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Table of Contents


Definition of Culture

Cultural Hearth

Cities and Culture

Cultural Convergence

Cultural Divergence

Cultural Conflict




Ethnic Geography

Primary Industry







What Is Culture?


To the social scientist, culture is the specialized behavioral patterns, understandings, adaptations and social systems that summarize a people’s way of life.


culture is shaped by environment: rain was a tool of God's wrath to the Hebrews, but sacred to the Anastazi

culture is shaped by social organization: the more advanced a society, the more organized it is

culture is shaped by values and beliefs: Aztec flower wars, cannibals

culture is learned behavior: sports, kissing


Culture includes the visible (buildings) and the invisible (language), the material (cultural landscape) and the internal (religion).



Seven Major Traits of Culture

1. Learned

Not innate but something acquired because of where one is raised. If you are conceived in one culture but born and raised in another (i.e. transferred at birth), you acquired the culture of the second, not the first.

a.  Learned through interaction, observation, and imitation

b.  Conscious: being told, reading

c.  Unconscious: most culture is learned unconsciously, i.e. through language for example

d.  Learned from a variety of sources

1.  Proverbs

2.  Folk tales and folklore

3.  High Culture: poetry, art, music

4.  Mass media (especially TV in this generation)

2.  Transmitted

Each generation (older) passes it on to the younger and constantly reinforces it. If not transmitted, a culture dies.

3.  Based on Symbols

Language (verbal and nonverbal) is key element / but also from images, icons.

4.  Changeable

No culture is static. The culture of your grandparents or parents is not identical with your own (a major cause of the so-called generation gap).

Changes occurs from:

a.  innovation (discovery) e.g. television, computer, women’s movement

b.  diffusion (borrowing) e.g. McDonalds worldwide

c.  acculturation (long-term contact with another culture) e.g. Taco Bell?

5.  Integrated

One dimension affects other dimensions. Consider how the civil rights movement in the US (initially concerned with voting rights) spread to encompass multiple parts of the US.

6.  Ethnocentric

A trait found in every culture: the belief that one’s culture is superior and more worthy than another. While it is important to have a positive view of one’s self, ethnocentrism can be a major hindrance to intercultural communication. It can shut others out, lead to derogatory viewpoints.

7.  Adaptive

In order to survive, culture must adapt. Example: roles of women in US after WWII.









Definition Of CultureStonehenge, Wiltshire, England: Archaeologists are still figuring out this monument built from 2600 to 2000 BC with giant stones brought from Wales.


Prague, Czech Republic: an example of a cultural landscape

Cultural Landscape

the artificial landscape

the visible human imprint on the land

the natural landscape as modified by human activities and bearing the imprint of a culture group or society

the built environment





How is the cultural landscape perceived? People of all cultures have spatial memories that influence their perceptions. From the viewpoint of the US, many countries appear to be technologically unsophisticated and poor. But from the perspective of those countries, US society may seem overdeveloped and wasteful. Our perceptions of our own community and culture may greatly differ from those of people in other cultures.

Perceptual regions are intellectual constructs designed to help us understand the nature and distribution of the impressions and images of various regions and cultures. Although we can easily explain in general terms how we perceive a cultural region, it is much more difficult to put our impressions on a map. We all have a perception of the South as a cultural region of the US but we don't all agree on where that perceptual region begins and ends.

You can find an interesting example of a perceptual region in an article by Terry Jordan entitled “Perceptual Regions in Texas” (1978). Texans use regional-cultural names for various parts of the state and Jordan identifies where names such as Panhandle, Gulf Coast, Permian Basin and Metroplex actually apply. [T. G. Jordan, “Perceptual Regions in Texas.” Geographical Review 68, 1978, p. 295.]


Culture is learned.

It is not biological.

Culture is passed on from generation to generation through imitation, instruction and example.


Imprinting is the acquisition of information through speech and behavior. Imprinting is how we transfer our culture to others, especially our children. Imprinting starts when children are born. Children learn by watching other people, especially their parents, and then using the behavior they see as a model for their own. Imprinting can occur remarkably fast for children. Acquiring a new language can occur in a matter of months for children of a certain age.



Cultural Traits and Complexes

Cultural traits are the single elements or smallest units of a culture. They are the building blocks of the complex behavioral patterns of distinctive groups of people. They are “units of observation” which when put together constitute culture. According to Hoebel, a cultural trait is “a repeatedly irreducible unit of learned behaviour pattern or material product there of.” Any culture includes thousands of such units.

Traits of the material culture would include such things as the nail, the screwdriver; the pencil etc and the nonmaterial culture would be shaking hands, saluting the flag or driving. Thus shaking hands, touching feet, tipping hats, a kiss on the cheek as a gesture of affection, giving seats to ladies first, saluting the flag, wearing white ‘saris’ when mourning, eating vegetarian diets, walking barefooted, growing a beard or long hair, eating out of brass utensils etc. are cultural traits.

Some examples of cultural traits:

o  languageMaterial and Non-Material Culture

o  tools and technologies to make a living

o  entertainment

o  beliefs (religion) and attitudes

o  architecture

o  cuisine

o  music and dance

o  medicine

o  dress and grooming

o  gender roles

o  law

o  education

o  government

o  agriculture

o  economy

o  sport and recreation

o  values

o  work ethic

o  etiquette

o  courtship

o  gestures

Traits are the elemental units of a culture. It is these traits which distinguish one culture from another. A trait found in one culture may have no significance in other cultures. Offering water to the sun may have significance in a Hindu culture but none in a western culture.

Cultural traits do not usually appear singly or independently. They are customarily associated with other related traits.

Culture complexes are clusters of interrelated cultural traits, related sets of cultural traits descriptive of one aspect of a society’s behavior. According to Hoebel, “Cultural complexes are nothing but clusters of traits organized about some nuclear point of reference.” A cluster of objects, skills and attitudes form the surfing complex. Kneeling before an idol, sprinkling sacred water over it, putting some food in its mouth, folding hands, taking ‘prashad’ from the priest and singing ‘arati’ form a religious complex.

A cultural pattern is formed when traits and complexes become related to each other in functional roles. Each cultural complex has a role to play in society. The cultural pattern of a society consists of a number of cultural complex. The Indian cultural pattern consists of Gandhi spiritualism, joint family caste, system and ruralism. So there is a cultural complex consisting of a numerous cultural traits.

The cultural complex is an intermediate level between the trait and the institution. An institution is a series of complexes centering upon an important activity. Thus the family includes the engagement-marriage complex, the honeymoon complex, the child-care complex and several others. Some complexes are part of institutions; others revolve around less important activities such as stamp collecting and are simply independent complexes.



Cultural Regions and Realms

Cultural traits and complexes have spatial dimensions.

