Human Geography

*Human geography is the study and description of human populations and activities on the Earth.  It can include demographic, cultural, social, political, and economic elements.

*There are currently about 6.3 billion people in the world.  For most of human history, there were fewer than one billion people on Earth, but the world population has exploded in the past two hundred years.  The world reached 1 billion in 1802, 2 billion in 1927, 3 billion in 1961, 4 billion in 1974, 5 billion in 1987, 6 billion in 1999, and it is thought that by 2050, there may be 9 or 10 billion people on the Earth.

*This rapid growth is due largely to an incredible decrease in death rates.  A region’s death rate is the number of people per thousand who die every year (on average).  The birth rate is the number per thousand who are born every year.  If the birth rate exceeds the death rate by a significant margin, the rate of natural increase will grow.

*There has been a trend in population growth in most countries as they have become industrialised and developed.  Historically, most places had high birth rates and high death rates, and thus fairly steady population levels.  Eventually, improvements in medicine and living conditions reduce the death rate, but the birth rate does not initially decrease, which leads to an increase in the population—sometimes an explosion.  Eventually, the birth rate decreases to match the new death rate, and the population becomes steady again.    This process happened in the United States and most of Europe in the 19th and 20th Centuries, and is happening in the rest of the world now.

*Some highly developed countries (Germany and Hungary, for example) now have such low birth rates that they are even in danger of losing population—they only make up for it with increased immigration, which has its own problems. 

*Immigration is movement into a region; emigration is movement out. 

*The most densely populated parts of the world are Europe (with a long tradition of healthy people and city-dwelling) and Asia, which has seen a tremendous increase in its population over the past century.  Today over 60% of the Earth’s population lives in Asia alone—about one out of every 5 people on Earth is a Chinaman, and nearly one in six comes from India.

*A country with a lot of people is not necessarily crowded; population density refers to how many people live (on average) on a square mile.  Russia and Bangladesh have about the same number of people (143-144 million people), but because Bangladesh is a country of 55,598 square miles while Russia has 6,592,745 square miles, Bangladesh is the 7th most densely populated country in the world (with 2,595 people per square mile) while Russia is 178th, with 22 people per square mile.  The United States is 143rd, with 80 people per square mile.  If Johnson City were as densely populated as Bangladesh is on average (not counting the population of the cities), we would have 102,793 people within the city limits (instead of 55,469).

*We can study the people of the world through their cultures.  Culture, anthropologically speaking, is the set of shared customs that cause a group of people to consider themselves (or to be seen by others as) members of a particular and unique group.

*There are many factors to cultures.  Most cultures will be made up of members of one ethnic group (but not always).  Most cultures will tend to have a certain type of government, and some will even define their culture by their governments (Americans are proud to be part of a democracy—historically it set us apart from Europe).  Cultures can be described in economic terms—many peoples of the world have certain professions they tend to follow or that have special meaning to them, and even different approaches to work, business, and economic exchanges. 

*Most cultures are connected by a common religion (see page 81); the Americas and Europe are traditionally Christian, although different countries have often had particular denominations of Christianity that they followed.  The Middle East is largely defined by the general practise of Islam there.  India is predominantly Hindu—in fact, when the British released their old colony of India, they divided it into modern India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh based on which parts of the colony were mostly Hindu or Moslem.  In much of East Asia, Buddhism is the most important religion. 

*Christianity has more adherents than any other religion (2.1 billion, with Catholics as the largest single denomination within Christianity), followed closely by Islam (1.8 billion, but growing fast), and then those who claim to have no religion (1.1 billion), then by Hinduism (900 million), traditional Chinese religions (394 million), and Buddhism (376 million).  There are only about 14 million Jews in the world, making Judaism the 14th most numerous religion, but it has had a great deal of influence in the world nonetheless.

*Language has often been one of the most important elements in a culture—after all, it is how a culture expresses itself and passes on traditions, and even shapes how its speakers perceive the world.

*Most of the world’s languages fall into about 15 major linguistic families, each made up of languages that are thought to have descended from some common language over thousands of years.  In addition to the languages in these families there are many linguistic isolates.

*The most-spoken language in the world is Mandarin Chinese, followed by English (although many English-speakers have learnt it as a second language).  Hindi and Spanish are also among the most spoken languages in the world.

*Most of the languages of Europe (including Russia) are part of the Indo-European family of languages.  Hindi, Urdu, Farsi (Iranian and Afghan), Kurdish, and some other eastern languages are part of this family as well (thus, Pakistanis, Iranians, and Afghans are not Arabs, despite being Moslems).  Some of these languages are more closely related than others, but linguists can find relationships between all of them.

