Location [Stds. 1, 3]
Place [Stds. 4, 7, 9, 10]
Human-Environment Interaction [Stds. 8, 12, 14-18]
Movement [Stds. 11, 13]
Regions [Stds. 2, 5, 6]

 Standard 3: Analyzing the Spatial Organization
of People, Places, and Environments

How to analyze the spatial organization
of people, places, and environments on earth's surface


It is not enough simply to describe landscapes or merely to describe whatever is depicted on a map. What is more important is analyzing the spatial organization of people, places, and environments in the real world, as well as analyzing the real world as it is depicted on maps.

In thinking spatially, geographers begin with the conviction that physical and cultural phenomena are not just randomly found on the earth's surface, but that there are regular and recurring spatial patterns that can be discerned if one looks for them. In order to seek an understanding of "spatial order" geographers look at...
... as properties worthy of description, but especially analysis. Taken together, points, lines, areas, and volumes represent fundamental spatial properties of any phenomenon or set of phenomena that operate at different scales ranging from local to global.
Analysis of these fundamental spatial properties is helpful in understanding spatial relationships, spatial structures, and spatial processes. Although these four spatial properties — points, lines, areas, and volumes — may seem, at first glance, quite abstract, they are actually quite simple.

In Japan, for example,

  • Yokohama City can be seen as a "point" at some specified scale that is connected by land, water, and air, which are "lines."
  • The Kanto region in which Yokohama City is located is an "area," as are other areas to which it might be connected.
  • Yokohama Bay on its east can be thought of as a "volume."
Using concepts such as distance, direction, and density, geographers are able to set up an analytical framework for understanding the spatial organization of Yokohama in relation to its immediate environs, as well as at a distance.
Other richer concepts, such as spatial diffusion, spatial accessibility, and spatial hierarchy, provide routes to more sophisticated analysis.

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China's boundaries, both political and coastal, have changed many times over 4000 years. The maps below show 1) China during the Neolithic Era (3000-1500 BCE); 2) present-day China.

Like many other countries, the historical borders of China have varied over time. Under the Han dynasty (202 BCE-202 CE)—China's great historical empire—these early boundaries were significantly expanded (as the series of historical maps of China on the Minneapolis Institute of Art website shows). The extent of China's territory was greatest under the last dynasty, called the Qing (Ch'ing) or Manchu dynasty, between 1644-1912. China's territory was more extensive under the Qing empire than it is today.

China is at the core of a cultural sphere or region known as East Asia. Looking at a map of China's bordering nations, it is possible to identify China's neighbors, some of which received substantial cultural influence from China. China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam historically form the East Asian or Sinic cultural sphere.
The large number of countries with which China shares borders makes Chinese foreign policy especially complex (unlike the U.S., for example, which shares borders only with Canada and Mexico).
Japan's present-day boundaries are all coastlines:
LINK: The Arts of Asia: History & Maps [Minneapolis Institute of Arts] Featuring additional maps of China's and Japan's historical periods, as well as the historical periods of Korea, the Mongol Empire, and the Silk Road, and present-day maps of China, Japan, Korea, India, Southeast Asia, Nepal, and Tibet.
Students will be intrigued by the many images of the Earth found at the United States Geological Survey "EarthShots" website:

LESSON PLAN: What Can We Learn from Satellite Images? [National Geographic] This lesson plan is very useful for helping students understand how the Earth's physical and cultural geographies can be analyzed by studying satellite imagery.

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