It is said that ‘geography is the mother of history.’ Current events are history unfolding now.

Geography in current events. That’s the best way to learn geography. Today, I invite you to explore several themes of geography online. I give you the basics here and then a web site to explore. In the end, I give you questions that you can answer and send to Selected answers will be published on my geography blog.

Theme: Migration

Human migrations have been happening throughout most of our existence. We are wherever we are today because someone in our family tree migrated at some time in human history. And those migrations have happened, and continue to happen, due to a variety of reasons. Migrations may be voluntary or involuntary (or forced). They may be due to any number of push factors – these drive people out of a place; e.g.: political unrest, violence, oppression, lack of economic opportunity, etc. Everyone wants to have a peaceful life and achieve some dreams that they may cherish. But where do people migrate to? That depends on which places attract them – where conditions are better, more promising, and places that are reasonably easy to reach. They must also be places that will allow immigrants.

  1. Example: Migration to USA.

The USA is one of the top, if not the top, destinations for international migration even today. Read a lot of interesting information of the USA as “a nation of immigrants.” This site has 37 very interesting maps that explain migration to the USA. It also takes an unflinching look at some of the not-so-nice past of the migration to the USA. Reading this one article, you can learn a lot about the concept of migration. [ Update on 22 September 2015: The Los Angeles Times has a very interesting infographic about the situation of the refugee migration Syria and other countries to Europe as of 18 September 2015.]

Theme: Communication

Early in human history, communication was confined to very short distances. As human populations grew and settlements grew both in size and number, communications also grew. The speed of communications increased with changes in travel (e.g.: the wheel, carts, horses), writing (e.g.: inscription on copper plates, papyrus, paper, cloth), and technologies (e.g.: trains, aeroplanes, telegraphy, radio, television, and, now, the internet). Nowadays, communications over vast distances is almost instantaneous. Just consider WhatsApp, Instagram, FaceBook, and so on – within seconds we are able to connect with people almost anywhere in the world. This high-speed communication is possible due to two important large-scale technologies: cables and satellites.

  1. Example: Underwater cables

There are cables that snake through the vast oceans and seas, and under ground above the waters, that carry vast amounts of data all over the world. Look at this map of all the underwater cables that connect the world. You and I are part of that network whenever we use the internet. You can see (and download) a larger version of that map.

Theme: Human-environment interactions

Humans and their interactions with their natural environment are an important theme in geography. From place to place, the types of environments vary and the interactions of the people who live there with those environments also vary. There are also a lot of similarities among different places, e.g.: in different biomes such as hot deserts, cold deserts, tropical rainforests, and temperate grasslands.

In geography, you might have studied the ocean and wind currents. Your textbook may give you some cursory facts about how these currents affect climate in various areas. However, considering the large population of the world now, the industrialization, economic interactions, and flow of goods, we get to see how pollution in one place can end up affecting a far-off place. We can also understand how human action is contributing to rapid climate change.

  1. Example: Rubber duckies

View an interactive map that shows you how plastic pollution in the open oceans spreads to different places over a period of time. This is due to ocean currents, waves, and wind movement (see last week’s article on the geography of the debris of flight MH370). All countries are dumping plastics into the ocean. Remember also, that plastic does not biodegrade; it only breaks down into smaller particles and gets into the food chain.

  1. Example: Climate change

View these interactive maps at  gain an understanding of responsibility for climate change, where the most vulnerable populations, are etc. The maps here may appear a little strange to you. They are a form of maps called “cartograms” – the areas of countries are proportionate to the value of the data being shown. For example, countries with the largest rate of population growth will be biggest, all the way down to those with the least rate.

View this interactive “infograph” (short for information graphic) and understand how carbon emissions have changed over history and which countries have contributed to the atmospheric carbon content.

Answer these questions:

  1. Which regions have contributed most to the population of the US in the past 50 years?
  2. From where did forced migration into the USA happen?
  3. Describe the forced migrations within the USA.
  4. Which countries emitted the most carbon in the 1800s and in 2011? What explains this change?
  5. Which continent emitted the greatest total amount of carbon in 2011? (You will need to do some addition).

(Featured image courtesy: The Los Angeles Times, © 2015)


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