*Linguists have even constructed some of what they think are the roots from which all Indo-European words derive.  This theoretical language is known as Proto-Indo-European.  Show list and compare, if possible.

*Some European languages are not Indo-European:  Hungarian and Finnish, along with Turkish and a number of languages from Central Asia, are grouped into the Uralic-Altaic family.  Thus, Turks are not Arabic people, despite being Moslems.

*Another language in Europe is Basque, a linguistic isolate spoken mostly in parts of Northern Spain.

*Most of North Africa and the Middle East speak Afro-Asiatic languages.  The most famous of these are from the Semitic subgroup:  Arabic and Hebrew.  The Semitic languages get their name from Shem, the son of Noah, described in the Bible (Genesis chapter 10) as the father of these peoples.

*Chinese, in the Sino-Tibetan family, is the most-spoken language in the world.  Really, it is a series of related dialects, of which Mandarin is the most commonly spoken.  Many of these dialects are so different from one another that they could almost be considered different languages—they are more different from one another, in many ways, than are Spanish and Portuguese, or Danish and Norwegian.

*Other areas of the world have their own language families.  Japanese is sometimes considered to be a linguistic isolate, although most people feel it is related to Korean (and some people even consider it Uralic-Altaic).

*Certainly it is possible to speak or understand a language and not truly be part of its culture or the ethnicity usually associated with that language, but typically, speakers of a given language will belong to the same culture or share a number of cultural elements.

*Human geography includes politics and forms of government.  Polybius, an ancient Greek historian, felt that there were three basic types of government, each of which could exist in an ideal and a degenerate form, and he said they naturally cycled through one another:  monarchy -> tyranny -> aristocracy -> oligarchy -> democracy -> ochlocracy

*Discuss monarchy, the rule by one, and how it can turn into tyranny—also called autocracy.

*Some good examples of monarchy are the France of Louis XIV and modern Quatar.  Iraq before the fall of Hussein could be an example of tyranny, although he did have a parliament of sorts.

*Discuss aristocracy, the rule by the best, and how it can turn into oligarchy, or rule by the few.

*The United Arab Emirates might be a modern example while the Dutch Republic of history might be an example of an aristocracy that became an oligarchy.  Saudi Arabia is almost an aristocracy as the supposedly absolute monarch actually has to deal with powerful clan and tribal leaders throughout the nation—an example of a check on his power (and he on theirs).

*Discuss democracy, rule by the people, and how it can turn into ochlocracy, better known as mob rule or mobocracy.  Mention the ‘tyranny of the majority’ and claim that little more dangerous than the MTV Music Awards is managed by democracy today (and thank goodness).

*For democracy, ancient Athens is a good example, as are the New England town meetings.  Mob rule can be seen in a lynch mob or whenever a majority in a democracy uses its voting power against a minority.

*Most governments today, of course, are mixed governments, using some or all of these, in the hope of keeping a stable government.

*Many modern national governments are unitary governments, in which the national capital runs the entire country directly (or at least through departments or other sub-units with little real power).  France and England work this way today.

*The United States has a federal government (as does Germany).  In such a government, the central government has a great deal of power, but some power remains with the states or other sub-units of the country.

*Confederations are rare today (Switzerland is one of the few left), because they are associations of independent territories over which the central government has little authority or power.

*Regardless of the type of government, it can have a great deal of control over its people, or not.  A government that tries to exert total control over its people and their activities is called a totalitarian government (or sometimes an authoritarian government).  These are usually run by dictators, but can be run by oligarchic governments.

*Among other things, governments may regulate economic systems, of which there are several types.

*A traditional economy is one based on customs dating back hundreds or thousands of years.  These may be barter systems, or may involve complex sets of gifts and obligations.  Most have been replaced by other systems today.

*In a market economy, the government takes a limited role in planning the economy.  For the most part, people may buy and sell what they want at any price they can get, and supply and demand even things out.  This is also known as a system of free enterprise, because anyone is free to try any business they want.  It is also known as capitalism, because it encourages the accumulation of capital (the materials used to run a business) in the hands of the successful.

*In a command economy, the government orders what should be made, sets the prices for it, and uses the profits to improve society.  In fact, the government often owns the means of production entirely.  This is most common in totalitarian governments, particularly those of communist countries, which felt that it was necessary for the government to run the economy in order to make sure that everyone got their fair share.

*Most governments today have some mix of these, as even the most open markets today have some government regulation.

Proto-Indo-European and its Derivatives


































































cow, bull


















to lie down

















This page last updated 17 August, 2005.