imagery.


Early Mapmaking (Provide a detailed description of what each person accomplished and include the dates for aeach individual)

The earliest surviving maps were drawn in the Middle East in the seventh or sixth century BC.  Miletus, a port in present-day Turkey, became a center for geographic thought and map making in the ancient world.

The Greeks first classified geography as a study and a science.  Greek philosophers and writers wrote about the Earth being round and established mathematical principles for the world around them.  For example, Homer's The Odyssey and The Illiad, while primarily considered classical literature, are  filled with geographic accounts.

 After the Greek period, the Roman Empire became dominant in the Mediterranean region.  During this period, Ptolemy wrote a Guide to Geography.  Sometimes called Geographica, this 8-volume series gave very detailed descriptions of cities and peoples of the Earth.  Also, during this time maps became more symbols of art and decoration than mathematical representations of the Earth’s surface.

A revival of geography and mapmaking occurred during the Age of Exploration and Discovery. 

 Early Map Makers 

 1.  Thales (624? – 546? B.C.) – applied principles of geometry to measuring land area.

  1. Anaximander (610 – 546? BC) – Student of Thales.  Greek.  First to make a map of the known world.   He used information based on sailor’s accounts and produced what is considered to be the first scale map of the world.  It was fairly accurate on a large-scale map portion, but inaccurate when considering small scale portion due to lack of available information at the time.
  2. Hecateus (c. 500 BC) – may have produced the first geography book.

4.  Aristotle (384-322 BC) – first to demonstrate that Earth was spherical.  He observed that matter falls together toward a common cente, that Earth’s shadow on the Moon is circular during an eclipse, and that the visible groups of starts change as one travels north or south.

 5.  Eratosthenes (276? – 194? BC) – first person of record to use the word geography. Also accepted that the Earth was spherical and calculated its circumference within a remarkable 0.5% accuracy.  Prepared one of the earliest maps of the known world, correctly dividing Earth into 5 climatic regions – a torrid zone across the middle, two frigid zones at the extreme north and south, and two temperate bands in between.

6.   Ptolemy (AD 100? – 170?) – Greek who wrote  a Guide to Geography.  Sometimes called Geographica, this 8-volume series gave very detailed descriptions of cities and peoples of the Earth.   Codified basic principles of mapmaking and prepared numerous maps, which were not improved upon for more than 1000 years.  

7.  Ibn-Battutah (1304- 1368?) – wrote Rihlah (“Travels”) based on three decades of journeys covering more than 120,000 kilometers (75,000 miles) through the Muslim world of northern Africa, southern Europe, and much of Asia.

8.  Gerardus Mecator (1512-1594) – took information collected by explorers during the Age of Exploration and Discovery to create more accurate maps.


Types of Map Scales:

  1. 1.      Ratio or fraction scale – shows the numerical ratio between distances on the map and Earth’s surface.  A scale of 1:24,000 or 1/24,000 means that 1 unit (inch, centimeter, foot, finger length) on the map represents 24,000 of the same unit (inch, centimeter, foot, finger length) on the ground.  The unit chosen for distance can be anything, as long as the units on the map correspond to those on the ground.  The 1 on the left side of the ratio always refers to a unit of distance on the map, and the number on the right always refers to the same unit of distance on Earth’s surface.


  1. 2.      Written scale – describes this relation between map and Earth distances in words.  For example, the statement “1 inch equals 1 mile” on a map means that 1 inch on the map represents 1 mile on the Earth’s surface.  Again, the fist number always refers to map distance, and the second to distance on the Earth’s surface.


  1. 3.      Graphic scale – usually consists of a bar line marked to show distance on Earth’s surface.  To use a bar line, first determine with a ruler the distance on the map in inches or centimeters.  Then hold the ruler against the bar line and read the number on the bar line opposite the map distance on the ruler.  The number on the bar line is the equivalent distance on Earth’s surface.



Projection – the scientific method of transferring locations on Earth’s surface to a flat map.

Four types of distortion that can result for maps depicting the world:

  1. shape – The shape of an area can be distorted, so that it appears more elongated or squat than it is in reality.
  2. distance – The distance between two points may become increased or decreased.
  3. relative size – the relative size of different areas may be altered, so that one area may appear larger than another on a map but is in reality smaller.
  4. direction – the direction from one place to another can be distorted.

Describe the advantages and disadvantages of the following types of uninterrupted projections:

  1. Robinson projection map (found on p,. 30)

Advantage:  useful for displaying information across the oceans.

Disadvantage:  by allocating space to the oceans, the land areas ar much smaller than on interrupted maps of the same size. 

      2.   Mercator projection map (found on p. 18)

            Advantages:  a)  shape is distorted very little; b) direction is consistent; c) map shape is rectangular.

             Disadvantage:  the area is grossly distorted toward the poles, making high latitude places look much larger than they actually are. 


U.S. Land Ordinance of 1785 – divided much of the country into a system of townships and ranges to facilitate the sale of land to settlers in the West.  The initial surveying was pefomed by Thomas Hutchins, who was appointed geographer to the US in 1781.  After he died in `789, responsibility was transferred to the Surveyor General.  In this system, a township is square 6 miles on each side.  Some east-west lines are called principal meridians, some east-west lines ar designated base lines.    

