Cultural Geography: An Introduction

Culture is the specialized behavioral patterns, knowledge and adaptations of a group of people. Culture is learned and shared. Culture is not static or individualistic. Elements of culture include but are not limited to: Language, Religion, political and economic systems, education, recreation, and history. Cultural geographers study of spatial variations among cultural groups and culture elements.

Two approaches to the study of cultural geography are social science and humanistic. Social science geography includes model building, quantitative research, geographic information systems (GIS), in other words the “Scientific Method” whereas humanistic geography uses qualitative methods of observation, ethnography, perception and sense of place.

Vicksburg Bridge, MSTypes of culture include material and nonmaterial forms. Material culture is anything created by humans that is physical in nature such as a bridge, paper, pen, desk or clothing. Non-material culture is also created by humans but is not physical.  This includes ideologies, belief systems, religions, folklore, speech, and ideologies such as capitalism.

Cultural borders are important to the study of geography in comparing cultural elements. Cultural borders are divided into three broad culture regions: formal, functional and vernacular. Formal Culture Regions are where one or more cultural traits in common, boundaries are imprecise sCulture Regionsuch as the Spanish speaking area of the southwest US. Not all people will agree on borders or culture traits. Functional Culture Regions are organized to function politically, socially, or economically. They are focused on nodes or central points and often have clearly defined borders for example the countries of Europe or cities. Vernacular Culture Regions are perceived by its inhabitants and outsiders such as the Midwestern region of the United States. Boundaries usually not clearly defined and identity is often invented or based on folk or popular culture.

Cultural Diffusion is the spread of a concept, practice or innovation from its point of origin to new places crossing cultural borders and regions. Points of origin of cultural traits are called culture hearths and is the area where innovations developed and from which they spread. Cultures undergo constant change through innovation and diffusion. Diffusion differs from independent invention as independent invention is a concept that recognizes that inventions can be developed in different places at reasonably close times.

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