Geography is the field of knowledge that gives us a picture of the Earth, what it is like as a whole and in all its parts.
Anaximander was the first known Greek geographer. Geography is Greek for “drawing the Earth” and that is just what he did: he drew a map of the Earth more than 500 years before Christ.
He divided the Earth into three main parts:
- Libya (Africa in Latin).
We now call these main parts continents. Going round all three was a vast sea called the Ocean.
The Romans divided the world the same way, but called Libya “Africa”. They knew about China and Java. They knew the Earth was round, not flat, and knew about how big it was. For that reason, some thought that maybe there were other continents since all the ones they knew about were on one side of the Earth. Ptolemy even put one on his world map and called it Terra Australis Incognita.
By 1492 (years after Christ), Europeans learned how to sail directly across the Ocean without getting lost. In time they found three other continents:
- America – west across the Ocean from Europe and Africa,
- Australia – south-east of Asia,
- Antarctica – south of Africa.
They were not the first to discover America or Australia – there were already people living there!
America is often divided into two continents: North America and South America. Together they are called “the Americas”. In English, “America” mostly just means the United States of America (the US ), the country where most English-speaking people in the Americas live. Likewise, the Romans sometimes meant just a province when talking about “Asia” and “Africa”.
Most continents are like huge islands, with maybe just land bridges between them. The main exception is Europe and Asia. For that reason, some see Europe and Asia as one continent called Eurasia.
The Ocean goes around and between these continents. While it is all one large body of water, most think of it as four oceans:
- Atlantic Ocean – the western Ocean
- Indian Ocean – the southern Ocean
- Pacific Ocean – the eastern Ocean
- Arctic Ocean – the northern Ocean
By 1914 most of the Earth was ruled by seven or so empires. After some horrible wars that broke the backs of these empires, it is now divided into nearly 200 countries, each with its own independent government. Some are weak and some are strong, so they are not all equally independent, but that is the idea.
Most of these countries in turn belong to one of four civilizations:
- The West – grew out of Europe and the Christian religion;
- The Islamic world – grew out of south-western Asia and the Muslim religion.
- India – grew out of India and the Hindu religion
- East Asia – grew out of China
Each has more than a billion people.
A civilization is a region of the Earth where there is a common way of life and of looking at the world. They are formed by religion and empire. Some are dead and no longer with us, like those of Egypt and Babylon.
– Abagond, 2006, 2015.