A cultural region is a physical space occupied by populations that have recognizable and distinctive cultural characteristics.

A set of cultural regions that have related cultural complexes and landscapes may be grouped together to form a cultural realm.

[When you generalize at this scale, you ignore the enormous diversity in each cultural realm.]


Mesa Verde CO

The Structure of Culture

Leslie White, Anthropologist

Ideological Subsystem: value/belief systems

Technological Subsystem: material objects

Sociological Subsystem: social organizations and behaviors

Julian Huxley, Biologist

Mentifacts: the ideas, values and beliefs of a culture. Both religion and language are examples of a mentifact. Religion has had an impact on culture more than any other trait. Also, language is very important to a culture as well. Some languages may be more specific to a certain culture, while many different cultures will all share a common language.

Artifacts: the objects, hardware and technologies that a culture creates. They provide entertainment, shelter and most of the things that make life easier for people. Computers, machines and the buildings of religious centers can be seen as examples of artifacts. A few other examples might be religious masks or musical instruments. These objects tell us all kinds of things about a specific civilization.

Sociofacts: represent the social structures of a culture and dictate social behavior. Some of the best examples of sociofacts are families and tribes. Family means different things depending on the culture you are a part of. Some cultures only consider immediate family as family. Other cultures include more distant relatives such as grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Political and educational institutions are also examples of sociofacts.



People and the Environment

Cultural ecology is the study of the relationship between a cultural group and the natural environment it occupies.


site and situation (resources)

Environmental determinism is the belief that the physical environment exclusively shapes human culture.

Possibilism is the belief that people, not the environment, are the dynamic forces of cultural development.



The Most Important Characteristics of Culture:

(1) Culture is acquired.

Culture is an acquired quality or behavior. It is not biologically inherited but learnt socially by individuals. In other words any behavior or quality which is socially acquired or learned is called culture. Behavior’s learned through socialization habits and thoughts are called culture. Human beings learn or acquire culture by living in group. He learns it from society through education.

(2) Culture is social.

Culture is not individual but social in nature. As a social product culture develops through social interaction which is shared by all. Without social interaction or social relations it is very difficult and almost impossible to be cultured. Culture is inclusive of the expectations of the members of the groups. It is created or originated in society. Hence it is social.

(3) Culture is transmitted.

Culture is transmitted from one generation to another. It passes from parents to children and so on. This transmission is a continuous and spontaneous process. It never remains constant. Man inherits or learns culture from his ancestors and passes it to his successors. In this way culture constantly accumulate.

(4) Culture fulfils needs.

Culture fulfills many social psychological, moral etc. needs of individuals. Culture is created and maintained because of different needs. It fulfills needs of both society as well as individuals. For example, religion used to fulfill the solidarity and integrative needs of society. Our need for food, clothing, shelter, name, fame, status and position are fulfilled as per our cultural ways.

(5) Culture is shared.

Culture is not possessed by a single or a few individual. Culture is shared by majority of individuals. Hence culture is collective in nature. For example polytheism is our culture. It means majority of Indians believe in polytheism.

(6) Culture is Idealistic.

Culture is idealistic in nature. Because it embodies the ideals, values and norms of the group. It sets ideal goals before individuals which is worth attaining. In other words culture is the sum total of ideals and values of individuals in society.

(7) Culture is cumulative.

Culture is not created in one day or one year. It gradually accumulates through centuries. Beliefs, art, morals, knowledge are gradually stored up and became part of culture. Hence culture is the social heritage.

(8) Culture is adaptive.

Culture possesses adaptive capacity. It is not static. It undergoes changes. Different aspects of culture adapt with new environment or challenges posed by social and physical environment. Adaptation refers to the process of adjustment. And culture helps man in this process of adjustment.

(9) Culture is variable.

Culture is variable and changeable. It varies and changes from society to society. Because each and every society has its own culture. It also varies within a society from time to time. Ways of living of people of a particular society varies from time to time.

(10) Culture is organized.

Culture has an order or system. As Taylor says culture is a ‘complex whole’. It means different parts of culture are well organized into a cohesive whole. Different parts of culture is organized in such a way that any change in one part brings corresponding changes in other parts.

(11) Culture is communicative.

Man makes and uses symbol. He also possesses capacity of symbolic communication. Culture is based on symbol and it communicates through different symbols. Common ideas and social heritage etc. are communicated from one generation to another. In our society ‘red color’ stands for danger. In Indian culture red color symbolic danger. Hence culture is communicative in nature.

(12) Language is the chief vehicle of culture.

Culture is transmitted from one generation to the next. It never remain static. This transmission became possible through language. Culture is learned through language.

(13) Culture is a total social heritage.

We know culture is a social product. It is linked with the past. Through transmission past continues to live in culture. It is shared by all.


American Cultural Traits, Values and Assumptions (PDF)

The Culture Wheel: A Graphic Organizer for Cultural Studies (PDF)











Cultural Hearth


CULTURAL HEARTHA cultural hearth is a nuclear area within which an advanced and distinctive set of culture traits, ideas and technologies develops and from which there is diffusion of those characteristics and complexes.


cultural diffusion: the spread of elements of culture from the point of origin over an area



Characteristics of Cultural Hearths

We use the term cultural hearth to describe centers of innovation and invention from which key cultural traits moved to influence surrounding regions.

These are the foundations of major cultures. We can trace the domestication of plants and animals to a small number of areas in the world.

Early cultural hearths formed in areas of surplus in which agriculture freed some people to pursue occupations other than farming.


Location of the World's Ancient Cultural Hearths


Historic Cultural Hearths

Historically, there are several cultural hearths.

Nile Valley

Indus Valley

Wei-Huang Rivers

Ganges Delta



West Africa

Andean America

Many of the ideas and improvements that began in these hearths spread to other parts of the world.


Modern cultural hearths include cities such as London, NY and Tokyo.


THE SPREAD OF BUDDHISMOther things - religions, inventions, etc - have spread from cultural hearths.


Cultural hearths of major religions:  

Middle East: Judaism, Christianity, Islam

Indus / Ganges: Hinduism, Buddhism



Characteristics of hearth areas

o  social stratification and labor specialization

o  government

o  metallurgy and other technologies

o  long-distance trade connections

o  urban culture

o  writing, astronomy, mathematics


Journey of Mankind: The Peopling of the World

Neanderthals Were People, Too

The Emergence Of Human Culture

The Built Environment and Spatial Form











Cities and CultureBuenos Aires Argentina


o   What's a city?

o   What are some basic characteristics of cities?


densely populated


permanent settlements that rely on surplus, specialization and trade to survive


o   Where are cities likely to develop?

o   How important are geographic features to the development of cities?

access to resources, defensive capabilities, ease of transportation and potential for trade

o    How important are non-geographic features to the development of cities?

historic significance

pilgrimage sites



Types of Cities

Political Cities

Some cities were carefully planned before they were built to symbolize and reinforce a ruler's power and authority.

