copyright Alan A. Lew, 2004, all rights reserved
Chapter 1 - WHAT IS GEOGRAPHY?
Note: Links marked with an asterisk (*) are optional.
The US and Canada
This text presents a regional geography of the United States, with some refences to Canada. We will hereafter refer to as the region of North America -- even though Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and even Greenland represent large and significant portions of the physical continent of North America. The reason these predominantly Spanish-speaking countries (along with Danish Greenland) are excluded from this text is that most college-level courses on North America tend to deal exclusively with the predominantly Angl-American region of the US and Canada. Until such time when this English-speaking view of our continent changes, the focus of this text will be the US and Canada.
Traditional Regional Geography
The content of this text focuses on the physical form and formation of the natural and human landscapes of the US and Canada overall (Chapters 2 and 3) and in each of the regions covered (the remaining chapters). The only exception to this pattern is in this first chapter, which is an overview of key geographic concepts used throughout the text, each region of North America. This is a very traditional approach to geography and can at times seem somewhat irrelevant to the heated political and social issues of the present day, which are hot topics of research and discussion among many geographers. However, it is difficult to cover the full range of geography-related issues within the boundaries of any one textbook and still maintain a sense of coherence. For this reason, the current text prefers to focus on the fundamentals of traditional regional geography.
New Regional Geographies
In recent years there has been some discussion in geography of what has come to be known as "new regional geography." This is an approach to regional geography that focuses on social development, power relationships and contestations over places, and the globalization of cultures, economies, and societies, among other issues. This is an activist approach to place, and just as geography synthesizes knowledge from many other disciplines, the new regional geographies also incorporate similar perspectives from other fields. In particular, the approach often includes a significant political and economic critique of the forces that affect contemporary migration, the gap between the rich and poor, and the globalization and homogenization of the contemporary landscapes.
Geography: Place and Space
Geography deals with two basic areas of inquiry about the world around us: place and space. Geography seeks to accurately portray the character of places. Place location (where is it?) is fundamental to understanding a place's characteristics. Place description (what is it like?) is part of the art of geography. These are the types of questions that most people would readily identify with geography. Geographers attempt to develop an awareness and understanding of the qualities of a place that make it special. We say that places that exhibit these special qualities have a strong sense of place; they are places that have a personality and significance and are often remembered long after we have left them. All places have personalities, although the globalization of culture often results in more and more places that seem the same -- inauthentic and lacking in sense of place (sometimes referred to as placelessness). The character of a place is the result of its physical setting, its relative location, and the people and events that shape its evolution. Places tend to exhibit a particularly strong sense of place when place identity and the personal identity of its residents are so intertwined as to be virtually inseparable. Thus, geographers are interested in the relationship between people and the places they create and occupy. (See more on Sense of Place below)
Places are points of presence. A place exists and has a location. Geographic places exist in geographic space -- typically some location on the surface of the earth. Other, nongeographic places also exist. These are mostly fictional places, but can also be virtual places. In this book, the word place always refers to geographic places. All places, whether geographic or not, share in common (1) some means of distinguishing one place from another (for geographic places, this may simply be a location address, but typically also includes physical and cultural landscape features such as mountains and buildings) and (2) a relationship with other places within its spatial realm (for geographic places, you can at least measure a distance between any two places on the planet, although many other types of relationships also exist, such as economic and cultural).
Space is another central or transcendent theme of geography. Besides knowing where a place is and what it is like, geography seeks to determine the reason places are located where they are and why they develop the characteristics that they have. The answer often involves understanding how places relate to one another over space. Examples of spatial relationships between places include transportation routes and communication linkages (both of which have changed over time with technological developments), ethnic ties (as people migrate from one place to another), and political associations (which often involve complex historical processes). The distribution of something over an area is called its spatial pattern or spatial organization. The word spatial here refers to geographic space, rather than outer space. Geographic space is the three-dimensional space that encompasses the livable surface of the earth.
