AP Human Geography Exam
Vocabulary Definitions
Unit 1: Nature and Perspectives
(Ch. 1 & 2 in Barron's)

The following vocabulary items can be found in your review book and class handouts.  These identifications and concepts do not necessarily constitute all that will be covered on the exam.

Unit 1

Nature & Perspectives

Unit 2


Unit 3


Unit 4


Unit 5


Unit 6


Units 7&8


Unit 9

Environmental & Medical


Pattison’s Four Traditions (1964): W.D. Pattison

            -earth-science: physical geography (not one of the Five Themes)

-locational: spatial tradition (location)

-man-land: human/environmental interaction

-area-studies: regional geography

Five Themes of Geography (1986): GENIP

            -location: position; situation of people and things

            -human/environmental interaction: reciprocal relationship b/w humans & env.

            -region: area on Earth’s surface marked by a degree of homogeneity (uniformity) of some phenomenon

            -place: uniqueness of a location (or similarity of two or more locales); phenomena within an area

            -movement: mobility of people, goods and ideas; phenomena between areas

Anthropogenic: Caused or produced by humans

Absolute location: Position on Earth’s surface using the coordinate system of longitude (that runs from North to South Pole) and latitude (that runs parallel to the equator). 

Relative location: Position on Earth’s surface relative to other features. (Ex: My house is east of I-75). 

Absolute distance: Exact measurement of the physical space between two places. 

Relative distance: Approximate measurement of the physical space between two places. 

Site: The physical character of place; what is found at the location and why it is significant.

Situation: The location of a place relative to other places.


-Formal Region- (uniform, homogeneous) or homogenous region is an area within which everyone shares in common one or mare distinctive characteristics.  The shared feature could be a cultural value such as a common language, or an environmental climate. 

-Functional Region- (nodal) Area organized around a node or focal point.  The characteristic chosen to define a functional region dominates at a central focus or node and diminishes in importance outward.  This region is tied to the central point by transportation or communication systems or by economic or functional associations. 

-Perceptual Region- (vernacular) is a place that people believe exists as a part of their cultural identity.  Such regions emerge from peoples informal sense of place rather than from scientific models developed through geographic thought. (Often identified using a mental map- which is an internal representation of a portion of Earths surface). Many "belts" fit this description ... cotton belt (what used to be dominated by agriculture, and is often referred to as the New South), Bible belt, sun belt, rust belt, ...

Environmental perception: a person’s idea or image of a place; may often be inaccurate.

Cultural trait: a single element of normal practice in a culture (e.g., wearing a turban)

Culture complex: a combination of related cultural traits (e.g., prevailing modes of dress; nationalism)

Culture hearth: The region from which innovative ideas originate.  This relates to the important concept of the spreading of ideas from one area to another (diffusion). Must be viewed in the context of time …

-Ancient culture hearth: Fertile Crescent, Indus Valley, Chang & Yellow River Valley (China), Nile River Valley and Delta, Meso-America (origin of farming developed during the First Agricultural Revolution beginning around 12,000 years ago).

-Modern culture hearth: Europe, North America, Japan (origin and focus of the Industrial Revolution beginning in the early 1800s after the onset of the Second Agricultural Revolution).

Cultural landscape (built environment): Fashioning of a natural landscape by a cultural group.  This is the essence of how humans interact with nature. 

Sequent occupance: The notion that successive societies leave their cultural imprints on a place, each contributing to the cumulative cultural landscape.  This is an important concept in geography because it symbolizes how humans interact with their surroundings. 

Cultural diffusion: The process of spread of a feature or trend from one place to another over time. 

Relocation diffusion: The spread of an idea through physical movement of people from one place to another. Ex: spread of AIDS from New York, California, & Florida. 

            Migrant diffusion: spread of an idea through people, in which the phenomena weakens or dies out at its previous source … moves like a “Slinky” (e.g., spread of the Spanish Flu toward the end of World War I).