How could you locate a city so it symbolized and strengthened a ruler's power and authority?

What would be at the city's center?

Where would the streets go?

Where would the religious buildings be?

Analyze a city plan of Baghdad Iraq.

How does the plan give the impression that the ruler was the authority?

Other cities that demonstrate a leader's power include Xi'an [formerly Chang'an] China and Hangzhou China.

Commercial Cities

What geographic features are essential for good commerce?

Where would the markets be?

Where would the streets go?  

Analyze a city plan of Calcutta India.

How does its geographic position and layout enhance its commercial importance?

Other major commercial cities include Canton (Guangzhou) China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Samarqand and Bukhoro Uzbekistan, Baku Azerbaijan, Turpan and Shanghai China and Mumbai India.

Cosmic Cities

Besides political and commercial cities, there are also planned cities that represent a people's idea of the cosmos or of the ruler's relationship to the cosmos. They are sometimes called cosmic cities. Many Chinese cities are planned cosmic cities intended to express and maintain the ruler's power.

Analyze city plans of Kyoto Japan.

The ruler's sacred power, which radiated out over the city, was symbolized by a carefully laid-out city plan.

Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, cities in the Khmer Empire, were also cosmic sites.

In what ways are these centers replicas of the cosmos?

Sacred Cities

A fourth type of city is a sacred city, one that grows at a sacred site such as at the base of a sacred mountain or at a location associated with a famous person. Unlike a cosmic city, which can be built at any site, a sacred city cannot be moved … the site is what is most important.

Its development is often haphazard, as pilgrims gather there and merchants come to sell their goods, a city gradually grows.

Jerusalem Israel and Varanasi India are sacred cities.

Analyze city plans of these cities.

Colonial Cities

Some cities in Asia were built by colonial powers and were intended to support their imperial strength.

Shanghai China, Lahore Pakistan, Bombay (Mumbai). and Calcutta and Goa India are examples.


Cities and Urban Planning (PDF)










Cultural Convergence


Cultural convergence is the tendency for cultures to become more alike as they increasingly share technology and organizational structures in a modern world united by improved transportation and communication systems.




Spatial diffusion is the general process by which an idea or innovation is transmitted across space. The geographic principle of spatial diffusion – the spread of any phenomenon, idea, disease or concept through a population across space and through time – can be applied to any phenomenon, idea, disease or technology that spreads through a population. Cultural diffusion overwhelms cultural evolution but diffusion is affected by a number of important variables: the duration and intensity of contact, the degree of cultural integration, similarities between the donor and recipient cultures and built-in cultural resistance.

There are two main types of spatial diffusion: expansion diffusion (a phenomenon that starts at one point and propagates outward from person to person; includes both contagious diffusion and hierarchical diffusion) and relocation diffusion (a phenomenon that starts at one point and propagates outward by relocating to a different place).Diffusion of Islam and the Ten Countries with the Highest Muslim Populations

Expansion diffusion is the spread of a culture (idea, innovation, technology, etc) from one place to another by direct contact. Expansion diffusion has two main subtypes: contagious diffusion and hierarchical diffusion.

Contagious diffusionContagious diffusion is the distance-controlled spreading of an idea, innovation or some other item through a local population by contact from person to person ... analogous to the communication of a contagious illness. For example, this is how Islam spread through most of North Africa and Southwest Asia.

Hierarchical diffusionHierarchical diffusion occurs when the rulers of a region adopt something and make it acceptable, popular or mandatory. The innovation then filters down through the higher levels of society and eventually reaches the masses. In some places, the rulers converted to Islam and decreed it as the official religion of their kingdom.


Relocation diffusionRelocation diffusion takes place when something jumps (relocates) to a new place from a central point, for example, when people move and take their culture with them or when traders or explorers travel outside their home area. When Islam jumped from Southwest Asia to Indonesia, it diffused through relocation. Relocation diffusion also occurred when Islam spread to the US.

comparison of types of diffusion

democratization and spatial diffusion


Diffusion signifies a group phenomenon, which suggests how an innovation spreads. 10% of cultural innovation comes from spontaneous local creation but 90% comes from diffusion from other cultures. Anything that changes culture tends to face resistance. Cultures, by predisposition, both embrace and resist change, depending on cultural traits. There are both dynamic influences that encourage acceptance of change, and controlling forces that resist what change threatens. Cultures adjust to change in three ways: fighting it (the behavior of those who have much invested in the old culture), adapting to it (natural human behavior), or accelerating it. On the world stage we can see the opposition to modernization and globalization that the innovations associated with those mega-diffusions provoke. We can also see those cultures, or segments of cultures, that adapt to or even accelerate modernization and globalization.

Diffusion Adoption Curve

Adoption is an individual process detailing the series of stages one undergoes from first hearing about an innovation to finally adopting it. The diffusion adoption curve shows groups within a culture and how quickly each adopts cultural change. The horizontal X-axis is time and the vertical Y-axis is numbers of people. However, please note that not all innovators, for example, are innovators of all changes or in all situations.

Innovators are not typically part of social groups and explore what's new just because it’s new.

Early adopters seek the leading edge but don’t really want to be first. They are more evaluative than innovators and have a particular skill at sorting the useful ideas from the interesting but ultimately useless concepts that innovators may be raving about. They look for what’s useful and hesitate a bit, looking for some evidence of that.

The early majority prefers the new and popular, and is the first large segment of people in a culture to adopt innovation. This group is comparatively slow to adopt ideas and, when it does, individuals act like a herd, all acting together. They are typically socially aware and do not want to risk rejection by standing out from the crowd. There is often a trigger point, a critical mass, before which the early majority fears losing out if it jumps and after which it fears being rejected if it doesn’t.

The late majority wants cheap and easy. This group is generally risk-averse and although it knows the idea is there, it will put off adopting the idea until it has been developed as far as possible and is as easy as possible to adopt.

Laggards avoid innovation and resist change. It’s not that they change late … they don’t change at all. They view change as too much trouble to adopt or just plain wrong. Laggards can be deceptive, appearing to adopt ideas while actually undermining them.


The Diffusion Simulation Game

The Pencil Metaphor



Diffusion BarriersGraz Austria

Barriers to the spread of ideas/culture can be both physical and cultural.

A physical diffusion barrier can impede the spread of an idea.

examples: mountains, oceans

Physical diffusion barriers were more effective in the past because of limited transportation technology.