US Internet Space
Geography is sometimes called a spatial science because of the importance of spatial relationships in a geographic understanding of the world. This spatial aspect of geography is most easily seen and perhaps understood in the production of maps and map-like diagrams -- most of which show the distribution of one or more variables over space. Maps are also identified by the general public as being a fundamental aspect of geography. How these patterns came to be and how they function are key questions in geography. Geography is essentially the study of the spatial organization of the world in which we all live.
Geographers use the term site to refer to the immediate physical setting of a place. This includes the topographic or physiographic features that shape the visible surface of the earth (mountains, plains, rocks, and soils), as well as the environmental opportunities of a particular location (such as access to a navigable river or a waterfall that can be used to generate electrical power). The site characteristics of San Francisco Bay, for example, include its having a very large water body that is both connected directly to the ocean, and well protected from ocean storms. These characteristics have contributed to the development of major port facilities and accompanying international financial activities. Its site characteristics have also fostered a linear settlement pattern around the southern part of the bay. (The opposite of site is situation, which is discussed in more detail below.) One of a place's site characteristics is its absolute location.
Absolute Location and Latitude and Longitude
When we ask "where is it?" what we often want to know is "what is its absolute location?" The absolute location of a place never changes. Most absolute locations are based on some type of location system. Street addresses are one type of absolute location system. There are many different types of street addressing systems, but usually a specific house address and street number (accompanied with a city or another community name) identifies only one, specific location. Lines of latitude and longitude are another example of an absolute location system. Latitudes and longitudes are imaginary lines drawn on the surface of the earth to identify locations. There is one, and only one, specific location on the surface of the earth for each set of latitude and longitude coordinates. Latitude lines run parallel to one another in an east-west direction. The longest line of latitude is the equator (which is at 0 degrees latitude). As one moves north and south of the equator, the lines of latitude crossed get shorter and shorter, until the north or south pole is reached (at 90 degrees north or south latitude), where they have no length at all. Longitude lines run north-south. They all touch both the north and south poles, from which they spread out away from one another as they approach the equator. Unlike lines of latitude, longitude lines are all the same length.
More on Latitude and Longitude* - from About.com
Situation refers to the position of a place as it relates to other places. Much of the predominance of the city of New York within the US, for example, can be attributed to its situation in relationship to the agricultural and industrial Midwest. When the Midwest was first being settled for agriculture, and later industry, in the 1800s, the Hudson and Mohawk River Valleys, which empty into New York Harbor, were the most convenient way of moving goods from the Midwest through the Appalachian Mountains, and to the East Coast. Situational characteristics may be thought of as external relationships that a place has with other places, while site characteristics are the internal characteristics of a place.
Relative location is closely related to the concept of situation. It is the opposite of absolute location and can be defined as the location of a place in comparison with another place. As such, it can change when circumstances change. For example, as you travel through a city, the location of objects to where you are is constantly changing. Your relative location to them is constantly changing. Relative location can also change in response to innovations. The changing nature of manufacturing employment in the US, from heavy industry to high-tech and service industries, has decreased the relative location advantage of the Great Lakes industrial region and has increased the relative attractiveness of the Sunbelt states.
Form and Function
An example of how place (or site) and space (or situation) work together is in the shaping of the form and function of human settlements. The form of a city refers to the shape that it exhibits on the land, which can sometimes be seen on a simple road map. Some cities are very circular, others are linear, and others still are more rectangular. Most larger metropolitan areas are multi-nodal -- they have many different commercial centers, each of which may have a form of its own. The location and distribution of different types of land uses (residential, commercial, industrial, etc.) are also part of the form of a city. The functions of a city are the predominant activities that take place there. Usually the emphasis is on economic activities. Using indices of predominant functions, cities can be classified as being primarily agricultural, educational, industrial, recreational, or commercial centers. For example, Washington, DC, is the country's premier administrative city, while New York is the financial center of the US.Geography as a Holistic Science
Geographers are interested
in the study of earth as the home of humankind. It is a venerable discipline,
recognized as a fundamental realm of knowledge by the early Greeks. One aspect
of geography that makes it distinct is that it is the only traditional academic
discipline that unifies the social sciences and the physical
sciences in a comprehensive manner. A geographic understanding of North
America requires this type of holistic approach, including knowledge
of the physical processes that create the landforms, climates,
and vegetation as we see and experience them and the social processes
that shape this continent's diverse human settlements and regional identities.
