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Teaching Geography: Workshop 4

North Africa / Southwest Asia

Readings for Workshop 4

The following material comes from Chapter 4 of Geography for Life. You may read it here or in its complete form in your text. For additional readings, go to Resources.

The National Geography Standards for Workshop 4

The national geography standards highlighted in this workshop include Standards 5, 6, 9, 13, and 14. As you read, be thinking about how the standards apply in lessons you may have taught.

Standard 5: That people create regions to interpret Earth's complexity.

“Region” is a concept that is used to identify and organize areas of Earth's surface for various purposes. A region has certain characteristics that give it a measure of cohesiveness and distinctiveness and that set it apart from other regions. As worlds within worlds, regions can be used to simplify the whole by organizing Earth's surface on the basis of the presence or absence of selected physical and human characteristics. As a result, regions are human constructs whose boundaries and characteristics are derived from sets of specific criteria. They can vary in scale from local to global; overlap or be mutually exclusive; exhaustively partition the entire world or capture only selected portions of it. They can nest within one another, forming a multilevel mosaic. Understanding the idea of region and the process of regionalization is fundamental to being geographically informed.

Understanding the nature of regions requires a flexible approach to the world. The criteria used to define and delimit regions can be as spatially precise as coastlines and political boundaries, or as spatially amorphous as suggesting the general location of people with allegiances to a particular professional athletic team or identifying a market area for distributing the recordings of a specific genre of music. Regions can be as small as a neighborhood or as vast as a territorial expanse covering thousands of square miles in which the inhabitants speak the same language. They can be areas joining people in common causes or they can becomes areas for conflict, both internal and external. Geographers define regions in three basic ways:

  • The first type is the formal region. It is characterized by a common human property, such as the presence of people who share a particular language, religion, nationality, political identity or culture, or by a common physical property, such as the presence of a particular type of climate, landform, or vegetation. Political entities such as counties, states, countries, and provinces are formal regions (e.g., areas with a Mediterranean climate), landform regions (e.g., the Ridge and Valley and Piedmont regions of Pennsylvania), and economic regions (e.g., the wheat belt of Kansas, the citrus-growing areas of south Texas, and the irrigated farmlands of the Central Valley of California). Formal regions can be defined by measures of population, per capita income, ethnic background, crop production, population density and distribution, or industrial production, or by mapping physical characteristics such as temperature, rainfall, growing season, and average date of first and last frost.
  • The second type of region is the functional region. It is organized around a node or focal point, with the surrounding areas linked to that node by the transportation systems, communication systems, or other economic association involving such activities as manufacturing and retail trading. A typical functional region is a metropolitan area (MA) as defined by the Bureau of the Census. For example, the New York MA is a functional region that covers parts of several states. It is linked by commuting patterns, trade flows, television and radio broadcasts, newspapers, and travel for recreation and entertainment. Other functional regions include shopping areas centered on malls or supermarkets, areas served by branch banks, and ports and their hinterlands.
  • The third type of region is the perceptual region. It is a construct that reflects human feelings and attitudes about areas and is therefore defined by people's shared subjective images of those areas. It tends to reflect the elements of people's mental maps, and, although it may help to impose a personal sense of order and structure on the world, it often does so on the basis of stereotypes that may be inappropriate or incorrect. Thus southern California, Dixie, and the upper Midwest are perceptual regions that are thought of as being spatial units, although they do not have precise borders or even commonly accepted regional characteristics and names.

    Some regions, especially formal regions, tend to be stable in spatial definition, but may undergo change in character. Others, especially functional regions, may retain certain basic characteristics, but may undergo spatial redefinition over time. Yet other regions, particularly perceptual regions, are likely to vary over time in both spatial extent and character.

    Regional change, in the context of the human spatial organization of Earth's surface, is an area of study that provides students with opportunities to examine and learn about the complex web of demographic and economic changes that occur.

