What Do Geographers Study?

There are five thematic areas within geography:
  1. Physical Geography: Physical geographers study the earth systems and environmental processes, as well as the locational arrangements of each phenomenon and their interactions as physical systems. This area of study entails dealing with issues of weather and climate, ecology, geomorphology, snow and ice, vegetation and biodiversity.
  2. Human-Environment Geography: Human-Environment geographers study the interactions between humans and the physical environment. More specifically, they study the human use, perception, and modification of environments. This sub-discipline is often referred to as Environmental Geography. The field involves, but is not limited to, addressing environmental problems and catastrophes, natural hazards, water resource policy and management, environmental planning, conservation and restoration.
  3. Human and Cultural Geography: Human and cultural geographers study aspects that relate to the location and organization of different societies and cultures. Human geography explores spatial, economic, political/geopolitical, historic, population, and urban topics and their connections. Cultural geography places emphasis on cultural characteristics of places (for example, language, religion, ethnicity, indigenous knowledge, settlement patterns, and so forth). Many human and cultural geographers are regional specialists in that they focus their study and research on specific world regions such as North America, Latin America, Eurasia, or Oceania.
  4. Regional Geography and Global Systems: Regional geography examines the ways in which regions, places, and global systems have acquired distinctive characteristics and problems as a result of their locations, settlement, use by particular peoples and cultures. Others study global cities, geopolitics, and the spatial effects of globalization. Regional geographers are area experts and develop knowledge and familiarity with the workings of particular countries or areas of the world and contribute to our understanding of issues related to foreign policy and international relations.
  5. Cartography and Geographic Information Science: Cartography involves the science and techniques of using geospatial data and computer systems to make maps. New maps can be both interactive and online with a deep wealth of detail. GIScience is a field devoted to the acquisition, management, analysis, visualization, and representation of geospatial data. It is a relatively new discipline that incorporates GIS, Cartography, and other related geospatial fields. As an academic discipline, GIScience is concerned with both theoretical and applied issues in the creation and use of maps and geospatial databases.

The Department of Geography offers the following undergraduate majors, minors, and certificates:

B.A. in Geography

  • General Geography without option
  • Community & Environmental Planning option

B.S. in Geography

  • General Geography without option
  • Physical Geography option

Minor in Geography

Minor in Mountain Studies

Certificate in GIS Science and Technology (Offered jointly with the College of Forestry)

A Sample of Related Occupations and Potential Career Paths

Physical Geography

 Human-Environment Geography

Human and Cultural Geography

Regional Studies and Global Systems

Cartography and Geographic Information Science

Urban and Regional Planning

  • Urban Planner
  • Bike and Pedestrian Coordinator
  • Transportation Planner
  • Health Services Coordinator
  • Water Resource Planner
  • Real Estate Appraiser
  • Economic Development Officer
  • Low-Income Housing Developer

Types of Employers

Private and Non-Profit Organizations

Sustainable Agriculture Businesses
Big-Game Ranches
Consulting Firms
Engineering Firms
Map Companies
GIS Consultancy Firms
International Development Non-profits
TV and Radio Stations
Documentary Film Studios
Outdoor Outfitters
Tourism Industry
Utility Companies
United Nations

Government Agencies

Bureau of Land Management
Community Colleges and Universities
National Park Service
Environmental Protection Agency
Police and Emergency Services
U.S. Forest Service
U.S. Geological Survey
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
U.S. Department of Interior
U.S. Census Bureau
U.S. State Department
U.S. Department of Agriculture
State Governmental Agencies
City and County Governmental Agencies

Professional Associations

For additional career information, see the Occupational Outlook Handbook