To achieve this, geographers divide their study of place and space into two
general fields: physical and human. The physical environment and human culture
come together to shape the landscape of a place or region. Thus,
knowledge of both the physical sciences (primarily the earth sciences)
and social sciences is required for a sound geographic education. In geography,
these are taught by geographers who specialize in one of the two major subfields
of the discipline: physical geography and human geography.
Physical and Human Geography
Physical geography is divided into three basic areas of emphasis: geomorphology (landforms and physiography), climatology (climates and weather patterns), and biogeography (flora and fauna). Human geography, on the other hand, is not as easily broken down into subdisciplinary areas. In very general terms, however, it is possible to identify an economic geography branch (including population, urban, transportation, and other, related geographies) and a cultural geography branch (including historical geography, environmental perception, and human ecology). In all areas of geography, there is considerable crossover with other disciplines (such as economics, history, and biology); however, geographers tend to maintain a unique perspective in their emphasis on place phenomena.
Maps, Map Scale*, and GIS*
Maps are generalized "representations" of places. Map scale is important in identifying the place being represented. A small scale map will show a large area, but with everything appearing very small, such as a map of the entire North American continent. A large scale map will show a very small area, but with all the features appearing large, such as on a map of a particular neighborhood in your community. Small scale maps show far less detail, with many more objects being deleted, than do large scale maps, which can sometimes show every tree and sign on a city block. Both physical and human geographers use maps, which, like place and space, are fundamental to geographic analysis. More sophisticated map analysis today is accomplished using geographic information systems (GIS), which combine computer maps with large databases, such as the census of population, to view spatial patterns and relationships, and to perform spatial statistics.
Cartography and Map and Image Interpretation
Map making, referred to as cartography, and map reading are fundamental techniques common to both physical and human geography. Map reading is the ability to interpret processes by looking at the lines, dots, and shaded areas that constitute most maps. If you can tell where the oldest part of a city is located by simply looking at the street and block pattern on a map, then you are reading a map as a geographer would. One other technique which geographers use is the interpretation of aerial photographs and satellite images -- also known as "remote sensing". While cartography involves a generalization of selected elements (mostly roads and buildings) on the earth's surface, aerial images (from airplanes and satellites) show an exact replication of everything on the surface of a place. The high degree of detail that appears in many of these images requires special techniques, typically on a computer, to interpret their complex patterns.
Visit NAU Geography, Planning and Recreation's Remote Sensing Pages*
Regional Geography and Regions
All of these various aspects of geography (physical, human, and technical) are brought together in the study of places and regions. For this reason, regional geography has been referred to as a "virtuoso performance" -- it requires familiarity with the breadth of the discipline and competence in pulling together the diverse strands of knowledge to create a sense of place or regional character. Some argue that there is a significant difference between a place and a region, in that a region comprises relationships between places that are separated by large "blank" spaces (for example, of highways connecting two cities), while places do not have this characteristic. Scale* (see above) is, of course, the most important fact here, and the dividing line between region and place can sometimes be slippery. A metropolitan area (comprising many cities that grow into one another) can be considered a place, at a national or international scale, or a region, at a local scale. Another definition of a region is that it is an area of land that is larger than a place and which contains a common characteristic, such as the growing of corn. Most regions are single, contiguous areas, although there are exceptions to this when large bodies of water divide portions of a region, such as the way the Great Lakes divide Michigan.
Defining Regions and Subregions
Regions are used to analyze the larger areas of the world in which we live. There are many ways in which space can be regionalized. Examples include political regions, economic regions, physical regions, and cultural regions. For example, chapter two of this book presents an overview of the physical regions of the US and Canada. Geographic regions, like geography in general, attempt to synthesize these different features into a total regional scheme.
