It is no question that history, rather than literature, is the first conduit through which we are able to explore and understand a region. Language/Linguistics is the second "go to" factor to depict it given that history and dialectal language go hand in hand. Geography and sociology make up the third element, since we can trace the demographics and ethic trends of a region from the perspective of how groups shift from one place to another. Phenomenology is another field where you explore specific events that help shape the mind-frame, or that affect any aspect, of a population.
All this being said, literature (art imitating life) is one more extension that helps to identify the characteristics of a population because it colors it and gives it a voice under a specific focalization. Literature is defined literally as "the production of written work". By this definition alone we can safely conclude that it is not an independent body of knowledge; it is completely interdependent of other factors if we are going conduct an inquiry about a region.