"Geography is an earthly subject, but a heavenly science." -Edmund Burke

Geography is an in-depth study of lands, people, and natural phenomena; the basics can be studied during elementary and secondary school to peak the interests of students at a further and advanced level.

Nevertheless, it is essential to state that a thorough study of geography is mostly attained during higher education classes. 

Also, those who have studied geography superficially understand the basics of reading a map, the surface of the earth, the different climates, and the distinct continents; however, little do they know that geography is an academic discipline with five themes that do not simply discuss mapping and cartography.

What are the five themes of geography?

The five themes of geography are location, place, human-environment interaction, movement, and region. 

If you are confused as to what each theme means, have no fear Superprof is here! In today's article, we will rigorously examine the five themes of geography to help students of all academic levels grasp a thorough understanding.


the beauty of Paris
The Eiffel Tower's absolute location is 48.8584° N, 2.2945° E; however, it's relative location is about 2 kilometres south of the Arc de Triomphe. (Source: pixabay)

"The biggest thing I've learned is location." -Roy Hallyday

When defined in various dictionaries, location refers to a specific place or position. For example, 10 Downing Street is the location of the house of government and primary residence of Theresa May.

Nevertheless, in geography terms, location is defined more specifically.

How so?

Well, there are two types of location: absolute location and relative location.

Absolute location refers to the exact location or address of a person's home, a place of interest, a town, or a city. Longitude and latitude are used to determine the absolute location. 

For example, the absolute location of London, when using the coordinates of latitude and longitude, is 51.5074° N, 0.1278° W. Also, an example of the exact address of a point of interest is the Le Louvre in Paris: Rue de Rivoli, 75001, Paris, France.

On the other end of the geography spectrum is the relative location which is the relationship of a place to other places. Miles, kilometres, cardinal directions, and minutes are used when describing the relative position of one place to another.

For example, we know that Rome has the geographic coordinates of 41.9028° N, 12.4964° E; however, in terms of relative location, Rome is approximately 1,160 miles southwest of London.

Understanding the first theme of geography, location, aids in creating a bigger picture of what places are absolute and relative.


"A place for everything, everything in its place." -Benjamin Franklin

Various dictionaries define a place as a particular position or point in space or a portion of area available for someone. In the academic discipline of geography, place refers to the human and physical aspects of a location.

This theme of geography is associated with the following three terms:

  • Toponym: the specific name of a place,
  • Site: in-depth description of the features of a place,
  • Situation: environmental conditions of a place.

It is important to state that each geographic location or place is distinct; the landforms, the hydrology, the biogeography, the pedology, etc.

The human characteristics of a "place" refer to the walks of life and amount of people residing in a specific location.

For example, Dubai has a population of approximately 2.5 million and over 85% of the population being composed of expatriates; those would be the human characteristics of a place.

By using the geographic term "place", geographers can easily compare and contrast two different places on Earth. For example, the Sahara and Antartica are both deserts, but they can easily be contrasted by their temperature, wildlife, and location.

Without this second theme of geography, learners would not have a clear picture of distinct places in their mind and confusion would be likely to occur.

Human Environment Interaction

the polar bears
The detrimental effects of modification, a geographic study considered in the human-environment interaction theme, has been ruining the living conditions of beloved species. (Source: pixabay)

"Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth." -Henry David Thoreau

It is undeniable that no other species have had as much as a tremendous impact on the environment as humans. The third geography theme of human-environment interaction discusses the ever important interchange between the human social system and the rest of the ecosystem.

Humans have the incredible ability to adapt to harsh conditions and different environments which has lead to dominating all other species. 

Human-environment interaction has been developed by geographers specialising in environmental geographic information and consists of the following three different aspects:

  • Dependency: discuss the manners in which humans are dependent on the natural environment. For example, farmers depend on the rain during certain seasons to successfully water their crops; if the conditions of the situation have changed and are late the amount of produce to cultivate will be affected.
  • Adaptation: relates to how humans have the brilliant ability to adapt themselves to live in a new environment. For example, after moving to a place with a colder climate those who are accustomed to warmer weather quickly find ways to ensure warmth by fabricating new clothes.
  • Modification: by modifying the environment to ensure comfortable living conditions, humans have proven that they are the most superior of species. Air coolers and air heaters have been invented to modify air temperatures in extreme climates, and wild animals have been tamed for human use, and, finally, planes, trains, and automobiles have been created to shorten distances between places.

Of all three aspects mentioned above, modification has been the most detrimental. By modifying necessary elements of the environment, global warming, extinction of species, and climate changes have occurred.

To fully understand this important theme of geography, specific modules and theories such as the human social system, coadaptation, and Drivers-Pressure-State-Impact-Response can be studied in further detail.


"Trust only movement. Life happens at the level of events, not words. Trust movement." -Alfred Adler

The fourth theme of geography discusses movement which is defined by many dictionaries as the act of changing location or position.

It is important to state that the earth is filled with different movements and in a planet dominated by humans, the geographic study of change or movement primarily refers to the transfer of human beings, their goods, and their ideas from one side of the earth to the other.

Studies of population immigration or emigration are dealt with in the study of movement which has to do with human geography. 

As a result of the human movement, the human race has been able to dominate all of the world's continents, discover the oceans, outer space, and even land on the moon.

Houston, do you copy? 

Human trade and how goods are transported from one place in the world to another is also studied in the geographic theme of movement. An example of the trade is how tea is imported from China, India, or Thailand and purchased in major countries from the Western World such as Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

Also, a major aspect and subtopic of movement is the movement and distribution of ideas. The ideas and thoughts shared between nations are essential in unifying countries and contributing to growth in underdeveloped areas. Furthermore, since the developments of modern technology in recent decades, ideas are being shared faster than ever.

The study of movement is an essential theme of geography that aids humans to comprehend the manners in which they move themselves, their goods or products, and their thoughts.


learning more about the Middle East
The Middle East is not a region recognised on maps; however, Middle Eastern countries have been grouped together as a region since they have similar characteristics. (Source: pixabay)

"In a region with a growing population, if you're doing nothing, you're losing ground." -Stewart Udall 

The fifth theme of geography is region and can be defined as an area, especially a part of a country of the world that has definable characteristics but not always fixed boundaries; thanks to Google dictionary!

An important topic of geography, region discusses cities, districts, provinces, countries, and continents that can all be defined as a formal region since a governmental or political entity unifies them.

A functional region is known as a place that is connected by well-developed transportation that aids the distribution of human beings, ideas, and goods within that area.

Major international cities such as New York City, Rio de Janeiro, Mumbai, and Tokyo all have suburbs that can be regarded as functional regions since workers commute to earn a living. It is important to state that many regions near cities bearing the same traits do not have defined borders; we imagine that they do.

For example, since Middle Eastern countries share many similar characteristics they are often grouped as a region commonly known as the Middle East; even though on official maps that specific area is never mentioned.

Having a basic understanding of the five themes of geography provides a future geographer and other interested learners with a more thorough knowledge of planet earth. Furthermore, by studying geography, people realise the crucial need for working together to protect our dear and fragile planet!

Make sure to check out the following blogs about geography:

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