Geography and History of the World


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The eminent historical geographer Donald Meinig views geography and history as complementary and interdependent, “bound together by the very nature of things.” This relationship, he states, “is implied by such common terms as space and time, area and era, places and events, pairs that are fundamentally inseparable. In practice the two fields are differentiated by the proportionate emphasis each gives to these terms.” However, he warns that it is important to realize that “geography is not just a physical stage for the historical drama, not just a set of facts about the earth. It is a special way of looking at the world. Geography, like history, is an age-old and essential strategy for thinking about large and complex matters.”(1)

The standards and indicators developed for Geography and History of the World are designed to enable students to use the geographic “way of looking at the world” to deepen their understanding of selected global themes—to learn about these themes informed by geography. Geography and History of the World is designed as a legitimate alternative to the standard World History course.

The selection of standards for inclusion in Geography and History of the World was influenced by the work of Brian Blouet (1), Paul Gagnon (3), Geography for Life (4), The National Standards for History (5), and by the Bradley Commission on History in Schools (6). Ultimately, however, the standards were selected because they represent geographic/historical themes critical to today’s citizens. More generally, Geography and History of the World standards and the indicators, skills, and concepts associated with them are designed to nurture perceptive, responsible citizenship, encourage and support the development of critical thinking skills and lifelong learning, and to help prepare students for employment in the 21st Century.

Curricular Approaches

The standards presented in Geography and History of the World are compatible with and will support a variety of curricular approaches to the teaching of geography. These include the:

Regional Approach. Here students systematically explore world culture regions and interactions between and among regions. For example, a unit on West Africa might include an examination of the factors that influenced forced migration between the region and North America in the 18th and early 19th Centuries, a unit on Japan might focus, in part, on how the cultural landscape was affected over time by the threat of earthquakes, and a unit on Western Europe might, among other considerations, focus on political revolutions, their origins, diffusion, and impact on other world regions.

Thematic Approach. Here students explore particular geographic/historical issues or problems for specific time periods. For example, one unit of study might be concerned with urbanization in different societies over time, a second with the development of nation-states, and a third with conflict and cooperation in modern times, as indicated by economic agreements and political treaties.

Chronological Approach. Here students explore interrelated geographic/historical issues during particular eras. For example, a unit focusing on the Industrial Revolution in Europe might also examine related developments in trade, migration, urbanization, and the spread of disease that occurred during that same era.

Skills and Concepts

In Geography and History of the World, specific geographic and historical skills and concepts of historical geography are used to explore global themes. The skills provide the necessary tools and techniques to think geographically and historically. The skills, intended to enable students to observe and interpret patterns, associations, and spatial order, are grouped into five sets, each representing a fundamental step in a comprehensive investigative procedure. They are: forming research questions, acquiring information by investigating a variety of primary and secondary sources, organizing information by creating graphic representations, analyzing information to determine and explain patterns and trends, and presenting and documenting findings orally and/or in writing. (7) More specifically, students will:

  • Ask geographic and historical questions*.
  • Acquire geographic and historical information relevant to these questions from a variety of primary and secondary sources, such as books, visual representations, artifacts, atlases, archival collections, and other written materials; statistical source material; fieldwork and interviews; remote sensing, Global Positioning Systems [GPS]** and Geographic Information Systems [GIS]***, historic sites, and electronic sites.
  • Produce maps, timelines, and other graphic representations to organize and display the geographic and historical information acquired.
  • Interpret maps, timelines, and other graphic representations to solve geographic and historical problems and to analyze world events and suggest feasible solutions to world problems.
  • Reach conclusions about the geographic and historical questions posed and give verbal, written, graphic, and cartographic expression to conclusions.

The historical geography concepts used to explore global themes in Geography and History of the World are described below.

Change Over Time. Modifications in human and physical environments resulting from the workings of geographic and historical processes.

Cultural Landscape. The forms and artifacts sequentially placed on the natural landscape by the activities of various human occupants. By this progressive imprinting of the human presence, the physical (natural) landscape is modified into the cultural landscape, forming an interacting unity between the two.

Diffusion. The spatial spreading or dissemination of a culture element [such as a technological innovation] or some other phenomenon [e.g., a disease outbreak].

Human Environment Interactions. The ways that people depend on, adapt to, are affected by, and change the natural environment.

Human Livelihoods. People obtain the necessities and the comforts of life through participation in three sectors of activity: (1) Primary sector (agriculture, mining, forestry), (2) Secondary sector (industry), (3) Tertiary (services).

National Character. Overtime, countries and nations take on representative cultural features that define them locally, regionally, or nationally, and collectively distinguish them from others.

Origin. The point or place from which something arises, comes, begins, or develops; the starting point or place.

Physical Systems. The physical processes that shape the patterns of the Earth’s surface and the characteristics and spatial patterns of ecosystems on Earth’s surface.

Sense of Place. Places are parts of earth’s space, large or small, that have been endowed with meaning by people. A sense of place takes two forms: (1) the distinctive character of a place that results from the physical characteristics of the place or the place’s association with significant events, and (2) the attachments that people develop for places through experience, memory, and intention.

Spatial Distribution. The arrangement of physical and human elements on the Earth’s surface.

Spatial Interaction. The movement of people, goods, information and money between and among regions, countries and places.

Spatial Organization. The way in which physical and human elements on the Earth’s surface are structured.

Spatial Variation. How one place is different from another, deviation in form, condition, appearance, extent.

These skills and concepts are consistent with the standards articulated in Geography for Life, the national geography content standards. (8) They are used to provide a geographic interpretation of several global themes, primarily but not exclusively for the period beginning in 1000 CE.

* Geographic Question—A question that asks “Where?” and “Why There?” Historic Question—A question that asks “When?” and “Why Then?”

** Global Positioning System (GPS)A system of satellites and ground stations used to locate precise points on the surface of the earth.

*** Geographic Information Systems (GIS)Information technology systems used to store, analyze, manipulate, and display a wide range of geographic information.

Donald Meinig, The Shaping of America: A Geographical Perspective on 500 Years of American History, [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987], xv.

“Approaches to History and Geography,” Middle States Council for the Social Studies 2001 Yearbook. Lawrenceville, NJ: Middle States Council for the Social Studies. 2001.

“Essential History Content K-12,” Middle Sates Council for the Social Studies 2001 Yearbook. Lawrenceville, NJ: Middle States Council for the Social Studies. 2001.

Geography for Life: National Geography Standards 1994. Washington D. C.: National Geographic Research and Exploration, 1994.

National Standards for History, Los Angeles: National Center for History in the Schools, 1996.

Bradley Commission on History in Schools, Building a History Curriculum: Guidelines for Teaching History in Schools, National Council for History Education ,1988.

Geography for Life: National Geography Standards 1994. Washington D. C.: National Geographic Research and Exploration, 1994, pages 46-56. National Standards for History, Los Angeles: National Center for History in the Schools, 1996, 14-24

Geography for Life: National Geography Standards 1994. Washington D. C.: National Geographic Research and Exploration, 1994.

National Geographic Education Foundation