Places and Regions

So, today I wanted to talk about the second element in the The US Geography Standards, Places and Regions (If you’d like to take a look at them yourself, The Standards were printed in 1994 under the title Geography for Life by Roger Downs). Place continues to be a central theme in Geography, and regional geography has been a focus of geographic studies since the early part of the twentieth century. Within the theme of Places and Regions, there are three standards:

4) The Physical and Human Characteristics of Places

5) That People Create Regions to Interpret Earth’s Complexity

6) How Culture and Experience Influence People’s Perceptions of Places and Regions

As we have talked about before on the podcast, place can be defined as a location that has some meaning and/or relevance to a person (people), but it is really much more than that. Standard 4 seeks to ensure that students understand the importance of place and how place impacts them through interaction or change. The make up of a place is just as important, with both physical and human elements key in understanding a place. Whether the place of interest is a house, a state, or even a planet, this multiscalar concept is part of our identity and worldview, and helps us make decisions and interpretations about the spaces we live in every day.

While place is often seen in terms of local and individual scales, the concept of region is generally used a identify an area (Standard 5). The definitions of regions are often subjective and may vary based on who is defining it. The area included in a region is usually distinct in some way such as ecological regions (desert, forest, grassland…), but can also be a social creation (MSAs, counties, ethnic regions). Thus, regions can be dynamic and are open for interpretation which sometimes make them challenging as units of study, however the notion of regions provide useful ways to abstract information about the world around to make it more usable and regions offer a structure to do just that. They allow us to compartmentalize spatial information in ways that allow us to analyze and understand more readily than considering an area as its component parts.

Standard 6, is much closer to home for me, as its goal is to show how cultural experiences influence perceptions. As an human geographer (who also has a degree in Anthropology) I seek the cultural impact in everything that I research, but I also try to consider how things might have a completely different meaning from a different cultural perspective. However, while culture has a very broad impact on how we look at the world around us, our personal experience also play a crucial role in how we understand the world. As each person has a different set of experiences, some that may overlap with others but many more that do not, we will often take different meanings and ideas away from an event. These differences in perception, both cultural and experiential, are what creates similarities and differences between people and groups. Understanding these similarities and differences can help us to face many of the challenges that arise in a global culture that may lead to strife and war.

A combination of the spatial concepts of Element 1 and human perception of space as outlined in Element 2 are the base that is built upon by the next four elements of the Geography Standards. Be sure to check back tomorrow for Element 3: Physical Systems.