How does geography affect culture?

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Another example of how inextricably joined are the geography of a country and its culture can be witnessed in the country of the Netherlands. The main industry is fishing for what would seem to be obvious reasons. But, the primary reason that the fishing industry began is the herring that abounds around the waters of this country and are sold throughout the world.

The Hollandse Nieuwe (Dutch New) is raw herring from the early catches of the Spring and the start of summer. The Hollandse Nieuwe is available only in the spring when the first catch is brought on. This first catch is celebrated in festivals; the remainder of the herring are frozen and enzyme-preserved for the rest of the year. The young herring, called whitebait, are eaten whole and chased with a special wine made in this country. Of course, the fishing industry is huge in this country. The Dutch also became great adventurers on the sea, traveling far and wide and thereby becoming merchants.

With all their canals, the Dutch also love ice skating, especially speed skating. With a route of frozen rivers, canals, and lakes the Elfstedentocht is announced 48 hours before it begins to assure that conditions are propitious. This race is eleven miles and leads past all eleven historical cities of the province of Friesland. This race is such a rare event that it generates excitement throughout the country.

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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In this question, what you are really asking is how physical geography affects culture, which is one part of human geography.  This is a question about how the physical nature of a given area affects the cultures of the people who live in this area.  Physical geography can affect culture in many ways, from the number of languages spoken in a given area to the clothes people wear to their forms of political organization and even to their religion.

Physical geography can affect the number of languages spoken in a given area.  A prime example of this is the island of New Guinea.  It is said that this island is home to people who speak over 800 different languages.  The main reason for this is that New Guinea is very mountainous and it is hard for people from one area of the island to come into contact with people from other areas.  This means that each group keeps mostly to itself and can develop and keep its own language.

Perhaps the most obvious way that geography affects culture is in its impact on the clothes people wear and the ways in which they make their living.  People living in the Arctic will have cultures that center around hunting seals and whales.  They will, of course, have to wear a great deal of clothing.   This will be different from people who live in tropical rainforests, who will wear little clothing and whose economies will revolve around various kinds of plant life.

Physical geography can even affect forms of government and religion.  It is said that the ancient Greeks developed city-states because of their mountainous geography.  Because Greece was so mountainous, it was hard for large kingdoms to arise.  Would-be kings could not easily move across the mountains to dominate people far from their home cities.  Therefore, the Greeks developed a political culture based on the city-state.  Moving further back into history, it is said that geography caused differences in Mesopotamian and Egyptian religion.  The Mesopotamian religion believed that its gods were much less kind than the Egyptian gods.  Scholars believe that this was due to the fact that the rivers of Mesopotamia flooded in unpredictable ways while the Nile’s flood was rather consistent and predictable.

These are but a few of the many ways in which geography can affect human culture.

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