Why do you think it's important to learn about the physical features of other countries?

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Understanding geography helps understand other peoples, cultures, and nations. How important are knowing about deserts to an understanding of the Middle East? How important are the Andes in the history of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Chile? How does knowing about the vast regions of cold tundra help us understand Russia and Russian people?

A knowledge of the physical features of a nation could have changed the course of history in many ways, helping prevent any number of peoples or leaders from making disastrous mistakes. What if Napoleon or Hitler had not been defeated in large part by Russian winters? What if Americans knew better just how mountainous Afghanistan is, or how dense the jungles of Vietnam are? Personally, I think Americans might view American Indian origins differently if they only understood just how narrow the Bering Strait is and how easily Native-made boats might have crossed it for thousands of years.

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Within the context of the social sciences, the physical features of a country matter a great deal more than most people realize.  Physical features are a country's geography and climate, and these have a bearing on the history, culture, and collective behavior of a people. Even the mythology of a people is influenced by its geography, as, for example, the ocean features prominently in Japanese myths. How people get their food, how and what they build, how they worship, and how they raise their children are inevitably influenced by the terrain and the weather.  Malcolm Gladwell offers an excellent example of this in The Outliers, in which he discusses how growing rice in China has produced generations of hard-working, problem-solving, math-savvy students.  This culture is to some degree a consequence of the physical terrain in many parts of China.  Sociologists take note of how different cultures are in warmer climates as opposed to colder climates and how people who live at the shore are different in many ways from those who live inland. In my own city, which comprises mostly hills and valleys, neighborhoods preserve their separate identities and cultures more than in other cities because of the physical features.  Geography and climate are powerful influences on people, and the social sciences need to take this into account.

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