A regional geography of the US and Canada breaks these two countries into their major subregions for more detailed analysis. These subregions, in turn, can be further separated out into smaller units, if appropriate for analysis. Each region or unit, however, contains some collection of shared characteristics. Sometimes, these shared characteristics are more physical in nature; at other times, they are more social. The geographic regions of North America, around which the chapters of this book are constructed, are described below. These geographic regions include both physical and human characteristics. For some regions, the human characteristics are emphasized more, while other regions may be based more on physical characteristics. There is no fixed rule regarding this, and regional definitions can and do change through time as people's image and perception (see below) of them change. In general, regions with sparse populations are more likely to be defined in terms of their physical geographic features, while those with high population densities, such as the northeastern Atlantic seaboard, are characterized more by their cultural and economic characteristics.
Core Area and Transition Zone
Most of the discussion of different regions in this text focuses on core area characteristics. The core area is the place where the shared characteristics that are used to define a region are most predominant. The core area of one region is distinctly different from the core area of a neighboring region. Transition zones are areas between two regions that share characteristics of both to some extent. The characteristic(s) defining each region are generally weaker in the transition zone. For example, the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains rise above Denver, Colorado, and clearly mark a distinct boundary between the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains, with almost no transition zone. You are either in the Rocky Mountains or you are on the Great Plains -- there is no question of being between them. On the other hand, the boundary between the Great Plains and the Midwest Interior Lowlands is a broad transition zone, lacking a clearly demarcated line. Similarly, the division between the South and the Midwest is not easily defined. Missouri, for example, is included in the South in this text, although it could justifiably have been included in the Midwest or the Great Plains, because it shares core area characteristics with all three of these regions.
Homogeneous regions contain a common characteristic that is found throughout an area in equal degree. The common characteristic may be one or a group of characteristics. The Corn Belt and Wheat Belt are typical examples. Physical regions, such as the Atlantic Coastal Plain, are often homogeneous in character. A political entity, such as a country or state, which by definition encompasses its own citizens within its boundaries, is a homogeneous region. Also known as "uniform" and "formal" regions, homogeneous regions have more clearly defined boundaries (i.e., more narrow transition zones) than do nodal regions.
Also known as "functional" and "focal" regions, nodal regions have a central point at which the characteristic defining the region is most predominant. The farther away from this central point, the less predominant is the characteristic. A city's area of economic and social influence is usually nodal. The farther one moves away from a major city, the less is its economic influence, until one moves into the influence area of another major city. The area that is still within the sphere of influence of a nodal center is known as its hinterland or periphery. Nodal regions have well-defined core areas and poorly defined boundaries, with broad transition zones. The "core-periphery" model of economic development, which assumes that the development of periphery locations is controlled by decision makers in core locations, is fundamentally the description of a nodal region.
"A Priori" Regions
An a priori region is a region that is arbitrarily drawn on the surface of the earth. Political units, such as states, provinces, and countries, are the most common type of a priori region. Sometimes, the political boundary separating one country from another is not related to any natural or human geographical boundary but is instead decided by negotiation or expedience. In the US and Canada, the straight lines that form the borders of many of North America's western political units (state and country lines that totally ignore mountains, valleys, and other terrain features) are the result of land division regulation established by European settlers at a time when the only people to have ever seen them were American Indians.
Environmental Perception and Behavior
Environmental perception is an area of study that is a cross between geography and psychology, and sometimes philosophy. It deals with how people perceive and, as a result, behave in the environment they live in. For example, the northern Europeans initially perceived the Great Plains as a useless environment, referring to it as the "Great American Desert." Alternatively, the Spanish coming from Mexico recognized the region as having great potential for cattle raising, similar to what they were used to in central Spain. In another example, many Native Americans today still consider communal ownership of land as far more appropriate than private ownership of land, which has predominated among Europeans from their first settlement in North America. The way people perceive and behave in the world reflects many aspects of their culture, experiences, socioeconomic background, and value system and has a lot to tell us about the cultural landscapes they create.