    Regions serve as a valuable organizing technique for framing detailed knowledge of the world and for asking geographic questions. Because regions are examples of geographic generalization, students can learn about the characteristics of other regions of the world by knowing about one region. Knowing about the physical processes that create the Mediterranean climate and vegetation of southern California, for example, can serve as an analog for learning about other regions with Mediterranean climates and vegetation in Australia, Europe, South America, and Africa. Regions provide a context for discussing similarities and differences between parts of the world.

    Through understanding the idea of region, students can apply geographic knowledge, skills, and perspectives to solving problems as immediate as making an informed decision about a neighborhood zoning issue, or as long-range as predicting the reconfiguration of political and economic alliances owing to resource shortages or changes in the global ecosystem. Most importantly, studying regions enables students to synthesize their understanding of the physical and human properties of Earth's surface at scales that range from local to global.

Standard 6: How culture and experience influence people's perceptions of places and pegions.

People's perception of places and regions is not uniform. Rather, their view of a particular place or region is their interpretation of its location, extent, characteristics, and significance as influenced by their own culture and experience. It is sometimes said that there is no reality, only perception. In geography there is always a mixture of both the objective and the subjective realms, and that is why the geographically informed person needs to understand both realms and needs to see how they relate to each other.

Individuals have singular life histories and experiences, which are reflected in their having singular mental maps of the world that may change from day to day and from experience to experience. As a consequence, individuals endow places and regions with rich, diverse, and varying meanings. In explaining their beliefs and actions, individuals routinely refer to age, sex, class, language, ethnicity, race, and religion as part of their cultural identity, although some of their actions may be at least partly a result of sharing values with others. Those shared beliefs and values reflect the fact that individuals live in social and cultural groups or sets of groups. The values of these groups are usually complex and cover such subjects as ideology, religion, politics, social structure, and economic structure. They influence how the people in a particular group perceive both themselves and other groups.

The significance that an individual or group attaches to a specific place or region may be influenced by feelings of belonging or alienation, a sense of being an insider or outsider, a sense of history and tradition or of novelty and unfamiliarity. People's perception of Earth's surface is strongly linked to the concept of place utility: the significance that a place has to a particular function or people. For example, a wilderness area may be seen as a haven by a backpacker or as an economic threat by a farming family trying to hold back forest growth at the edges of its fields. The physical reality of the wilderness area is the same in both cases, but the perceptual frameworks that assign meaning to it are powerfully distinct. A place or region can be exciting and dynamic, or boring and dull depending on an individual's experience, expectations, frame of mind, or need to interact with that particular landscape. The range, therefore, of perceptual responses to a place or region is not only vast, but also continually changing.

Some places and regions are imbued with great significance by certain groups of people, but not by others. For example, for Muslims the city of Mecca is the most holy of religious places, whereas for non-Muslims it has only historical significance. For foreign tourists Rio de Janeiro is a city of historical richness that evokes images of grandness, energy, and festiveness, but for many local street youths it is a harsh environment where they have to struggle for daily survival. Around the world the names of such places as Hiroshima, Auschwitz, Bhopal, and Chernobyl convey profoundly sad and horrific collective images, but for the people who live there, the reality of life tends to be how best to earn a living, raise a family, educate children, and enjoy one's leisure time. At another level, Disneyland or "my hometown" may evoke equally strong but positive and idiosyncratic images among local inhabitants. People's group perceptions of places and regions may change over time. For instance, as settlement and knowledge spread westward during the nineteenth century, parts of what are now Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska went from being labeled as within the Great American Desert to being likened to the Garden of Eden. Then during the drought years of the 1930s, these same areas changed character yet again, becoming the heart of what was known as the Dust Bowl.

Culture and experience shape belief systems, which in turn influence people's perceptions of places and regions throughout their lives. So it is essential that students understand the factors that influence their own perception of places and regions, paying special attention to the effects that personal and group points of view can have on their understanding of other groups and cultures. Accordingly, it may be possible for students to avoid the dangers of egocentric and ethnocentric stereotyping, to appreciate the diverse values of others in a multicultural world, and to engage in accurate and sensitive analysis of people, places, and environments.