A cultural diffusion barrier is when a culture makes a decision not to use a new idea or accept a new culture

example: Amish

Distance decay describes the decline of an activity with increasing distance from its point of origin.




Documenting Diffusion

We can often document the diffusion of ideas and culture:

o  tobacco (England and Spain)

o  corn hybrids

o  soccer in the US

o  Wal-Mart

o  McDonald's



Acculturation and SyncretismSYNCRETISM


Acculturation: the process by which a cultural group (or individual) adopts the traits of a new culture through immigration or conquest.


Syncretism: the development of a new form of cultural trait by the fusion of two or more distinct parental elements … examples: food, religion











Cultural Divergence


When all people were hunters and gatherers their cultures had similarities.

The change to agriculture brought cultural divergence: the tendency for cultures to become increasingly dissimilar with the passage of time.



Hunting and Gathering

o  requires large areas

o  nomadic lifestyle

o  group trade and socialization though generally isolated bands

o  low density

o  5-10 million global population by 9000BC

Before farming, hunting and gathering were the universal forms of primary production. It is only practiced by very few people now, in very isolated areas. These numbers are declining as contact with more technologically advanced cultures is made.





o  domestication of plants and animals

o  greater population per area of land

o  sedentary lifestyle

o  children

o  labor specializations

o  spinning and weaving

o  pottery

o  bricks

o  smelting

o  government-legal codes

o  more formal religion

o  eventually an accelerated rate where change became a way of life 




Hunting and Gathering




~8,000 BC

~8000 BC – ~AD 1750

1750s – 1970s

1970s -- Present


Hunting and gathering

Slash and burn

Livestock domestication trade



International trade

Globalization (MNC)

Social Structure

Subsistence egalitarian


Social divisions




Global culture?



Small groups

Low density


Increase in density


High concentration

Slow growth




Temporary settlements

Low mobility

Permanent settlements



Rapid urbanization

Large metropolitan regions

International migration

Highly urbanized










Cultural Change

Cultural change is constant.

Cultural change can be both major and minor.

Cultural change is brought about by:

o  innovation

o  spatial diffusion

o  acculturation


Mechanisms of Change




...ideas or technology created within one group and adopted by the larger culture

All cultures have some innate resistance to change.

However, when a social group is especially unresponsive to innovation it exhibits cultural lag.



Independent Invention

It is not always clear or certain whether the existence of a cultural trait in two different areas is the result of diffusion.

In some cases independent (or parallel) invention has occurred … example: pyramids











Cultural Conflict


Culture vs. Ethnicity

they are not the same

culture is learned

ethnicity is race (biology)

the same ethnic group can be divided culturally:


o  In Rwanda: Hutus and Tutsis are of the same ethnic group but they are different cultural groups.



o   In Bosnia, the Serbs, Croats and Muslims are all from the same Slavic ethnic group but they are different cultural groups. For example, they speak different languages and practice different religions.



So-called ethnic conflicts are usually cultural conflicts. Often they are not between different races, but rather between different cultural groups.1.5 million Catalans protest, demanding Spain grant independence to Catalonia, its wealthiest region. Spain's economic crisis is blamed for the once-unthinkable pro-independence movement.




...the fragmentation of a region into smaller, often hostile, political units … usually results in a new independent state [Term comes from the Balkan Peninsula of Europe, a region that has balkanized many times and is still undergoing balkanization.]


Examples:                          Yugoslavia, USSR, East Timor

Unsuccessful Attempts:  Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Kurdistan, Catalonia




...the process by which regions within a state demand and gain political strength and growing autonomy at the expense of the central government … results in increased autonomy for a region (If strong enough, these devolutionary pressures may result in balkanization.)


Examples:        Quebec, Indian Reservations in the US, Scotland, Chechnya in Russia (changing)



Centrifugal Forces

...those forces from within a state that tend to divide it … causes of conflicts within a state

Memory Hint:     centrifugal = go apart


Examples:        religion, language, ethnicity, ideology



Centripetal Forces

...those forces from within a state that unite it … forces that keep a country together

Memory Hint:     centripetal = pull together


Examples:        a strong common culture, religion, language, history, a popular national hero, a common outside threat, colonialism, an historical enemy




...a policy of cultural extension and potential political expansion aimed at a national group living in a neighboring country … for example, when India mistreated Muslims living in the Indian states of Jammu and Kashmir, the Muslim government of neighboring Pakistan threatened and ultimately went to war.


Irredentism is often a cause of cultural conflicts as countries protect members of their cultural group living in neighboring countries.


Examples:       the Marsh Shiites, Armenians in Azerbaijan, Muslims in Kashmir, Serbs in Bosnia, Somalis in Ethiopia and Kenya, Afghanis in Pakistan

Solutions:         relocate borders, resettle population, devolution / autonomy









Language word cloud



The Geography of Language


Language is a fundamental strand in the complex web of culture serving to shape and distinguish people and groups.

Languages are constantly changing.

Languages evolve in place; responding to changes and borrowing from other languages.

Languages disperse … carried by migrants, colonizers and conquerors.


Language is an organized system of spoken words by which people communicate with each other with mutual comprehension. This definition fails to recognize the gradations among and between languages or the varying degrees of mutual comprehension between two or more languages.



Language Diversity

Some estimates place the number of languages spoken around the world at 4000 to 6000.

Although this seems like a lot, we estimate that up to 15,000 languages were spoken in the past.


Cultural convergence: More than half of the world’s inhabitants speak just eight languages.



Language Family

...a group of languages descended from a single earlier tongue

Latin: Romance Languages

We can trace Latin, Germanic, Celtic and Slavic (and other) languages further back to a larger family of languages known as the Indo-European Language Family.

About half of the world speaks a language from the Indo-European Family of Languages.




The present world distribution of languages cannot show much of the details, but gives an overall view.



Language Spread

Languages are dynamic and some have spread throughout the world from their place of origin.

Indo-European Languages

Amerindian (Asian) Languages

Bantu and Khoisan Languages

Arabic Language


Language can spread through each type of spatial diffusion.

Relocation: English, Bantu

Expansion: Latin, Arabic

Hierarchical: English in India


Most languages spread through adoption rather than eviction of other languages.



Diffusion Barriers to Language

Language can be affected by the presence or absence of diffusion barriers.


Physical Diffusion Barriers

Pyrenees (Basques)

Caucasus Mountains (Slavic and Ural-Altaic)


Cultural Diffusion Barriers





Language Change

Languages constantly change and these changes may not always be noticeable over a lifetime, but can be significant over longer periods of time.

ShakespeareLanguage tree

King James Bible

Change can be gradual or abrupt.


In the case of the English language:

Norman Conquest (10,000 new words)

From 1558 to 1625 (12,000 new words)

New World (200 new words)

Scientific research, computers, business and the internet are constantly adding new words.