Contemporary Tools:

GPS (Global Positioning System) – system that accurately determines the precise position of something on the Earth.  Uses latitude and longitude coordinates to determine an exact location on the Earth.  Can be incorporated into hand held devices that pick up signals broadcast by satellites circling the globe.  The GPS unit interprets these signals and gives you your absolute location. 


GPS has 3 elements:

(1) space segment – constellation of 24 satellites (and about 6 “spares”), each in its own orbit 11,000 nautical miles above Earth.

(2) user segment  - consists of receivers, which you can hold in your hand or mount in your vehicle. 

(3) control segment – consists of ground stations (6 located around the world) that make sure that the satellites are working properly.

Remote Sensing – the acquisition of information about a object or phenomenon, without making physical contact with the object.  In modern usage, the term generally refers to the use of aerial sensor technologies to detect and classify objects on Earth (bth o the surface, and in the atmosphere and oceans), by means of propagated signals (e.g. electromagnetic radiation emitted from aircraft or satellites.)

GIS (Geographic Information Systems)  - uses geographic information and layers it into a new map showing specific types of geographical data.  Watersheds, population density, highways, and agricultural data are just a few of the geographic features that can be used as layers of data.  In many ways, GIS is the new geography, allowing geographers to analyze data in new ways never before imagined.

  • Uses geocoding to measure and record and store in computer precise location
  • Can produce more accurate and attractive maps than hand-drawn maps
  • More efficient than hand-drawn maps because can retrieve stored objects and combine them to form an image.   Objects can be added/removed, colors bightened/toned down, and mistakes easily corrected.
  • Each type of information is stored in layers.  Layers show relationships among different types of information.
  • Permits construction of much more complex maps than those drawn by hand.
  • Enables geographers to calculate whether relationships between objects on map are significant or incidental.

Key Issue 2:  Why is Each Point on Earth Unique?

Location – Geographers describe a feature’s lace on Earth by identifying its location, or the position that something occupies on the Earth’s surface.

Four Ways to Identify Location:

  1. 1.      Toponym – name given to a place on Earth.  May be based on name of person, religious association, ancient history, features of physical environment, political upheavals, etc.



  1. 2.      Site – physical character of a place.  Important characteristics of site include: climate, water sources, topography, soil, vegetation, latitude and elevation.



  1. 3.      Situation – location of a place relative to other places.  Valuable way to indicate location for two reasons:  (1)  finding an unfamiliar place and (2) understanding its importance.


  1. 4.      Mathematical Location  
    1. a.      Meridianarc drawn between North and South poles.  Location of each meridian is identified on Earth’s surface by numbering system known as longitude.
    2. b.      Prime Meridian – the Meridian that passes through the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, England.  0 degrees longitude.
    3. c.        Parallel – circle drawn around the globe parallel to the equator and at right angles to the meridians. 
    4. d.      Latitude – the numbering system to indicate the location of a parallel.
    5. e.      Equator – 0 degrees latitude.

Types of Regions (Identify and provide an example for each type of region)

  1. 1.      Formal (aka uniform, homogenous) – area within which everyone shares a common one or more distinctive characteristics.  Shared feature could be a cultural value, such as a common language, an economic activity such as production of a particular crop, or an environmental property such as climate.  In a formal region, the selected characteristic is present throughout.

Example:  South Carolina.  Formal region of the state of SC has clearly drawn and legally recognized boundaries.  Everyone living in SC recognizes and shares the status of being subject to a common set of laws.

  1. 2.      Functional (aka nodal) – area organized around a node or focal point.  The characteristic chosen to define a functional region dominates at a cental focus or node and diminishes in importance outward.  Region is tied to central point by transportation or communications systems or by economic or functional associations.

Example:  reception area of a television station.  Station’s signal is strongest at center of service area, weaker at edge, and eventually can no longer be distinguished from snow.  At some distance from the center, more people are watching a station originating from another city.  That place is the boundary between nodal regions of the 2 TV market areas.

  1. Vernacular (aka perceptual) – a place that people believe exists as part of their cultural identity.  Such regions emerge from people’s informal sense of place rather than from scientific models developed through geographic thought.

Example:  the South (US):  Americans frequently refer to the South as a place with environmental, cultural, and economic features perceived to be quite distinct from other regions of the USA (e.g., mild climate, propensity for growing cotton, and importance of the Baptist church).

Mental Map – useful way to identify a perceptual region.  An internal representation of a portion of the Earth’s surface.  Depicts what an individual knows about a place, containing personal impressions of what is in a place and where places are located. 

Example:  A college student and a professor may have different mental maps of a college campus, based on differences in where they work, live, eat, and a Senior is likely to have a more “accurate” mental map of the college campus than a Freshman.   

Culture – body of customary beliefs, material traits, and social forms that together constitute the distinct tradition of a group of people.





StudyUp Author: NLeonhardt
Honors Biology

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