Standard 9: The characteristics, distribution, and migration of human populations on Earth's surface.

Human population has increased dramatically over the last few centuries. In 1830, more than 900 million people inhabited Earth. As the twenty-first century approached, Earth's population was nearly six billion. At the same time, extraordinarily large and dense clusters of people are growing: Tokyo has already reached a population in excess of 25 million. The geographically informed person must understand that the growth, distribution, and movements of people on Earth's surface are the driving forces behind not only human events—social, cultural, political, and economic—but also certain physical events, such as large-scale flooding, resource depletion, and ecological breakdown.

Students need to develop an understanding of the interaction of the human and environmental factors that help to explain the characteristics of human populations, as well as their distribution and movements. The distribution and density of Earth's population reflect the planet's topography, soils, vegetation, and climate types (ecosystems); available resources; and level of economic development. Population growth rates are influenced by such factors as education (especially of women), religion, telecommunications, urbanization, and employment opportunities. Mortality rates are influenced by the availability of medical services, food, shelter, health services, and the overall age and sex distribution of the population.

Another key population characteristic is growth, which may be described in terms of fertility and mortality, crude birthrates and death rates, natural increase and doubling time, and population structure (age and sex distribution). These basic demographic concepts help bring focus to the human factors that explain population distributions and densities, growth patterns, and population projections. Population pyramids, for example, indicate the differential effects of past events, such as wars, disease, famine, improved sanitation, and vaccination programs, on birthrates and death rates and gender. An analysis of specific age cohorts enables predictions to be made. For example, a large proportion of people zero to fifteen years old suggests rapid population growth, which will soon require significant resources to support the elderly. Both predictions could have significant geographic implications for a community; for example, a young population could create a need for more housing and schools, whereas an older population could create a need for more retirement and medical facilities. Such demographic analyses can be performed at all scales.

Almost every country is experiencing increased urbanization. Across Earth peasant and pastoral life is giving way to the more economically promising lure of life in cities, as people seeking better jobs or more income move to areas where opportunities are better. The majority of the world's people are moving toward a way of life that only a minority of people experienced less than a century ago. Population geographers predict that Tokyo, São Paulo, Bombay, Shanghai, Lagos, and Mexico City will be the 21st century's massive population centers. However, people in some developed countries are giving up the economic advantages of city life for the ease and attractions of suburbs and small towns, especially those with access to employment in metropolitan areas.

Migration is one of the most distinctive and visible characteristics of human populations, and it leads to significant reshaping of population distribution and character. It is a dynamic process that is constantly changing Earth's landscapes and modifying its cultures. It takes place at a variety of scales and in different contexts. At international scales geographers track the flows of immigrants and emigrants. At national scales they consider net regional balances of in- and out-migrants or the flows from rural to urban areas, which are a principal cause of urbanization. At a local scale they consider the continuous mobility of college students, retirees, and tourists or the changes of address that occur without necessarily resulting in a job change or change in friendship patterns.

The context of migration varies from voluntary and discretionary (the search for a better place to live), to voluntary but unavoidable (the search for a place to live), to involuntary and unavoidable (the denial of the right to choose a place to live).

In the two voluntary contexts, migration often results from the weighing of factors at the point of origin and at potential destinations against the costs (financial and emotional) of moving. "Pull" factors may make another place seem more attractive and therefore influence the decision to move. Other factors are unpleasant enough to "push" the migrant out of the local setting and toward another area. These factors reflect people's objective knowledge of places and also their secondhand impressions. As a consequence, many countries have experienced waves of people going from settled areas to new lands in the interior (e.g., the westward movement in the United States in the nineteenth century and the move from the southeast coast to the interior of Brazil starting in the 1960s, when the new capital city of Brasilia was built).

Voluntary and unavoidable migration occurs when much of a region's or country's population is impelled into migration streams, such as the millions of Irish who fled to the United States in the 1840s because of the potato famine or the millions of Somalis, Sudanese, and Rwandans who moved in the 1990s because of drought, famine, and civil war. However, some migrations are forced and involuntary. Such was the case with African Americans who were taken to North and South America in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries to work as slave laborers on sugar, cotton, and tobacco plantations.

