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Table of Contents


Geographic Realms


Regions under Study








Geographic Realms


Spatial: the largest geographic units into which the inhabited world can be divided

Functional: defined by farms, mines, fishing ports, transport routes, dams, bridges, villages and other features on the landscape

Demographic: represent the most comprehensive and encompassing definition of the great clusters of humankind in the world today

Transitional: where geographic realms meet transition zones (not sharp boundaries) mark their contacts … areas where peripheries of two adjacent realms join as a gradual shift distinguishing the neighboring realms

Variable: change over time












Areas of the earth’s surface marked by certain properties

Devices that enable us to make spatial generalizations

Based on criteria we establish

Criteria can be:

o   Human (cultural) properties

o   Physical (natural) characteristics

o   Both

All regions have:

o   Area

o   Boundaries

o   Location


Formal Region

Marked by a certain degree of homogeneity in one or more variable (culture, physical, etc)

Also called a uniform region or homogeneous region

Entire area shares essential uniformity across the space.



Functional Region

Defined by a node of activity and distance decay from the center (i.e. cell phone coverage).

A region marked less by its sameness than its dynamic internal structure … integration of functions

A region formed by a set of places and their functional integration

A spatial system focused on a central core (a city and its suburbs)


Hinterland: the area surrounding a core (“country behind”)



Vernacular Region

Common perception of cultural identity (i.e., “Deep South”)

















Transition Zones

All regional boundaries are transition zones. Some are large, like the boundary between Sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa. Others may be quite narrow and distinct, but they are still transition zones. For example the boundary between the North American region and the Middle American region runs along the US/Mexico border. Even though this seems rather distinct, there are similar characteristics on both sides of this border (Spanish language, Catholic religion, a similar physical environment). This regional boundary, like all regional boundaries, is a transition zone.



Why do geographers use regions?

Geographers study a very wide range of issues (utilizing the spatial perspective).Climate Regions

Regions simplify the world. Regions are one way to organize and simplify the vast amount of information available. Even though regions are created by the geographer, they are designed in such a way that the information they provide will be useful.

Regions categorize the world. Maps of climate or wealth distribution can help us understand the world around us. By grouping similar things into regions, we can tell at a glance where the cold areas are or where poor people live. We can even begin to recognize any patterns that might exist. Do the locations of cold areas match the locations of poor people? They don’t, but if they did what might be the reasons?

Biologists do the same thing when they divide living organisms into different groups with similar characteristics to better understand the enormous variety of living organisms. If you’ve taken biology you’ll recognize terms like domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus and species. Those are the groupings biologists use to categorize living organisms based on their characteristics.

In the same way, geographers use regions to categorize spatial areas based on the myriad characteristics that we use to describe humans and the world in which we live. What criteria could we use to designate a region? As we have seen, almost anything. What criteria will we use in this course? We’ll use 5 geographic themes:

physical geography

population geography (demography)

cultural geography

economic geography

political geography.

We’ll use the physical, demographic, cultural, economic and political characteristics of each region to define it and to compare and contrast it with other regions.










The 13 regions we are studying are on the pages linked at the top of this page and are found as shown below.


the 13 regions we are studying

The Americas Page

1. North America

2. Middle America (Central America and the Caribbean)

3. South America


Africa Page

4. Sub-Saharan Africa

5. North Africa and Southwest Asia


Europe (6) and The Russian Domain (7) Page


Asia and the Pacific Page

8. Central Asia

9. East Asia

10. South Asia

11. Southeast Asia

12. Australia and New Zealand

13. Oceania

[I've added a section on Antarctica at the bottom of the Asia & Pacific page. Antarctica is not a region under study and not part of Asia but it's of interest to students.]


When we begin to look at the regions listed above - South Asia, Europe, Middle American, Sub-Saharan Africa, etc - we will do so within the framework of those five themes. We will look at each region's (1) physical, (2) cultural, (3) demographic, (4) economic and (5) political characteristics. It's important, then, that you take the time to grasp the concepts under each of those five themes or you'll be lost when we look at the world's regions.



As we look at each region, I will assume you are familiar with the material covering the five themes above. If, at any point, you are confused by something, I urge you to go back to the material for that theme. For example, the political characteristics section of a region mentions country shapes and you don't remember anything about country shapes. Go to the section of the margin notes dealing with the political geography theme, find the part that discusses country shapes and make certain you understand the concepts.

If you don't do that, you'll understand very little of the regional material and that only in a very shallow way (Hmmm...I wonder what "country shapes" means. Probably not important.), and you will not do well on your assignments ... much less end the course with any grasp of human geography.

Bottom line? Keep up with the assigned margin notes readings over the themes in human geography and refer back to them as often as you need in order to understand the regions we look at in human geography.


World Continents (4:01)





Copyright 1996 Amy S Glenn
Last updated:   03/04/2024 2300

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