Expansion diffusion: The spread of a feature from one place to another in a snowballing process…

-Hierarchical diffusion: The spread of an idea from persons or nodes of authority or power to other persons or places (Ex: hip-hop/rap music) 

-Contagious diffusion: The rapid, widespread diffusion of a characteristic throughout the population. (Ex: ideas placed on the internet) 

-Stimulus diffusion: the spread of an underlying principle, even though a characteristic itself apparently fails to diffuse. (Ex: PC & Apple competition, p40) 

Acculturation:  Process of adopting only certain customs that will be to their advantage

Transculturation: A near equal exchange of culture traits or customs  

Assimilation:  Process of less dominant cultures losing their culture to a more dominant culture

Environmental determinism: A 19th- and early 20th-century approach to the study of geography that argued that the general laws sought by human geographers could be found in the physical sciences.  Geography was therefore the study o f how the physical environment caused human activities (e.g., Jared Diamond – Guns, Germs, and Steel)

Possibilism-  The physical environment may limit some human actions, but people have the ability to adjust to their environment.  

Cultural Ecology:  The geographic study of the multiple interactions of human-environmental relationships  

Holocene epoch: current interglaciation period (sustained warming phase between glaciations during an ice age), extending from around 12,000 years ago to the present (some scientists speculate that since humans influence the Earth as no species was able to before, we have recently entered the Anthropocene epoch).

First Agricultural Revolution: beginning around 12,000 years ago; achieved plant domestication (human influence on genetic modification of a plant) and animal domestication (genetic modification of an animal to make it more amenable to human control and use); began permanent settlements along fertile river valleys which moved humans from egalitarian societies (equal) to more stratified societies (unequal).

Geographic Information Systems (GIS): collection of computer hardware and software permitting spatial data to be collected, recorded, stored, retrieved, used, and displayed.

Global Positioning System (GPS): satellite-based system for determining the absolute location of places.

Remote sensing: method of collecting data or information through the use of instruments (e.g., satellites) that are physically distant from the area or object of study.

Qualitative data: described in terms of its quality (that is, informal or relative characteristics such as culture, language, religion, …).

Quantitative data: precisely describes data using numbers and measures (population, political, economic, …).

Map projections: any 3-dimensional object (Earth) will project some distortion onto any 2-dimensional object (map)

Azimuthal: directions from a central point are preserved; usually these projections also have radial symmetry

Mercator: straight meridians and parallels that intersect at right angles, used for marine navigation

Peters: equal-area cylindrical, areas of equal size on the globe are also equally sized on the map

Robinson: distorts shape, area, scale, and distance in an attempt to balance the errors of projection properties

Fuller: using the surface of a polyhedron, it is unfolded to a net in many different ways and flattened to form a two-dimensional map which retains most of the globe’s relative proportional integrity

Types of maps:

-dot: one dot represents a certain number of phenomena (e.g., population)

-thematic: made to reflect a particular theme about a geographic area (e.g., geographic, topographic, political, …)

-choropleth: thematic map in which areas are shaded or patterned in proportion to the measurement of the statistical variable being displayed (e.g., population density)

-reference: generalized map type designed to show general spatial properties of features (e.g., world maps, road maps, atlas maps)

-proportional symbol: type of thematic map in which the areas of symbols are varied in proportion to the value of an attribute (e.g., city population)

-preference: map demonstrating progressively more desirable options

-cartogram: map in which some thematic mapping variable is substituted for land area (e.g., GDP)

Map terms:

            -parallel: line of latitude (Equator, Tropic of Cancer & Capricorn, Arctic & Antarctic Circles)

            -meridian: line of longitude (Prime Meridian, International Date Line)

TODALSIG: (Title, Orientation, Date, Author, Legend, Scale, Index, Grid) acronym for assessing the validity and reliability of any map

Scale: representation of a real-world phenomenon at a certain level of reduction or generalization; represented as a fraction (large scale = large detail, small area; small scale = small detain, large area)