Demographic shifts rearrange patterns of population and create new human landscapes. Natural increase, war, famine, and disease play decisive roles in influencing why many people live where they do. Migration sets people in motion as they leave one place, strike out for a second, and possibly settle in a third. Intervening obstacles influence the patterns of migration. Physical barriers such as deserts, mountains, rivers, and seas or cultural barriers such as political boundaries, languages, economic conditions, and cultural traditions determine how people move and where they settle.

It is essential that students develop an understanding of the dynamics of population characteristics, distributions, and migration, and in particular of how population distribution (in terms of size and characteristics) is linked to the components of fertility, mortality, and mobility.

Standard 13: How the forces of cooperation and conflict among people influence the division and control of Earth's surface.

Competing for control of large and small areas of Earth's surface is a universal trait among societies and has resulted in both productive cooperation and destructive conflict between groups over time. The geographically informed person has a general understanding of the nature and history of the forces of cooperation and conflict on Earth and the spatial manifestation of these forces in political and other kinds of divisions of Earth's surface. This understanding enables the individual to perceive how and why different groups have divided, organized, and unified areas of Earth's surface.

Divisions are regions of Earth's surface over which groups of people establish control for purposes of politics, administration, religion, and economics. Each such region usually has an area, a name, and a boundary. In the past even small groups inhabiting vast territories divided space in accordance with their cultural values and life-sustaining activities. For them some spaces were sacred, others were devoted to hunting or gathering, and still others were intended for shelter and socializing. In present-day urban, industrial societies, earning a livelihood, owning or renting a home in a safe neighborhood, getting a drink of clean water, buying food, being able to travel safely within one's own community: all of these activities are linked to how Earth is divided by different groups for different purposes.

Often, conflicts over how to divide and organize parts of Earth's space have involved control of resources (e.g., Antarctica or the ocean floor), control of strategic routes (e.g., the Panama or Suez Canals or the Dardanelles), or the domination of other peoples (e.g., European colonialism in Africa). Language, religion, political ideologies, national origins, and race motivate conflicts over how territory and resources will be developed, used, and distributed. Conflicts over trade, human migration and settlement, and exploitation of marine and land environments, reflect how Earth's surface is divided into fragments controlled by different political and economic interest groups.

The primary political division of Earth is by state sovereignty: a particular government is recognized by others as having supreme authority over a carefully delimited territory and the population and resources within that space. With the exception of Antarctica, Earth's surface is exhaustively partitioned by state sovereignty. These political divisions are recognized by the United Nations and its member states, which discuss and act on issues of mutual interest, especially international peace and security. However, the partitioning is not mutually exclusive. Some nations exert competing claims to certain areas (e.g., the islands in the South Atlantic Ocean, which are claimed by Great Britain as the Falkland Islands and by Argentina as the Malvinas).

Regional alliances among nations for military, political, cultural, or economic reasons constitute another form of the division of Earth's surface. Among these many alliances are the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Caribbean Community and Common Market, the Council of Arab Economic Unity, and the European Union. In addition, numerous multinational corporations divide Earth's space and compete with each other for resource development, manufacturing, and the distribution of goods and services. And nongovernmental organizations such as the International Red Cross and various worldwide religious groups divide space to administer their programs.

Events of the twentieth century illustrate that the division of Earth's surface among different groups pursuing diverse goals continues unabated at all scales of human activity. World wars, regional wars, civil wars, and urban riots often are manifestations of the intensity of feeling humans hold for the right to divide Earth according to their particular perceptions and values. Traditionally, most territorial disputes have been over the land surface, but with the increasing value of resources in the oceans and even outer space, political division of these spaces has become a topic of international debate. Cooperation and conflict will occur in all of these spatial contexts.