What part of North America do we call the Midwest? What about the Northwest? Where is the Southwest? The answer to these questions depends on who you ask and when you ask. When the US was a much smaller country, the "Northwest" was the area from Ohio to Wisconsin, and the Southwest was Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas. For Canadians, the "Northwest" has always been a far colder part of their land than many would want to live in. When the far west was first being settled in the 1880s, the name "Midwest" was the name given to what we today call the Great Plains. In this century, the term "Midwest" has moved eastward, while, in the US, the terms "Northwest" and "Southwest" have moved westward. The reasons for these shifts have to do with popular perceptions and terminology that gradually develop and change with time. (This is also why every geography textbook will define its regional boundaries in a slightly different way.) How we define regions today is different from the way they were defined a hundred years ago, and they will probably not be the same a hundred years from now. In particular, the vast areas of low population density in the western US, which is called the "Mountain West" in this book, will likely become more differentiated into cultural subregions as populations increase in the next century.
Perceptual Regions of the US - Map 1 - New England, The South and The Northwest
Perceptual Regions of the US - Map 2 - The Midwest and the Southwest
Sense of Place and Placelessness
An important, but sometimes difficult to understand, aspect of how we perceive places is the concept of sense of place. Geographers use this term to describe the characteristics of a place that make it distinctive and memorable. Typically, a place that has a strong sense of place is one that is steeped in history, rich in symbolism, and held in high esteem by many people. Much of the attraction of Europe as a tourist destination for North Americans is that the older cities of that continent have a strong sense of place. Many North American communities have this sense as well, although in North America it can sometimes be obscured by its opposite: placelessness. Placeless landscapes are those that look and feel the same, no matter where they are located. A highway strip shopping center is visually the same whether it is located in Los Angeles, California, or Buffalo, New York. A fast-food chain restaurant looks and feels the same in Miami as it does in Montreal, Canada or Capetown, South Africa. The North American landscape is rife with placelessness, which is not necessarily bad but is an important concept to understand.
Sense of place
includes how well the community is situated within the natural environment
in which it is located; how well it relates to and exhibits to its historical
and cultural development and uniqueness; and how the people within the community
live lives that reflect a sense of community cohesion and purpose.
Globalization and Localization
The world has become a much smaller place in recent decades due to advances in technology and the opening up of global trade, both of which have contributed to an increase in placelessness worldwide. Through television and movies, values and experiences are shared across cultures and continents. Through the Internet, people today are able to communicate more closely with friends and colleagues on the opposite side of the globe than in the building next door. Transnational corporations (TNCs - producing in two or three countries) and multinational companies (MNCs - with offices in three or more countries) are often cited as the new force bringing about this global transformation by operating beyond the political and geographic confines of traditional nation-states. While there is some truth to this, it is also true that nation-states are as important as they have ever been, and a trend that is directly opposed to globalization seems to have become particularly significant in recent years. Increasing localization is emerging at the same time as globalization, as communities seek to express their individuality and local autonomy. In some places, this has resulted in demands for greater political autonomy or even independence (such as in eastern Europe and on indigenous lands in the US and Canada). In other cases, it can be seen in such things as the rapid rise in local breweries (brew-pubs) across North America in the 1990s.
Postindustrial and Post-Fordist Society
The trend toward localization has been attributed to a fundamental change in North American society -- the transition from an industrial economy (in which more people work in industries than any other economic sector) to a postindustrial economy (with more people employed in service jobs than industrial jobs). It is argued that accompanying this economic transition there has been a transition from an emphasis on assembly-line, mass-produced merchandise (which Henry Ford first perfected in building the model-T automobile) to one on products that are more personalized and individualized, known as post-Fordist. This is reflected in an increasingly diverse array of products (including landscape experiences) designed to match the interests of smaller markets of people who are willing to pay for a more personal approach. Again, local brew-pubs are an example of this phenomenon.
