It should be clear by now that geography at university level is a huge subject, drawing on many other disciplines. Some possible areas of focus are also covered by similar degrees. To find out more about physical geography topics such as climate change, oceanography and meteorology, visit our guides to Earth and marine sciences and environmental studies, while for more options relating to human geography, browse our social sciences course guides.
A major field within human geography, cultural geography refers to the study of cultural customs, traditions, developments and clashes, and their relationships to the natural world. This could have an international focus, looking at the effects of globalization and issues connected to cultural exchange, integration or dominance. Or you may focus on a particular region and/or a particular aspect of culture, such as religion, language, consumption, gender or colonialism.
Students who specialize in environmental geography focus on various environmental issues and challenges, including climate change, sea level change, landscape change and habitat loss, natural resource management and natural disasters such as tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. You’ll study both the physical processes involved and the impact of humans on the environment, as well as covering topics such as environmental law and policy and environmental economics.
Glaciers and glaciations
A specialization within physical geography, the field of glaciers and glaciations is a chance to learn all about glaciers and glacial systems, including effects on land formation and the impact of climate change. Within this field, you could expect to learn about glacier erosion and deposition, mapping and analysis techniques, and glacial environments and ecosystems. A field trip to a real-life glacier is also a possibility.
If you opt to study historical geography, also referred to as “geography of the past”, you’ll explore how different areas and landscapes have changed and developed over time. As well as analyzing physical changes and processes, you’ll also look at how people have interacted with their environments, and the development of “cultural landscapes”. Historical geography plays an important role in allowing us to understand the processes and patterns through which the world has reached its current state, and in turn make predictions for the future.
A specialization within physical geography, hydrology is all about water: water quality, movement, transportation, uses and resources. Areas of focus could include agricultural water use, drainage management, hydropower, water supply and sanitation, and flood forecasting and safeguarding.
A branch of human geography, political geography explores the various relationships between politics and physical spaces. You could study relationships between physical landforms and political boundaries; disputed territories and regions in conflict; government responses to environmental issues; national policies relating to urban development; or the role of formal and informal country groupings such as the European Union or ‘the Middle East’.
Related fields include geopolitics, which explores the effects of human and physical geography on international politics and relations, and electoral geography, which analyzes election processes and results in relation to physical spaces and boundaries.
The field of population geography involves the scientific study of human populations, analyzing trends in spatial distribution and density. You may study migration patterns, increases and decreases in population density, and learn how to analyze demographic data such as birth and death rates. This specialization will have a strong emphasis on collecting and analyzing statistical data.
Urban geography/urban studies
If you choose to specialize in urban geography, or urban studies, you will apply your geography skills and knowledge to the study of urban areas. This field provides opportunities to explore the design, development and governance of urban areas; perceptions of and attitudes towards urban spaces; and issues relating to the identity, experiences and rights of those living in towns and cities. You may also address the various challenges for those governing modern cities, covering topics such as transport, healthcare, pollution, crime, education and labor.
These are just some of the many geography topics you may choose to study or specialize in. Others include: biogeography, climate change, coastal geography, development geography, ecology, geomorphology, health geography, language geography, migration, religion geography, sexuality geography, tourism geography, transportation geography, soil science, and others.