Background Info

This cartoon is an introduction into the complex and rich world of geography and geographic education. It acts as a catalyst to thinking about the multi-faceted functions of geography, and the myriad of applications of the discipline. The world of geography is much more than place names and state capitals, and this cartoon aims to show the full breadth of the field.



Geography is clearly more than just dots on a map. So, what is geography?

Show Answer

Geography is interdisciplinary—it incorporates bits and pieces from the fields of science, arts, health, humanities, law, business, engineering, and technology. The “geographic perspective” (a way to understand a topic or area using spatial relationships) focuses these bits and pieces into a dynamic kaleidoscope of ideas and data. Geography is something you do, not just something you know.

Those who study geography identify relationships between these varied subjects, graft those relationships onto a geographic space, and explain why certain systems are where they are. A common shorthand for geography is "the why of where."


Geography explores three different systems. What are they and how are they related?

Show Answer

Geographers explore physical, human, and biological systems. The systems are often interwoven on the landscape.

For instance, how many times have you seen a river run through a city? The physical system is the river itself, the path it takes, and the landforms it influences. The human system includes communities that live along the river, and their cultural and economic livelihoods. The biological system is the series of habitats and ecosystems created by the river.

Any decision that impacts one system along the river will impact the other two. Diverting the river might cause people to relocate (human system), wildlife to lose habitat (biological system), and contribute to the health of the watershed (physical system). All three spheres of influence are connected, and all three must be considered when making decisions as a geographer.


How might a geographer approach global problems differently than other scientists?

Show Answer

Geographers look at the spatial layout of an area in its entirety, and try to understand how the three major systems (human, biological, and physical) work together in this environment. By looking at this spatial aspect of global issues, geographers see patterns and develop innovative solutions to complex global problems. This approach is different from other scientists because geographers look at the holistic view of major issues, and try to find a solution that benefits all three systems, while still solving the problem.


When a geographer says that he or she examines things from a "spatial perspective", what do they mean?

Show Answer

The old saying “location, location, location,” isn’t just a cliché. Geographers focus on location more than any other factor when investigating issues on the local or global level. Focusing on the layout of the Earth, geographers are able to come to conclusions from a spatial perspective. Understanding spatial distribution is key to understanding how the natural and man-made processes on Earth relate to one another. This is why maps and GIS technology are so important to geographers.


Critical Thinking: How do you see the work of geographers in your everyday life?

Show Answer

Answers will vary! Look around your neighborhood, school, or town for examples of the work of geographers and others using the geographic perspective. Some examples are the road system, sewer system, weather stations, the landscape of parks and other "green areas," the placement of hospitals or stores, etc. Think about what local systems, structures, and planning methods are rooted in geographic knowledge.


Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry



all weather conditions for a given location over a period of time.

Encyclopedic Entry: climate



scientist who studies the relationships between organisms and their environments.

geographic information system (GIS)


any system for capturing, storing, checking, and displaying data related to positions on the Earth's surface.

Encyclopedic Entry: GIS (geographic information system)

geographic perspective


a way to understand a topic or area using spatial features and relationships.



study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.

Encyclopedic Entry: geography



the understanding of human and natural systems, geographic reasoning, and systematic decision-making.



study of geographic features on the landscape and the forces that create them.

human geography


the study of the way human communities and systems interact with their environment.



position of a particular point on the surface of the Earth.

Encyclopedic Entry: location

physical geography


study of the natural features and processes of the Earth.

political geographer


person who studies the spatial relationships present in government policies.



how human and/or physical features of the Earth are connected to each other.


Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.


Caryl-Sue Micalizio, National Geographic Society
Benjamin Kessler
Mary Crooks, National Geographic Society


Mary Crooks, National Geographic Society


Caryl-Sue Micalizio, National Geographic Society

User Permissions

For information on user permissions, please read our Terms of Service.

If you have questions about licensing content on this page, please contact for more information and to obtain a license.

If you have questions about how to cite anything on our website in your project or classroom presentation, please visit our FAQ page.


Some media assets (videos, photos, audio recordings and PDFs) can be downloaded and used outside the National Geographic website according to the Terms of Service. If a media asset is downloadable, a download button appears in the lower right hand corner (download) of the media viewer. If no button appears, you cannot download or save the media.


Text on this page is printable and can be used according to our Terms of Service.


Any interactives on this page can only be played while you are visiting our website. You cannot download interactives.