At smaller spatial scales, land-use zones in municipalities, administrative districts for airports and other essential services such as water supply and garbage disposal, and school districting within counties, states, and provinces are all examples of the local division of space. Franchise areas, regional divisions of national and multinational corporations, and free-trade zones indicate the economic division of space. City neighborhood associations, suburban homeowners' associations, civic and volunteer organization districts, and the divisions of neighborhood space by youth gangs on the basis of socioeconomic status, race, or national origin illustrate the power of social and cultural divisions of space.

The interlocking systems for dividing and controlling Earth's space influence all dimensions of people's lives, including trade, culture, citizenship and voting, travel, and self-identity. Students must understand the genesis, structure, power, and pervasiveness of these divisions to appreciate their role within a world that is both globally interdependent and locally controlled.

Standard 14: How human actions modify the physical environment.

Many of the important issues facing modern society are the consequences—intended and unintended, positive and negative—of human modifications of the physical environment. So it is that the daily news media chronicle such things as the building of dams and aqueducts to bring water to semiarid areas, the loss of wildlife habitat, the reforestation of denuded hills, the depletion of the ozone layer, the ecological effects of acid rain, the reduction of air pollution in certain urban areas, and the intensification of agricultural production through irrigation.

Environmental modifications have economic, social, and political implications for most of the world's people. Therefore, the geographically informed person must understand the reasons for and consequences of human modifications of the environment in different parts of the world.

Human adaptation to and modification of physical systems are influenced by the geographic context in which people live, their understanding of that context, and their technological ability and inclination to modify it to suit their changing need for things such as food, clothing, water, shelter, energy, and recreational facilities. In meeting their needs, they bring knowledge and technology to bear on physical systems.

Consequently, humans have altered the balance of nature in ways that have brought economic prosperity to some areas and created environmental dilemmas and crises in others. Clearing land for settlement, mining, and agriculture provides homes and livelihoods for some but alters physical systems and transforms human populations, wildlife, and vegetation. The inevitable by-products—garbage, air and water pollution, hazardous waste, the overburden from strip mining—place enormous demands on the capacity of physical systems to absorb and accommodate them.

The intended and unintended impacts on physical systems vary in scope and scale. They can be local and small-scale (e.g., the terracing of hillsides for rice growing in the Philippines and acid stream pollution from strip mining in eastern Pennsylvania), regional and medium scale (e.g., the creation of agricultural polderlands in the Netherlands and of an urban heat island with its microclimatic effects in Chicago), or global and large-scale (e.g., the clearing of the forests of North America for agriculture or the depletion of the ozone layer by chlorofluorocarbons).

Students must understand both the potential of a physical environment to meet human needs and the limitations of that same environment. They must be aware of and understand the causes and implications of different kinds of pollution, resource depletion, and land degradation and the effects of agriculture and manufacturing on the environment. They must know the locations of regions vulnerable to desertification, deforestation, and salinization, and be aware of the spatial impacts of technological hazards such as photochemical smog and acid rain. Students must be aware that current distribution patterns for many plant and animal species are a result of relocation diffusion by humans.

In addition, students must learn to pay careful attention to the relationships between population growth, urbanization, and the resultant stress on physical systems. The process of urbanization affects wildlife habitats, natural vegetation, and drainage patterns. Cities create their own microclimates and produce large amounts of solid waste, photochemical smog, and sewage. A growing world population stimulates increases in agriculture, urbanization, and industrialization. These processes expand demands on water resources, resulting in unintended environmental consequences that can alter water quality and quantity.

Understanding global interdependence begins with an understanding of global dependence: the modification of Earth's surface to meet human needs. When successful, the relationship between people and the physical environment is adaptive; when the modifications are excessive, the relationship is maladaptive. Increasingly, students will be required to make decisions about relationships between human needs and the physical environment. They will need to be able to understand the opportunities and limitations presented by the geographical context and to set those contexts within the local to global continuum.

The above material is from Geography for Life: The National Geography Standards, 1994, The Geography Education Standards Project. Reprinted with the permission of the National Geographic Society.