The Story of English

English is a product of change starting with proto-Germanic dialects and other dialects brought by different conquerors (Danish, Angles, Saxons, etc.). Earlier Celtic-speaking people were displaced to the north and west. The Norman Conquest brought more change along with the adoption of French by the nobility. Within 400 years English has developed from a localized language of 7 million islanders to an international language.

     400 million speakers

     400 million know it as a second language

     300 to 400 million who can communicate in English

     English is the official language of 60 countries … more than French, Arabic or Spanish.

The spread of English as a worldwide language was the result of the establishment of overseas colonies and the former English dominance in world trade.


Standard and Variant Languages

People who speak a common language, such as English, are members of a speech community which possesses both a standard language … comprised of the accepted forms of syntax, vocabulary and pronunciation and also of dialects.


Standard Language

At some point in the development of a language one of the dialects becomes accepted as the standard language.

French: Paris

Russian: St. Petersburg and Moscow

Chinese: Mandarin dialect of Beijing

English: Oxford English



All languages display recognizable speech variants -- vocabulary, pronunciation, rhythm -- which are called dialects.

Dialects can become so different that people using the standard language will have trouble understanding other dialects.

Isolation can preserve dialects.

Dialects in America

As early as the 1700s there were three distinctive dialects that developed along the East Coast in America.

These dialects then spread westward along with migrants.

The patterns we see are related to the migration patterns of these people.



A pidgin is a combination of two languages -- usually a simplified form of one -- so that people speaking two different languages can communicate with each other.

A pidgin is not the first language of either speaker.



If a pidgin becomes a first language for a group of people -- who may have lost their former language through disuse -- a Creole has evolved.

Haitian Creole

Swahili -- Bantu

Afrikaans -- Dutch

A pidgin is not a Creole, but a Creole can evolve from a pidgin and in the process develop a more complex grammatical structure and enhanced vocabulary.



Lingua FrancaCuneiform - one of the earliest examples of writing established language used for communication between groups of people who speak different languages


Latin (Latin Quarter)

Arabic (Muslim)

Mandarin Chinese





Official Language

...a country’s required language of instruction in schools, government, business, law and other official functions

Language is a very important part of any culture.

Recently many countries in Europe -- for example, France and Wales -- have relaxed the use of the official language or standard dialect.


Does the US have an official language?




Toponymy is the study of place names.

place names: language on the landscape, a record of past inhabitants


The Geography of Language (PDF)

A new sign language is developing in the Negev desert and it’s catching linguists off-guard.













Religion is a personal or institutional system of worship and faith in the sacred or divine.

It's difficult to define exactly what a religion is, because religion manifests itself in so many different ways. Organized religion has powerful effects on human societies. It has been a major force in combating social ills, sustaining the poor, educating the deprived and advancing medical knowledge. However, religion has also blocked scientific study, supported colonialism and exploitation, and condemned women to an inferior status in many societies. Even where religion is less dominant, its expression is still evident in many practices and beliefs.

Religion, like language, is a symbol of group identity. The role of religion can vary in culture, dominating among some and unimportant or denied in others.

Non-religious value systems -- Humanism or Marxism -- can be just as binding or important to some people or cultures.






type and distribution





(2000 years ago)

diffusion by missionaries, trade, colonization, globalization



hierarchical relationship between people and nature

churches: urban location and center of town



continuation of the early Christian community established by Jesus Christ

diffusion by missionaries, exploration, colonization, conquest

S America

S Europe

infallibility of the Pope

less emphasis on scriptures

omnipotent Triune God

emphasis placed on saints with special status of  Mary

Christ: son of God

all are sinners and can only be saved by grace through church ritual

authority of the church lies within the hierarchy of the church

churches: elaborately decorated, higher, spacious



formed from split with Roman Catholicism during the Reformation in the 16th century

diffusion by immigration, conversion, missionaries

N America

N Europe

priesthood of the believers

scriptures: final authority in Christian doctrine

omnipotent Triune God, existence of angels and devil

Christ: son of God

all are sinners and can only be saved by grace

churches: less decorated, most are modest in size

to varying degrees maintained or rejected Roman Catholic forms of worship

Orthodoxy (Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Orthodox)

continuation of the early Christian community established by Jesus Christ, especially as it developed within the Greek-speaking eastern branch of the Roman Empire

diffusion by immigration, conversion, missionaries



E Europe

follow beliefs and practices defined by first seven ecumenical councils (dating back to the first ten centuries)

more inclined toward philosophy, mysticism, and ideology

less emphasis on scriptures

omnipotent Triune God

Christ: son of God

veneration of icons and a mystical form of meditative prayer

worship: highly liturgical and extremely iconographic

churches tend to be more elaborate


Medina and Mecca

(1,300+ years ago)

diffusion by trade and military control

rapid growth


five pillars of Islam

Islamic law: no codified laws per se, but rather various schools of law

centrality of the Quran, the Prophet's hadith (sayings) and the sunna, or customs

Christianity and Judaism are "People of the Book"

mosque: place of worship and community center

Mecca: Holy City

Sunni Muslim (largest)

Original split occurred after death of Muhammad, in 632 over dispute among Muslims in present-day Saudi Arabia over the question of succession.

Most wanted the community of Muslims to  choose a caliph to succeed him (Sunnis) but a smaller group (Shia) thought someone from his family should succeed (Ali, who was married to Muhammad's daughter, Fatimah).

Split was violent but over the centuries have lived peacefully together for long periods of time.

diffusion by conquest, trade, missionaries

Middle East

N Africa


majority in most Muslim countries

rightly-guided caliphs

authoritative revelation ended with Prophet Muhammad

doctrine is more rigidly aligned in accordance with the various schools but its hierarchical structure is looser and often falls under state, rather than clerical, control

All mosques, no matter their affiliation with Sunni or Shia Muslims, generally have a similar physical set up, and universally contain a niche on the wall called a mirhab that points worshipers toward the direction of Mecca.

