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The AP Human Geography course emphasizes the importance of geography as a field of inquiry and briefly discusses the emergence of academic geography in nineteenth century Europe. The course introduces students to the importance of spatial organization—the location of places, people, and events, and the connections among places and landscapes—in the understanding of human life on Earth.


Geographic concepts emphasized throughout the course are location, space, place, scale, pattern, regionalization, and globalization. These concepts are basic to students’ understanding of spatial interaction and spatial behavior, the dynamics of human population growth and movement, patterns of culture, economic activities, political organization of space, and human settlement patterns, particularly urbanization. Students learn how to use and interpret maps. They also learn to apply mathematical formulas, models, and qualitative data to geographical concepts. The course also makes use of the concept of the region, encourages students to consider the regional organization of various phenomena, and enables students to create regions in order to illustrate process.


A significant outcome of the course is students’ awareness of the relevance of academic geography to everyday life and decision making. This combination of the academic and the applied gives students a sophisticated view of the world and an understanding of the manifold applications of what they have learned in the course.

  13-17% of AP Exam


An understanding of the ways in which the human population is organized geographically provides AP students with the tools they need to make sense of cultural, political, economic, and urban systems. Thus, many of the concepts and theories encountered in this part of the course crosscut with other course modules. In addition, the course themes of scale, pattern, place, and interdependence can all be illustrated with population topics. For example, students may analyze the distribution of the human population at different scales: global, continental, national, state or province, and local community.


Explanations of why population is growing or declining in some places and not others center on understanding the processes of fertility, mortality, and migration. In stressing the relevance of place context, for example, students may assess why fertility rates have dropped in some parts of the developing world but not in others, and how age–sex structures vary from one country to another. Analysis of refugee flows, immigration, internal migration, and residential mobility helps students appreciate the interconnections between population phenomena and other topics.


Environmental degradation may prompt rapid out-migration and urbanization, in turn creating new pressures on the environment. Refugee flows may be magnified when groups have no access to political power because of the way boundaries have been drawn. Rapid immigration to certain parts of the world fosters regional differences in industrial employment and political sentiment toward foreigners. This part of the course also aids in our understanding of contemporary growth trends by considering how models of population change, including the demographic and epidemiological (mortality) transitions. Given these kinds of understandings, students are in a position to evaluate the role, strengths, and weaknesses of major population policies. For example, how might increasing the education levels of females lead to lower fertility?

  13-17% of AP Exam


Understanding the components and regional variations of cultural patterns and processes is critical to human geography. In this section of the course, students begin with the concept of culture. They learn how geographers assess the spatial and place dimensions of cultural groups as defined by language, religion, race, ethnicity, and gender, in the present as well as the past.


A central concern is to comprehend how cultural patterns are represented at a variety of geographic scales from local to global. Diffusion is a key concept in understanding how cultural traits (for example, agricultural practices and language) move through time and space to new locations. Students learn that the concept of region is central to the spatial distribution of cultural attributes.


The course also explores cultural differences at various scales according to language, religion, ethnicity, and gender. The geographies of language and religion are studied to illustrate processes of cultural diffusion and cultural differences. For example, students learn to distinguish between languages and dialects; ethnic and universalizing religions; and popular and folk cultures, and to understand why each has a different geographic pattern.

An important emphasis of the course is the way culture shapes human–environment relationships. For example, religion can influence environmental

perception and modification. Students also come to understand how culture is expressed in landscapes, and how landscapes in turn represent cultural identity. Built environments enable the geographer to interpret cultural values, tastes, and sets of beliefs. For example, both folk and contemporary architecture are rich and readily available means of comprehending cultures and changes in landscapes.

  13-17% of AP Exam


This section of the course introduces students to the nature and significance of the political organization of territory at different scales. Students learn that political patterns reflect ideas about how Earth’s surface should be organized and affect a wide range of activities and understandings.


The course gives primary attention to the political geography of the modern state or country. Students are introduced to the different forces that shaped the evolution of the contemporary world political map, including the rise of the nation-states in Europe and the influence of colonialism. Students also learn about the basic structure of the political map and the inconsistencies between maps of political boundaries and maps of ethnic, economic, and environmental patterns. In addition, students consider some of the forces that are changing the role of individual countries in the modern world,

including ethnic separatism, devolution, supranationalism, economic globalization, the emergence of regional economic blocs, and the need to confront environmental problems that cross national boundaries.


This part of the course also focuses on political units above, below, and beyond the state. For example, at the scale above the state, attention is directed to regional integration schemes and alliances, such as NATO, the European Union, and NAFTA. At the scale below the state, students are introduced to the ways in which electoral districts, municipal boundaries, and ethnic territories affect political, social, and economic processes. In addition, students study how particular policies affect the spatial organization of cultural and social life, as in the case of racial segregation. Through study of these matters, students understand the importance of the political organization of territory in the contemporary world.

