Physical Geography and Its Sub-branches. Source: Pixabay

People always think that geography only deals with the physical systems of the earth. More often than not, just hearing the word geography makes us think about mountains or vast landscapes. 

While this is true to some extent, geography also studies people and their activities. It’s too important of a program to be just about mountains and vast landscapes. 

In fact, geography has two branches: human geography and physical geography. Both are different from each and cover different subjects, but they’re both connected. You cannot say that you’ve studied geography if you didn’t tackle a little bit of each. 

Even if you pursue or get a geography-related job in human geography, you’ll most likely touch a few aspects of physical geography—and vice versa. 

Getting a little confused? Don’t fret and just continue reading. We’ll talk more about each branch in the next sections. 

The History of Geography 

In the simplest of definitions, geography is the study of the human societies, as well as the physical properties of the earth. This simple definition is also one of the reasons why it still remains relevant today. 

The word geography comes from the Greek words geo which means “earth” and -graphy which means “to write”. The word geography came about when ancient Greeks wanted a term to help them describe the writings and maps of the world. 

Through geography, ancient Greece was able to make sense of its own location and relationship to other neighboring territories. 

But Greeks weren’t the only ones who invested their time in geography. A lot of ancient cultures had their own way of making maps and understanding their location’s advantages, disadvantages and relationships to other places. 

Mapmaking was already an important aspect of some cultures, to an extent that it came before a writing system was established. It was a necessary tool to navigate through places not entirely familiar. 

Moreover, geography came in handy in planting crops and taking care of livestock. Muslim geographers used key information in identifying which types of environments were suitable for certain crops and animals. 

Today, geography is now divided into two branches—both of which have their uses in the modern world. 

Human Geography

Human geography mainly deals with how people and cultures are distributed all over the globe. It involves studying different races, their origins, and how they interact on earth’s surface. 

If you’re curious about why specific groups are located in key areas, human geography also deals with that, too. 

According to Britannica, human geography has already been further divided into five parts since 1945. Economic, social, cultural, and political geography deal with the main areas of contemporary human life and the various social science disciplines they interact with. 

The fifth geography is historical geography. 

Economic Geography

We all know that different regions of the world are on different levels in terms of wealth. In economic geography, you’ll examine the reasons and factors that contribute to this and how it affects the way the world works. 

You’ll also study the products and services certain regions produce in terms of their location and target market. Economic geography can be further divided into industrial geography, agricultural geography, and transport geography. 

It’s in this division of human geography that you’ll understand the impact of the actions of powerful countries and transnational companies to the entire world.

Social Geography

Social geography tackles the social classes, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, genders, and age. This is also the division where you’ll understand why certain groups of people are located in certain areas. 

Concentrating on the divisions within society, social geography can be further divided into population geography and medical geography. 

Population geography mainly studies the characteristics of mortality, fertility, and migration. On the other hand, medical geography mainly focuses on how diseases spread and the factors that affect the death rate. 

Political Geography

This division of human geography mainly studies the relationships of a country with respect to its citizens and other governments. 

You’ll mostly learn about the different issues within a country such as environmental concerns and usage of land and external conflicts such as issues with neighboring countries on territories. 

One subfield of political geography is electoral geography where it studies the patterns during elections and how government seats are given to respective candidates from different parties. 

Cultural Geography

As a geography major, you may choose to specialise in urban geography
Studying and cataloguing our urban landscape is a program of study for future geographers Source: Pixabay Credit: Free-Photos

Not to be mistaken with anthropology, cultural geography mainly deals with how people and societies are interrelated and how people interact with their environments. 

Most cultures have beliefs and traditions that didn’t have written counterparts. Therefore, geographers are tasked with interpreting unwritten beliefs transmitted in cultures. This crucial task involves years and years of deconstructing activities and languages. 

A popular subfield of cultural geography is urban geography wherein an interest in contemporary issues in urban areas and life are examined. Considering that more people reside in cities than countrysides, urban geography is given more light than the lesser popular rural geography.