Shiite Muslim

diffusion by conquest

Iran and Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, Azerbaijan, Lebanon

minority spread across the world

infallible imams - continuation of authoritative revelation

imams have taken on a spiritual significance that no clerics in Sunni Islam enjoy

God took 12th imam (known as the Mahdi or Messiah) into hiding, and he will come back at the end of time

the full word and meaning of the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad's message will only be made manifest, or real and just, upon the return of the 12th Imam

build and visit shrines


Ganges Plain

(2,500+ years)

Buddhism, in its origin at least, is an offshoot of Hinduism,

reaction to the less desirable features of Hinduism such as its strict social hierarchy.

spread from India to South, East and Southeast Asia

diffusion by relocation, missionaries (monks and emissaries), trade from India to E and SE Asia


Siddhartha was meditating under a tree when he was
visited by Gabriel and given the word of God. He changed his name to Buddha and went out to spread the word

balanced relationship with nature

don't believe in an absolute entity / supreme being

common basic teachings of Four Noble Truths, Eight fold path

temples: rural location, visited only occasionally




schism after first council on death of the Buddha over monastic rules and academic points such as whether an enlightened person could lapse or not

South: Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Lao, Cambodia, parts of SE Asia, S Asia, Australia, North America

"teaching of the elders": refers to pure or original teachings of the Buddha 2,500+ years ago, pre-Buddhist Indian influences

no concept of sin, all deeds are volitional and have their fruits

abstain from all kinds of evil, accumulate all that is good and purify our minds through ethical conduct, meditation and insight-wisdom

intense, dedicated, time-consuming effort required to attain enlightenment, strives for wisdom first

there is no worship but there are monastic temples

statues are used for meditation and prayers

few rituals, not emphasized

politically conservative

Mahayana (largest)

North: Tibet, China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Mongolia, parts of SE Asia, Australia, North America

"great vehicle": more of an umbrella body for a great variety of schools, heavily influenced by local religious ideas as transmitted to new cultures

practices: meditation, regular visits to temples to make offerings to the Buddha

enlightenment achieved through normal life with spiritual involvement, strives for compassion first

worship in temples and monasteries

statues are used for meditation and prayers

many rituals owing to local cultural influences

politically liberal



(4,000 years ago)

one of the world’s oldest religions - no identifiable
founder, no specific book or even a path to

diffusion by conversion, trade, relocation

Did not spread much because Hindus
believe that you must be born into Hinduism and that conversion is not a complete
acceptance into the religion.


(India, Nepal, SE Asia)

spread from N India to the Indian sub-continent

focused in India and SE Asia


diverse practices: no unified system of beliefs and ideas, religion and culture nearly interchangeable in Hinduism

understanding Brahma (existence) from within the Atman (self or soul)

attaining the highest life is a process of removing bodily distractions from life

moral ideals: non-violence, truthfulness, friendship, compassion, fortitude, self-control, purity, generosity

polytheistic: many gods, but they all come from Atman

reincarnation: constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached

caste system

temples (mandir) and shrines to many gods

no official clergy

idol worship

statues used as meditation objects

holy animals

endless processions and rituals

sacred space: Ganges River



(~3,500 years)

Abraham considered father of Jewish people

diffusion by relocation due to political and religious persecution


Israel, parts of US and Europe

first monotheistic religion, omnipotent God with whom every Jew can have an individual and personal relationship

no official creed

used to describe a race and culture, as well as a religion

covenant relationship: doing things in the way that pleases God is an act of worship, try to bring holiness into everything they do

God appointed the Jews to be his chosen people in order to set an example of holiness and ethical behavior.

a faith of action: people should be judged not so much by the intellectual content of their beliefs but by the way they live their faith

sacred text: the Tenakh, legal books, written by rabbis, determine the law as it applies to life

synagogue: place where Jews come together for community prayer

structures not necessary

Jerusalem, Holy Land

shul: emphasizes synagogue's role as a place of study, study of sacred texts is a life-long task

temple: consider every meeting place to be equivalent to, or replacement for, the Temple in Jerusalem


varied in origins
and time

We have seen evidence of animism in groups as far back as 10,000 BCE but because animism is characteristic of many indigenous religions, its sources lay in many times and places.

diffusion by relocation


tribal / ethnic

N Canada,

S America, Sub-Saharan Africa, S Pacific.

belief system of some indigenous tribal peoples, especially prior to the development of organized religion

worldview that non-human entities - such as animals, plants inanimate objects, even words - possess a spiritual essence

belief in innumerable spiritual beings concerned with human affairs and capable of helping or harming human interests

many different practices: reflect the geographic environment, spiritual cultural history and distinct worldview of the groups who practice its various expressions

examples: shamanism, neo-paganism, totemism, Ojibwe concept of personhood, Munism of the Lepcha, Voudon, Australian Aboriginals

natural objects are sacred and respected

no specific religious sites of worship for all

holds nature in the highest regard

Structures are generally very old and made of stone.

Holy places derive from the distinctive physical environment, such as mountains, rivers or rock formations.




Religion and the LandscapeGate of the Buddhist Shosanji temple, Japan

Religions can leave an imprint on the cultural landscape.





Classification of Religion

Monotheism is the belief in a single deity or god.

Polytheism is the belief in many gods.


Neither of these classifications is particularly spatially relevant.

Geographers focus on the patterns and diffusion of religions.



...claim applicability to all humans and seeks converts … it has open membership and no one is excluded because of nationality, ethnicity or previous religious belief

Christianity, Islam and Buddhism are examples of universalizing religions.

Universalizing religions tend to expand.

More than half of the world adheres to the major universalizing religions.


Ethnic Religions

...have strong territorial and cultural group identification

Membership is by birth or by the adoption of a complex lifestyle … not by a simple declaration of faith. (Do not seek converts.)

Judaism, Hinduism and Shinto are examples of ethnic religions.

Ethnic religions tend to be regionally confined.


Tribal or Traditional Religions

...special forms of ethnic religions distinguished by their small size and close ties to nature

Animism is the belief that life exists in all objects.

Shamanism involves the community acceptance of a shaman who interprets the spirit world.

Tribal religions tend to contract and become incorporated into other religions.


Secularism indifference or rejection of religion and religious belief

Secularism is an increasing part of many modern societies … particularity of industrialized nations.









Religion and MigrationGEOG 1303 MARGIN NOTES




Most migration decisions are based on economic opportunity; real or perceived.

Other factors can include:





Many times the decision to migrate is based on perception more than reality. Individual migration decisions are based on push and pull factors.


Push factors: negative home conditions impel people to migrate, push them away

Pull factors: perceived attractions of another location, pull them to come


Place Utility is the measure of an individual’s satisfaction with a given location ... The potential migrant considers not only the place utility of his present location, but also the expected place utility of potential destinations.


Migration Fields are the areas from which a given city or place draws the majority of its in-migrants.



Types of Migrants

Forced Migrants                                Reluctant Migrants

African Slaves                                     Refugees

Native Americans                              Bosnians




Types of Migration

There are several different ways that people can migrate including:


Step migration: step by step transition usually from a smaller place to a larger place

Chain migration: the process by which migration movements from a common home area to a specific destination are sustained by links of friendship or kinship between first movers and later followers

Counter migration: the return of migrants to the regions from which they earlier emigratedGlobal Migration Trends Infographic


link to MPI

Global International Migration Flows.