  13-17% of AP Exam

This section of the course explores four themes: the origin and spread of agriculture; the characteristics of the world’s agricultural regions; reasons why these regions function the way they do; and the impact of agricultural change on the quality of life and the environment. Students first examine centers where domestication originated and study the processes by which domesticates spread. This diffusion process makes clear why distinct regional patterns of diet, energy use, and agrarian technology emerged.


The course next examines Earth’s major agricultural production regions. Extensive activity (fishing, forestry, nomadic herding, ranching, shifting cultivation) and intensive activity (plantation agriculture, mixed crop/livestock systems, market gardening, horticulture, factory farms) are examined, as are settlement patterns and landscapes typical of each major agriculture type. In addition, students learn about land survey systems, environmental conditions, and cultural values that created and sustain the patterns.


Explanations for the location of agricultural activities are another major concern. Von Thünen’s land use model, agricultural change, such as the impact of factory farming on food supplies, and the distribution of crops and animals are also emphasized. The need for increased food supplies and the capacity to increase food production concludes this section.


The course divides urban geography into two subfields. The first is the study of systems of cities, focusing on where cities are located and why they are there. This involves an examination of such topics as the current and historical distribution of cities; the political, economic, and cultural functions of cities; reasons for differential growth among cities; and types of transportation and communication linkages among cities. Theories of settlement geography, such as Christaller’s central place theory, the rank size rule, and the gravity model are also introduced. Quantitative information on

such topics as population growth, migration fields, zones of influence, and job creation are used to analyze changes in the urban hierarchy.


The second subfield focuses on the form, internal structure, and landscapes of cities and emphasizes what cities are like as places in which to live and work. Students are introduced to such topics as the analysis of patterns of urban land use, racial and ethnic segregation, types of intracity transportation, architectural traditions, and cycles of uneven construction and development. Students’ understanding of cities as places is enhanced by both quantitative data from the census and qualitative information from narrative accounts and field studies. Students also study models of internal city structure: for example, the Burgess concentric zone model, the Hoyt sector model, and the Harris–Ullman multiple nuclei model. Topics such as economic systems, culture, architectural history, and the evolution of various transportation technologies in different parts of the world can be useful in the analysis of spatial patterns and landscapes evident in cities.


While much of the literature in urban geography focuses on the cities of North America, comparative urbanization is an increasingly important topic. The study of European, Islamic, East and South Asian, Latin American, and sub-Saharan African cities serves to illustrate how differing economic systems and cultural values can lead to variations in the spatial structures and landscapes of urban places. Students also examine current trends in urban development that are affecting urban places, such as the emergence of edge cities, new urbanism, and the gentrification of neighborhoods. In addition, students evaluate urban planning design initiatives and community actions, such as those that reduce energy use and protect the environment, that will shape cities in the future.

  13-17% of AP Exam

Economic activity has a spatial character influenced by the interaction of several factors, including natural resources, culture, politics, and history in specific places. By dividing economic activities into key sectors, students can appreciate why natural resources have different values for different societies, and how places and regions acquire comparative advantages for development.


In this section of the course, students learn about the geographic elements of industrialization and development, including the Industrial Revolution. Students need to understand how models of economic development, such as Rostow’s stages of economic growth, Wallerstein’s World Systems Theory, and Millennium Development Goals help to explain why the world is described as being divided into a more well-developed core and a less-developed periphery. The course also includes a comparison of location theories, such as those by Weber and von Thünen, which stress resource and market dependence, with accounts of economic globalization, which accent time–space compression and the new international division of labor. As an example,

students study the reasons why some Asian economies achieved rapid rates of growth in the 1980s while most sub-Saharan African economies experienced decline. In addition, students need to understand patterns of economic growth and decline in North America.


This part of the course also addresses contemporary issues surrounding economic activity. For example, countries, regions, and communities must confront new patterns of economic inequity that are linked to geographies of interdependence in the global economy. Communities also face difficult questions regarding use and conservation of resources and the impact of pollution on the environment and quality of life. Students study the impact of deindustrialization, the disaggregation of production, the development of commodity chains, and the rise of consumption and leisure activities.

The impact of human society on the environment concludes the course.  Field fragmentation, consolidation/reorganization, and ownership issues receive attention. The course also focuses on land degradation (deforestation, soil erosion, salinization, overgrazing, soil fertility loss, desertification) and the social consequences of changing economic practices (migration, social stratification, disease transmission, landlessness). Techniques and strategies for increasing productive output, such as the Green Revolution and genetic engineering, are examined.

This part of the course also aids in our understanding of modern growth trends by considering how models of population change, including the demographic and epidemiological (mortality) transitions, and also addresses contemporary issues surrounding economic activity. For example, countries, regions, and communities must confront new patterns of economic inequity that are linked to geographies of interdependence in the global economy. Communities also face difficult questions regarding use and conservation of resources and the impact of pollution on environment and quality of life.. Given these kinds of understandings, students are in a position to evaluate the role, strengths, and weaknesses of major government policies concerning population, pollution, migration, education, and ethnic tension.

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