Whether you are currently studying geography in junior high or high school or you have always been intrigued by the wide array of unique locales situated in every corner of the globe, learning about the geography of our planet's many countries is an important task for every person to undertake. From finding out interesting details about places that were completely uncharted on a world atlas less than a century ago to simply being able to read a map and following directions to find your way across portions of your very own state, the study of geography is beneficial for everyone. However, few people realize just how significant geography's role has been for several centuries, prompting many to wonder, "Why is geography important to history?"
What is geography?
Geography refers to the study of the various landscapes, places, people and habitats of planet Earth. Scientists who devote their careers to studying geography look intensely at the distribution of human beings, societies and cultures, as well as the physical aspects of the planet that directly affect them on a daily basis—features such as climate, soil types, sea level and elevation, terrain, and the presence or lack of various bodies of water.
The goal behind studying geography is to better understand the link between human beings and their natural environments and to determine the ways in which different cultures make use of the resources available within the regions where they reside. Although geography can be studied to some extent through textbooks and documentaries, the best way to begin to understand the role geography plays in each civilization's way of life is to become fully immersed in that culture and get involved in firsthand expeditions.
Why is geography important to history?
It may not seem as though geography and the events that have been recorded in world history books for hundreds or thousands of years have much in common; however, upon closer study of the regions and environments in which important historical events have taken place, it's obvious that these two subjects are closely related. Take, for instance, the bombing of American sailors and soldiers by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941—an event that will forever appear in history books, as it spurred the United States into action and entered the nation into World War II. Surrounded by hundreds of miles of open ocean, Pearl Harbor was positioned so that American troops weren't notified of incoming Japanese aircraft until it was far too late. Had the attack occurred over a larger land mass—such as the center of the country—the planes would have been sighted much sooner, and American troops would have had significantly longer to prepare a counterattack.
In addition to surprise attacks and lengthy wars, the outcomes if which have been altered by the geographical makeup of a particular region, another reason geography is important to history is the availability of resources or the lack thereof. A prime example of the effects geography has had on history and will undoubtedly have on the future is the distribution of coveted natural resources, such as coal, oil and natural gas. Much like the Gulf War, which took place from August 1990 to February 1991, many of the battles currently being fought in the 21st century between the United States and the nations of the Middle East are directly connected to geography and where such precious natural resources are located.
The role geography plays in history cannot be underemphasized, as the physical landscape upon which a tiny ethnic group of an entire nation make their homes can have a considerable impact on whether those civilizations will have their livelihoods or lifestyles affected by issues that range from sufficient supplies of food, water and suitable habitats to climate change and energy independence.