Postmodernism and Historic Preservation
Another concept that is related to these economic trends is postmodernism, which came out of architecture but has since been expanded to encompass a broad realm of values in contemporary society. Architecture plays a major role in shaping the visual landscape. Modernism was the total rejection of historical approaches to architectural design and was an architectural trend that dominated much of the later nineteenth- and twentieth-century building construction in North America. Skyscrapers are typical of the modernist approach. Postmodernism is rejection of modernism and is sometimes viewed as a return to or an embracing of more historical approaches to building design, as well as social values. This is most clearly seen in the historic preservation movements that first became popular in North America in the 1960s. On a broader scale, a postmodern world is also more relativist (everything can and should be judged on its own merit, rather than based on universal moral values), and thus we can select from not only the past, but also from an eclectic and diverse realm of elements of different cultures around the world. Thus, postmodernism brings together both the local and the global and, hopefully, does not create something that is placeless in the process.
McDisneyfication is a postmodern opposite of Sense of Place.
McDisneyfication was coined by Professors George Ritzer and Allan Liska
to describe the McDonaldization (another Ritzer term) of service
industries (fast and mass produced) and the Disneyfication of
tourism (the epitome of which is Las Vegas). McDonalds restaurants and the Disney
theme parks are considered 'hypermodern' model of (1) Efficiency:
getting the most for one's money, which usually means seeing, doing and eating
as much as possible; (2) Predictability: safety, known cleanliness and
service standards, plus the ability to communicate in a common language; (3)
Calculability: precisely defined itineraries, with no unexpected costs
or other surprises; and (4) Control: service employees whose behavior
is tightly controlled by scripts (telling them what to say and how to react),
and the preferred use of advanced technologies to control employees and clients/guests.
These models now influence many aspects of the contemporary modern landscape
and lifestyle. Examples of McDisneyfied places include: Theme parks, Cruise
ships, Las Vegas hotels and casinos, themed Shopping malls and strip malls,
some Chain and local restaurants (e.g., the Rainforest Cafes), and a variety
of public entertainment spaces. The very success of these environments seem
to indicate that this is what people want. The holiday lifestyle is becoming
omnipresent in the American (and global) landscape. Yet, these McDisneyfied
places are as placeless as the less entertaining mass shopping and work
environments that are even more widespread in the modern American city.
What is Geography?
The following are some insightful definitions of "geography" from students who have taken this course in previous years.- Geography is the study of certain places in the world. It deals with the physical characteristics as well as the climate and people involved. It helps everyone develop a better understanding of the places and people around them. This study is always changing because people and places are always changing. -M.W.
- Geography is the study of the land. But it is much broader than that. It is the study of climate, the effects of the climate on people, and why people gravitate to certain parts of the world or country or city. It is also the study of culture affected by the land and climate. - P.G.F.
- Geography is the study of how humans relate in differing social and physical environments. - T.A.W.
- Geography is the study of different places and their climate, population, economy and crops. But also, geography can be considered finding your classroom or finding a book you misplaced. You don't necessarily have to discover an entirely new continent. - C.G.
- Geography is the study of different places around the world. It is a study of people and their culture and how they relate to that part of the world in which they live. It is not just a study of locations, but it is a broad study of how people live and survive in these locations. - M.G.
- Geography is the study of the land and how it shapes, and is shaped, by the people that are in it. - M.M.
- Geography is the study of places; it is the study of travel and climate. When I think of geography, I think of all the places I've been and the ones I can't wait to see. So I guess, in a way, the study of geography is the study of where you've been and where you want to go. - W.B.
- Geography is the study of place; where it is; exploring the world. - C.F.
- Geography is the world that surrounds us. It is how and why the world came to be how it is today. It is the study of the Earth, including oceans, rivers, mountain ranges, and cities. It could also be the types of people that make up what the areas of the world are today. - M.M.
What Do Geographers Do?
