Major Sub-Disciplines of Geography

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Geography has been branded a unique science of bridging the gap between social sciences and natural sciences. Hence we have two main sub-disciplines in geography. These sub-disciplines are Physical Geography (natural sciences) and Human Geography (social sciences).

Based on the definition above Geography can be seen as trying to explain the relationship between the social and physical processes that occur in our world in the context of region and places. Therefore the field can be seen as providing the central spot where all other fields of knowledge can inter-relate effectively.

Physical Geography

The first sub-discipline to be discussed is Physical Geography. Why?

This is because Physical Geography studies the all processes and pattern that can be consider natural on the Earth’s surface and since it is has been established in the science that the earth came into existence before humans, the physical environment is always studied first.

There are constant interactions between people and the environment and also between elements of the environment itself and this is the focus of Physical geography. Its importance is growing daily with the different types of environment issues that seems to the popping up day by day in the world we live in today e.g. water shortages, global warming, deforestation, tsunamis, erosion, to name a few.

The sub-discipline has four (4) view points namely the Atmosphere (air), Lithosphere (ground), Hydrosphere (water) and Biosphere (the meeting point of the other three spheres also referred to as the ‘Life’ sphere).

Sub-fields in Physical Geography are numerous but they can be broadly categorized into 5 which are

  • Geomorphology (earth’s form and structure)
  • Hydrology (study of all forms of water underground, over-ground and in the cloud)
  • Climatology (study of long term weather called climate and its effects on life)
  • Biogeography ( study of plant and animal life and processes)
  • Pedology ( the study of soils)

Human Geography

Human Geography which is the second sub-discipline is of no less importance because essentially studies the people, cultures and communities existing in the world with a view of understanding its effects on the environment and vice versa. This means that the sub-discipline tries to understand the relationship that occurs within and across space – space here referring to specific locations – and place.

The scope of Human Geography is somewhat broader that physical geography and thus the sub-fields are more numerous than its counterpart. These subfields are namely:

  • Cultural Geography (trying to understand and describe the occurrence of various cultural groups with reference to space.
  • Economic Geography (studying the relationship between economic systems and the biophysical environment).
  • Historical Geography (understanding world history in terms of space and time).
  • Population Geography (studying cultural composition, growth, migration patterns as related to nature of places).
  • Political Geography (studying political and governmental features of regions)
  • Settlement Geography (defining what could be termed rural and urban areas and why?)
  • Health (Medical) Geography (health and disease study across space and place).

Essentially, Geography is considered the field of the three ‘Ws’, i.e. “Why is What Where”? Meaning the field studies ‘phenomenon’ both existing and anticipated.


Physical Geography

Human Geography


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