Historical Geography

This is a branch of human geography that mainly studies the geographic changes that occurred in a place or region over a period of time. In the simplest sense, it’s a study of past geographies. 

This division of geography is important in understanding the context of how the world has changed over time and illustrating it for better use and application. 

Physical Geography

This branch of geography mainly studies the physical systems on the surface of the earth; these include landscapes, climate, atmosphere, ecosystems, and surface processes. To put it simply, everything that happens on the four spheres of the earth are studied under physical geography.

It also touches on how human activity affects the physical environment.

Because this branch of geography is also quite broad, considering it studies all that happens in all spheres, it also has its own sub-branches. Each branch focuses on certain areas to narrow down their scope. 

With how vast the world is, it’s impossible for physical geographers to run out of things to study. Sometimes, the sub-branches under physical geography overlap with each and even with geology. 

Here are some of the more popular sub-branches of physical geography:


With an obvious giveaway, hydrology is a sub-branch of physical geography that studies everything about the bodies of water on earth. It studies the occurrence, distribution, and physical of water. 

This sub-branch is most useful for assessing the probability of flooding within cities and regions, which is why it’s crucial for urban development. It also helps local units lessen the impact of natural disasters caused by these bodies of water. 


If you’re one of those people who thinks geography is all about landforms, then you’re probably thinking about geomorphology. Geomorphology mainly studies the topographic features of the world—meaning its landforms and surface processes. 

However, the scale is tipped towards studying the origins of landforms and what factors affected the formation of such. Erosion and tectonic activities are just some of the topics covered under this sub-branch of physical geography. 


It’s a no brainer that climatology is the study of climate. But this sub-branch also analyzes the changes in climate over a period of time, the impacts humans have on the climate, and the different climates across the globe. 

To differentiate it from meteorology, climatology focuses on long-term changes and slower-acting factors in atmospheric processes. 


This sub-branch of physical geography is related to ecology and examines the factors that affect the distribution of different non-human living beings all over the globe. It also studies the relationships of these species to their environments and their past distributions. 

This branch is actually a branch of biology but geographers have contributed to this study, especially with the study of flora. Biogeography has also been useful in the preparation and classification of crops that began in the 20th century. 

Understanding the World Through Geomorphology. Source: Stocksnap

Getting Additional Help for Geography

Let your tutor serve up the geography knowledge you need!
A geography tutor may serve up nuggets of knowledge every geography major needs! Source: Pixabay Credit: Geralt

After seeing the long list of geography sub-branches above, one might feel a little overwhelmed, if not excited. Indeed, they weren’t exaggerating when they said that geography is a broad branch of science. 

But one thing that shouldn’t deter you from studying this program is that there are hundreds of professionals out there willing to help you finish your program and become a geographer yourself. 

These geography professionals in Canada gladly chose to be tutors to aspiring students because there’s more to geography than just its intimidating list of areas and topics. 

If you’re open to getting a tutor for your studies, Superprof would be a great option for you. Through this website, you’ll find a geography tutor near you in just a matter of seconds. Plus, you’ll even get the first hour free—if your tutor offers it (most of them do).

Not only will you receive the help you need, you’ll also learn through methods that work best for you. Whether it’s frequent reviewing or challenging tests, your chosen tutor will gladly oblige. 

What are you waiting for? Find your geography tutor today!

Discover sunken treasure with your geography degree!
Believe it or not, a geography degree will put you on the path to discovering sunken treasure! Source: Pixabay Credit: Arhnue


As we’ve said, studying geography includes both branches, human and physical. You can’t say you’re a graduate of the program if you haven’t mastered at least one concept from each branch. 

Moreover, geography isn’t just limited to these two branches. You can even find your own specialty that gives you extra knowledge that will come in handy for your chosen field. Should you pursue a specialty, you’ll definitely give your resume extra brownie points. 

And if you’re facing challenging times in your studies, just find a tutor to help you out!

Plus, if you want to know about just how much it costs to study geography in Canada, check this out.

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Mike is a freelance writer with a passion for continuous learning, self-improvement, and helping others through education.