Human geography is the study of human relationship with the physical environment. The field has more interest in human activity than does physical geography, and qualitative research methodologies are more easily applied to human geography. Human geography is a social science, rather than an earth science.
Geography was not recognized as a field of study until the 18th century. In 1830, the Royal Geographical Society was founded in England. Halford John Mackinder was the first appointed reader in Geography at the University of Oxford, in 1887. The following year, the National Geographic Society was founded in the U.S. Its magazine, National Geographic, brought geographical information to the general public.
The theory of environmental determinism, developed in large part by Carl Ritter in the 19th century, furthered the acceptance of the study of geography. The theory postulates that people's environments directly influence their habits, both mental and physical. Although the notion was popular for a time, it was eventually discarded by academics as being overly racist and narrow.
Regional geography gained a following during the late 19th century and early 20th century. The concept involved dividing spaces into regions, then studying the unique physical and human aspects of each area. Like environmental determinism, it linked geographic areas with particular characteristics. This, too, fell out of favor. By the 1960s, scientists disparaged regional geography for its lack of scientific rigor. Instead, researchers of human geography turned to statistical and mathematical methods to study geography.
The 1970s brought behavioral geography, which explained how people decided where to live and work. Geographers of the time also turned toward radical geography, which draws on Marxist theory. The radical geographers derided the objectivity of quantitative research, calling for explanations instead of descriptions.
Human geographers study several core fields within their discipline. Cultural geography describes the way cultural phenomena, such as beliefs and type of government, change from region to region. Also known as anthropology, it places humans in their physical setting, studying their relationship with the environment as they adapt themselves and the environment to meet their needs.
Development geography is the study of the standard of living and quality of life across the globe. Critics of the field complain that it marginalizes residents of poor areas. The field considers development to be movement from poverty in a prescribed method which does not necessarily reflect the experience of poor people in each area. They complain that development geography overly emphasizes capitalism.
Economic geography studies the relationship between economic conditions and the biophysical environment. Because people must live and work within a geographic region, the limits of economic functions are set by the natural environment. There are certain types of work which cannot be performed in particular regions. Economic geographers search for causes of economic differences in various regions.
Health geography uses geographical information and research methods in its study of disease and health. This is similar to epidemiology, which studies the presence of diseases in discrete populations. The field studies the geography of health care provision as well as the location of diseases.
Studying the human, physical, fictional and actual geographies at a specific time period of the past is called historical geography. Philipp Cluver, the founder of historical geography who lived in the 17th century, wrote a historical geography of Germany that combined his knowledge of the land with the classics. The field studies how areas change during intervals of time in relation to their human occupants.
Another field, political geography, studies how political processes are affected by the lie of the land. It includes aspects of the development of nations, political strategy to gain control of regions, diplomacy, voting, and international organizations.
Population geography reviews how the growth and migration of populations are related to the topography and climate. Researchers analyze the increases and decreases in population and how people shape the geographic character of an area. Demography, which studies population statistics, is a similar field.
Tourism geography is another sub-field of human geography. It studies the tourism industry and travel activities, as they relate to the destinations. Researchers study how tourism causes resource exploitation as well as the relationship visitors develop to the lands they visit.
Urban geography concentrates on developed areas with extensive infrastructures and large numbers of buildings. The field's practitioners study the site and growth of cities, identifying their location and their importance in relation to other regions. Urban geographers also consider physical geography and cultural geography.