Geography is derived from the Greek word geo, meaning “earth, ground, or land” and graph, meaning “to write.” Geography is writing about the earth. Greek mathematician Eratosthenes (276–194 BCE) was the first to coin the term and establish the study of geography. Geography is the study of the natural physical environment, including the characteristics of and the arrangement of landforms and the spatial relations of places on Earth as well as the impact of the natural environment and environmental change on humans. As a science, geography has many fields and subfields but the main branches of geography are physical geography and human geography. Cartography, or mapping and map making, is also a scientific discipline within geography. It is the creation of maps through mapping a physical location. Geographers show and analyze the relationship of a location to its human population and their interactions, which is human geography, sometimes called cultural geography, though this is also considered a subfield.
Classical geography as it was practiced from the ancient Greek period through the nineteenth century was primarily the physical geography of local areas. Cartographers from around the world added other places as they were explored. Geography and cartographic knowledge later became academic disciplines and part of the education students were required to learn in universities during the expansion of colonial powers into Asia, Africa, Australia, and North and South America. This knowledge was connected by geographers to the analysis of each continent's natural resources, which were then used to fuel the Industrial Revolution. Along with the need to map the Earth physically grew a desire for the cultural study of human geography—the study of how humans interact within communities and cultures and what part environment and location play in those relationships. An early use of geography for more than mapping physical location occurred in the nineteenth century when a doctor used geographical methods to observe, use an analysis of human interactions, and map a cholera outbreak in a London neighborhood. The theory of environmental determinism became popular at this time, purporting that one’s human habits were influenced directly by a person's local geography and the ecology.
Specifically, human geography uses qualitative and quantitative methods to research patterns within human interactions in communities, economies, and cultures in particular environments and locations. From the early days of environmental determinism to the introduction of statistical information in the 1960s and the use of geographical information systems, subfields have developed that research economic, social, political, language, migration, globalization, urban, feminist, sexuality, spatial, children’s, animal, and cultural geography, to name a few.
With how diverse the physical world is and how the human population has spread to all areas of the earth and continues to relate spatially to the environment, human geography research is infinite.