The Global Migration Group (GMG

United Nations Global Migration Database

Pew Research Center Migration Center

Population Reference Bureau Immigration Center

Cool Maps' Global Trends in Migration Interactive Map

MacArthur Foundation Global Migration Program

The Many Faces of Global Migration from Gallup











Ethnic Geography


Ethnic GeographyNorth America is a composite of many ethnic groups. Increasingly that is the case for the whole world.

The multiple movements, diffusions, migrations and mixings of people of different origins are the subject of ethnic geography.

Even the most seemingly homogenous countries are home to distinctive groups.




...a term derived from the Greek term ethnos, meaning a people or nation. No single trait denotes ethnicity … group recognition may be based on language, religion, national origin or unique customs. Ethnicity is a spatial concept and ethnic groups are associated with clearly recognized territories.


Ethnocentrism is the term describing a tendency to evaluate other cultures against the standards of one’s own. This sometimes leads to a feeling of superiority of one’s ethnic group or culture over another.


Ethnic Groups and Conflict

Many times the mixing of ethnic groups produces conflict.


urban areas






The host society is the established and dominant society within which immigrant groups seek accommodation.

When an immigrant group adopts cultural and social modifications that permit it to operate effectively within its new social surroundings, the process is known as acculturation.

Assimilation is when an individual or minority group has greatly reduced or loses completely its identifying traits and blends into the host society. Assimilation does not necessarily mean that ethnic consciousness or awareness is lost. Many times ethnic consciousness is revived by the group most assimilated.

Culture rebound is the re-adoption of culture traits and identities associated with your ethnic forebears or ancestral homelands.

Culture Transfer: When immigrants arrive in a new location they bring their culture with them. How much is kept depends on the circumstances.






Immigration Streams

In North America everyone is technically a migrant. If we look at the relatively recent (last 500 years) immigration to North America we can break it down to three major waves.

In 1920 13% of the US population was foreign born.

In 1970 only 4.8% was foreign born.

By 1990 8.8% was foreign born.

Immigration accounts for about 30% of population growth in the US.


    First Immigration Stream

from beginning of pioneer settlement to about 1870

mostly Northwestern Europe (English, German, Irish Scotch-Irish, Welsh) and African (About 20% in 1790)

source area of the majority of the migrants changed


    Second Migration Stream

from 1870 to 1921

made up of mostly migrants from eastern and southern Europe (Poles, Italians, Slavs, Jews and Scandinavians)

ended with new immigration laws


    Third Immigration Stream

started in the 1960s with changes in the immigration laws and continuing to present

composed of mostly Hispanics and Asians



The Doctrine of First Effective Settlement

Whenever an empty territory undergoes settlement or an earlier population is dislodged by invaders, the specific characteristics of the first group able to effect a viable, self perpetuating society -- the charter group -- are of crucial significance for the later social and cultural geography of the area, no matter how tiny the initial band of settlers may have been.

Wilbur Zelinsky termed the imprint left by the charter group as the doctrine of first effective settlement.

The English became the charter group for most of North America establishing the cultural norms and standards.

In eastern Canada the French were the charter group.

In the southwestern US the Spanish were the charter group.


Ethnic locations in the Denver area


Ethnic Clusters

Many ethnic groups that came to urban areas in the US moved to ethnic enclaves. (chain migration)

Some ethnic groups that moved to rural areas created ethnic islands. (cluster migration)



Ethnic Provinces

Some entire regions of North America have become associated with certain ethnic groups.



African Americans

Native Americans



African American Migrations

During the 20th century many African Americans moved from the South to urban areas in the North ... over 5 million from 1940 to 1970 alone.

Changes in technology (share cropping)

Industrial opportunities

Starting in the 1970s there has been a major counter-migration.

Hispanic Migrations

Hispanics are the fastest growing minority group, soon to pass African Americans.

Diverse group

Mexicans (60% of all Hispanics)

Puerto Ricans (NYC, Philadelphia, MA, CO, NJ)

Cubans (Miami)

Dominicans (NYC)

Hondurans (New Orleans)

Chain Migration

Asian Migrations

The rapid growth of Asian Migration is due to:

The change in the immigration laws (chain migration)

Refugees from the Vietnam Conflict

Most Asians migrate to the West (59%) with 40% residing in California.


Vietnamese (Orange County)

Hmong (Minneapolis)

Koreans (26% in Koreatown)



Urban Ethnic Areas and SegregationAtlanta MSA Census Tracts - Segregation / Integration

Immigrant neighborhoods are a measure of the social distance that separates the minority from the charter group.

Segregation is the extent to which members of an ethnic group are not uniformly distributed in relation to the rest of the population.


The rate of assimilation of ethnic groups is dependent on both external and internal controls.

External Controls: Groups on the edge of an ethnic enclave will use blocking tactics to keep that group out of their neighborhood.

        Tipping point

Internal Controls

The self-elected segregation of ethnic groups serves four functions including:

Defense (reduces exposure-familiar)

Support (language, jobs, relatives)

Preservation of the culture (diet, marriage)

Attack (voting and political representation)



Ethnic Areas

While an ethnic cluster endures it may be termed a colony or point of entry, many times dispersing after assimilation.

When an ethnic cluster persists because the occupants keep it intact the area is considered an ethnic enclave.

When the cluster is perpetuated by external forces and discrimination it is a ghetto.

Ethnic neighborhoods are not always permanent.

Los Angeles










Agriculture Emerges, 5,000-500 BC



Primary Sector


SOCIAL REVOLUTIONSAgriculture: defined as the growing of crops and the tending of livestock whether for subsistence or commercial reasons, has replaced hunting and gathering as the most significant of the primary economic activities.

In developing areas farming is 75-90% of the labor force. In developed areas, it is 10% or less.

The Geography of Agriculture



Subsistence Agriculture

...consists of any agricultural economy in which the crops and/or animals are used nearly exclusively for local or family consumption

In most of Africa, Asia and much of Latin America, a large percentage of people are primarily involved with feeding themselves from their own land and livestock.


Two types of subsistence agriculture are recognized: extensive and intensive. Although each type has several varieties, the essential contrast between them is yield per unit of area used.

Extensive subsistence agriculture involves large areas of land and minimal labor input per acre. Both product per land unit and population densities are low.

Intensive subsistence agriculture involves the cultivation of small parcels of land through the expenditure of great amounts of labor per acre. Yields per unit area and population densities are high. Intensive subsistence agriculture involves the cultivation of small parcels of land through the expenditure of great amounts of labor per acre. Yields per unit area and population densities are high. The major crops produced are rice, wheat, corn, millet and pulses (peas and beans). Most of these people live in monsoon areas of Asia and rice is the major crop which under ideal conditions can provide high yields per unit of land.