To see something about geography jobs and careers, check out this link:
NAU Geography Career Resources* - Note that this site also includes links for job searches in areas other than just geography.
To see what academic geographers do at their conferences, visit:
Assoc. of Pacific Coast Geographers - October 1998 meeting - Flagstaff, Arizona, USA*
(1) types of field trips - geography conferences are known for having the best field trips of any professional organization
(2) how paper sessions are organized - what are the major topic areas of research interest
(3) individual paper presentations in selected sessions
You can also see articles in the free journal: Geography Online*
GEOGRAPHIC REGIONS AND SUBREGIONS OF THE US
In discussing the diverse ways that regions can be defined, and the major role perception plays in these definitions, it should not be surprising that geographers do not always agree on the best way to divide the North American continent from a regional geography perspective. The problem is that, while geographic regionalization requires a broad, holistic view, at some point a decision must be made to emphasize one basic characteristic over another. This decision is sometimes easy, and other times not. Different decisions made by different geographers result in different regionalizations. This text tries to
With this in mind, the major regions of this text include
Map of Our Regions in the Class
The Eastern Seaboard
At least four cultural regions could be defined in the area that lies between the Labrador Sea (near Greenland) and Chesapeake Bay. We take a distinctly historical and economic perspective in dividing this region into two subregions. The Mid-Atlantic subregion is centered on "Megalopolis" (the financial center and largest population concentration in the US and Canada) and the states that constitute its immediate hinterland (keeping in mind that most of North America is a hinterland for the Megalopolis region). New England, the Maritime Provinces, and Quebec consist of those areas of North America that clearly have the strongest cultural ties to Europe (primarily England and France) in terms of landscapes and culture.
Chapter 4 - The Mid-Atlantic
The core area of the Mid-Atlantic is Megalopolis (the urban area stretching from Boston, Massachusetts, to Washington, DC), while the immediate periphery consists of the rest of the states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware. This is the most highly densely settled of the major regions in the US.
Chapter 5 part 1 - New England, the Maritime Provinces, and Quebec
New England consists of the states of Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine. These states share much in common, in terms of both cultural geography (English influence) and physical geography (cold winters, rugged terrain), with the Canadian Maritime Provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland. Francophone (French-speaking) Quebec has similar physical geography characteristics, as well as a strong imprint from Europe, although the source is France, not England.
The South is a well-defined geographic region in the US, with distinct cultural, historical (the Civil War), and physical geography (humid-subtropical). It includes the US states of West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Florida. Based on an obvious physiographic difference, as well as more subtle cultural and economic differences, these states are divided into two subregions: the highlands of Appalachia and the Ozarks, and the lowland areas. The cultural characteristics of the South also form a homogeneous region, although its core area characteristics become weaker toward Florida and closer to Megalopolis. Transition zones also exist to the west (Great Plains) and north (Midwest).
Chapter 5 part 2 - The Highland South: Appalachia and the Ozarks
Sometimes referred to as the "interior uplands" or "eastern uplands," this region includes the Appalachia subregion (in the southern Appalachian Mountains) and the Ozark Plateau area. Racially, it is more white than the Lowland South and historically more poverty stricken. West Virginia is the only state entirely within the Highland South.
Chapter 6 - The Lowland South and Coastal Plains
The Lowland South consists of plantation lands of the Gulf and Atlantic Coastal Plains and the Lower Mississippi River Valley. The Civil War culture is strongest here, although it gives way to Caribbean influences along the Gulf Coast and in Florida.
The Interior Plains
The Interior Plains region is a large and diverse area lying to the west of the Appalachian ranges and plateaus and north of the Lowland South all the way to the Arctic Sea. Most of it consists of rolling plains and forests and vast areas that are sparsely settled. Because of its size, several subregions could be defined, although these are combined into two in this text: the Midwest and the Great Plains. The differences between these two subregions are based largely on physical geography differences in climate and vegetation (although human settlement in response to these differences is also apparent). Both regions extend from the US northward well into Canada with extremely broad transition zones between them. Only the Midwest has a fairly well-defined core area. One should be very careful in putting too much faith in the lines on a map that demarcate regional boundaries within the Interior Lowlands.