Urban subsistence agriculture is an important part of food production in urban areas of the least developed parts of the world.

Positive: more food on marginal land using (recycling) garbage, human wastes.

Negative: environmental/degradation (water supplies) and health problems (spread of disease) from indiscriminant use of fertilizers (human waste) and pesticides/herbicides.




Nomadic Herding

...the wandering, but controlled movement of livestock, solely dependent on natural forage, the most extensive type of land use system

Sheep and goats are the most common with cattle, horses and yaks locally important. The common characteristics are hardiness, mobility and ability to subsist on sparse forage. These animals provide milk, cheese, meat, hair, wool, skins and dung (for fuel).

Declining in numbers (Russia and The Sahel)



Shifting Cultivation

Another form of extensive subsistence agriculture is found in the tropical rainforest areas where people engage in a kind of nomadic farming. This shifting cultivation is called swidden or slash and burn. In these areas, the soils have little ability to hold nutrients because of the large amounts of rain.

The trees and brush are hacked down and burned, and these areas are planted with corn, millet, rice, manioc, yams and sugar cane. Then the field is moved to another area and the plot is allowed to re-vegetate. More and more commercial crops such as coffee are grown as a cash crop.

Initial yields are high, but drop off as the nutrients are used or washed away. Productivity is maintained by rotation of plots rather than crops. Problems include declining soil fertility and population pressures.

Nearly 5% of the world’s population and 1/5 of the world’s land area are predominantly engaged in tropical shifting agriculture.




The Cost of Territorial Expansion

Rapidly growing populations have led to more and more intensive, extensive and exhaustive use of land for agriculture. When population pressures dictate land conversion, serious environmental deterioration may result.

    Tropical rain forests




The Green Revolution

Increased productivity of existing cropland rather than expansion of cultivated area has accounted for most of the growth of food production over the past few decades.

The Green Revolution is a shorthand reference to a system of seed and management (fertilizer and pesticide/herbicide) improvements adapted to the needs of intensive agriculture that have brought larger harvests from a given parcel of farmland.

Between 1965 and 1995, world cereal production rose 90%. The increase was due to increases in yields rather than expansion of cropland. Harvests have risen dramatically. Genetic improvement in rice and wheat has formed the basis of the Green Revolution.

Negative Aspects Of The Green Revolution

Irrigation has mined water and destroyed some soils through salinization.

Less genetic diversity

Industrialization of farming

Very energy intensive

Only the most developed parts of the world can afford this type of agriculture.



Commercial Agriculture

In the most developed areas of the world, agriculture is managed like an industry … the farm is a factory that must turn out consistent products that can be processed efficiently.

Intensive commercial agriculture is practiced in areas where large amounts of capital (machinery, fertilizers) and/or labor per unit of land are used with the crops being sold in the market place. Often called truck farms (fruits, vegetables and dairy products)

Extensive commercial agriculture is characterized by low amounts of labor (highly mechanized) per unit of land area and is practiced further from markets on less expensive land. Typified by wheat (grain) farming and livestock raising.



Mediterranean Agriculture

Special circumstances, most often climatic, make some places far from markets intensively developed agricultural regions.

Mediterranean agriculture: grapes, olives, oranges, figs, vegetables ... these crops need warm temperatures all year long … winter rain, summer dry, irrigation

These are some of the most productive regions of the world.



Plantation Crops - bananas

Plantation Crops

...specialized crops usually native to the tropics in areas where the climate is conducive to these crops: coffee, sugar, cacao, tobacco, rubber, tea, bananas

Plantation crops are not for local consumption and are usually grown near coastlines to export.



Resource Exploitation

In addition to agriculture other primary economic activities include fishing, forestry and mining of materials … The development of these primary activities is dependent on the occurrence of these resources (availability), the technology to exploit these resources and the cultural awareness of their value.

There are renewable and non-renewable resources.

Fishing and forestry are gathering industries based on the harvesting of renewable resources. In some cases, gathering can be extractive such that the renewable resource cannot recover.

The mining of minerals and mineral fuels is non-renewable.

The maximum sustainable yield of a resource is the maximum volume or rate of use that will not impair its ability to be renewed or to maintain the same future productivity.


                                                The Tragedy of the Commons (3:19)

The Tragedy of the Commons

1832: William Forster Lloyd observed the devastation of common pastures and the puny and stunted draft animals that grazed on them.

1968: Garrett Hardin created the economic term tragedy of the commons.

The commons refers to any resource shared by a group of people.

Each household has the right to take resources from and put waste into the commons.

As the population grows, greed runs rampant and the commons collapses … the tragedy of the commons.

The plight of the commons in Lloyd's day is similar to the problems of over-fishing in our times.




Fish provide a significant amount (7%) of protein consumed by the world. Reliance on fish is greatest in developing countries of eastern and southeast Asia, Africa and parts of Latin America.

Almost all marine fishing is from the coastal areas. The wetlands, bays, estuaries, provide the nutrients from rivers and the spawning grounds for many species.

Both over-fishing and pollution have endangered the supply of the traditional and desired food species.FISH FARM

Aquaculture or fish farming is becoming more and more important.

    Asian rice paddies

    Catfish and crawfish (SE US)


Fish farming is now about 30% of the world’s fish harvest and is growing every year.



Commercial forestryForestry

Commercial forests are restricted to two very large global belts.

the middle latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere

the equatorial zones of Central and South America, Central Africa and Southeast Asia

Two major uses of wood:

Industrial: paper, construction, furniture, 50% of all industrial wood harvested in US

Fuel: charcoal, heat, cooking; mostly in developing worlds, depleted at a rate above the maximum sustainable yield

Tropical lowland hardwood mostly cut down for fuel.





Mineral resources are not distributed evenly across the world. We have exploited the easiest ones.

Three types of minerals determined by geology: metallic minerals, non-metallic minerals and mineral fuels.

Metallic minerals: copper, iron, nickel, zinc, lead, etc. The metals market is highly volatile and driven by changes in supply and demand.

Non-metallic minerals: construction materials, gravel, building stone, gypsum and limestone for cement.

Mineral Fuels: also known as fossil fuels.

Coal: earliest in importance and still most plentiful of the mineral fuels … Supply measured in centuries.

Petroleum: most unevenly distributed of the major resources with 80% of known reserves in 8 countries. 2/3 of world’s total is in Arab states of Middle East.

30 to 70 years of known resources

Natural gas: called the nearly perfect energy resource. A highly efficient, versatile fuel that requires little processing and is environmentally benign.

50 years of known resources


[We'll take another look at primary industries when we look at economic geography.]





Copyright 1996 Amy S Glenn
Last updated:   07/03/2024 2100

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