Chapter 7 - The Midwest and Great Lakes
The Midwest is famous for both its agriculture and its heavy industry centered on the Great Lakes and Ohio River Valley. It includes the US states of Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Iowa and Missouri are part of the Midwest but are also situated in broad transition zones into the Great Plains and the Lowland South. The industrial core area also includes the southern portions of the province of Ontario in Canada, although the whole of Ontario is included in this chapter.
Chapter 8 - The Great Plains
The Great Plains are much drier and more sparsely populated than the Midwest. The states in this region include central Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, and the Canadian Prairie Provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. In addition, the Great Plains includes eastern portions of the Rocky Mountain States of New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. Sparse populations and grassland agriculture characterize most of this region, which is defined entirely based on its physical characteristics. Northward into Canada the grasslands give way to a vast boreal forest, and still further north lie the tundra lands of the Canadian Northwest Territory and the new Inuit (Eskimo) province of Nunavut.
This region comprises the western US and Canada and is clearly marked on the east by the rise of the Rocky Mountains above the Great Plains. To the west, the boundary is the Pacific Ocean. This is another vast region that, similar to the Great Plains and Far North, is sparsely populated. However, it is also the most rapidly growing region in North America, though not in all of its parts. The West contains the youngest and most complex physical geography on the continent, which is the primary basis for its subregions, as identified in this text.
Chapter 9 - The Mountain West and Southwest
This region is clearly marked (no transition zone) by the peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains (in California) and the Cascade Range (in Oregon and Washington). Its northern and southern boundaries are Canada and Mexico. To complicate things, however, both the eastern and western mountain boundaries of the region lie near the middle of states. Only Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and Idaho lie completely within this subregion. Neighboring states, including British Columbia in Canada, overlap with the Interior West and other subregions. The southernmost portion of this region, running from Texas to California, is known as the Southwest and is a cultural region with strong Native American and Spanish/Mexican influences. In most of these states, the different lifestyles associated with each region make for a distinct cultural and political division.
Chapters 10 & 11 - The Pacific Coast to Alaska
Population densities pick up again along the coastline of the Pacific Ocean. There is a marked change in climate and vegetation, as well. The core area that defines the West Coast region is defined physically as the region west of the Sierra Nevada in California, the Cascade Range in Oregon and Washington, and west of the Rocky Mountains in British Columbia. The eastern portions of these three states and one province are important political hinterlands, and so some crossover of discussion with the Interior West region is unavoidable. Farther north, Alaska and the Yukon in Canada have close historical, economic, and physical ties with the Pacific Coast states and are, therefore, conveniently discussed in this chapter, even though Alaska alone is almost as large and diverse as the entire Interior West subregion.
Beyond North America: Hawaii and Other Territories and Overseas Interests
The US is often referred to as the last remaining global super power, which refers to its political, military and economic role in the world today. Hawaii is the most remote of the US states, both in terms of location and cultural and physical characteristics. However, it shares many things in common with other distant US territories. In addition, the US has close global ties with its neighbors to the north and south (Canada and Mexico), and with most other regions of the world.
Chapter 12 - The Hawaiian Islands
That Hawaii is different from any other place in the US cannot be denied. Only the southern tip of Florida comes close to the climatic conditions found in Hawaii. As an island, it is a homogeneous region with no transition zone. It is also, however, the most prominent among many distant islands that are territorial possessions of the US.
Chapter 13 - US Territories and Global Relations
Some of the larger US island territories include Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. All of them share characteristics in common with Hawaii, include their tropical climate with indigenous cultures that are very different from those of mainstream US. Still further beyond these territories, the US has very close relations with Europe, Latin America and the Pacific Rim for global strategic and trade reasons. The US maintains a global centrality in its relative location to the rest of the world.
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