Understanding Cultural and Human Geography

From climate change and population growth to the global economy and geopolitical strife, tackle the world's biggest questions in this one-of-a-kind course.
Understanding Cultural and Human Geography is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 66.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Essential Information for Everyone In this Great Course on “Understanding Cultural and Human Geography,” Professor Paul Robbins presents a wealth of fascinating, sometimes inspiring, and sometimes sobering information. I had thought that I already knew many facts about geography, but I learned from these twenty-four excellent lectures that I had been far less cognizant of the pragmatic uses that modern-day geographers make of abundant data about our planet’s landforms, water, atmosphere, and the distribution and circumstances of plants, animals, and humans. Dr. Robbins is a well-organized presenter, whose explanations are clear, thorough, and expressively delivered. A few examples of topics he discussed that I found powerfully compelling are: how maps are never entirely unbiased and true, how humans and environmental conditions are dynamically interactive, how balancing a person’s personal and private lives is always a complex challenge, how urbanization and overlapping spheres of global trade have actually been important concerns over several millennia, how the science of cultural geography studies past sample cases to help ameliorate current and future problems, and how the number of human migrants currently on the move can be viewed as the world’s fourth largest country! In his passionate teaching style, Dr. Robbins tends to speak too quickly, in my opinion. A related concern is that accompanying charts, maps, and other visuals sometimes stay on screen too briefly. These are, however, minor faults which do not dissuade me from recommending this eye-opening course very heartily.
Date published: 2021-09-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I just completed the 24th lecture. I've always loved maps and visualizing information. I really looked forward to watching this course. My final conclusion is that this is a very good narrative introduction to human geography but that I did not learn much. It is not satisfying and deep in the same way as the very geographically detailed Ancient Civilizations of North America or Maya to Aztec: Mesoamerica Revealed. In fact I think the Google earth maps in Great Tours: France thru the Ages were more illuminating. The problem is that Human Geography is taught as a social science in Big10 universities and it aligns with anthropology and sociology. Physical geography and geographic information systems (which this course did not present itself to be) would be much more analytic than cultural in its focus. I would have liked to see more depth in the examples related to the fascinating subdiscipline of economic geography. Having said this, I did like the professor and his very direct and inviting delivery.
Date published: 2021-01-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Illuminating and Enjoyable I finally got around to watching this course after purchasing it a few years ago and completed it while cycling on my indoor bicycle. If you are at all interested in people, cultures, history, the political and geographic landscape and the planet we inhabit, you will appreciate and learn from this course. The professor is even-handed in his approach, uses fact-based arguments, is easy to listen to and conveys genuine excitement over his profession and its subject matter. He doesn't sugar-coat the problems we face yet at the same time seeks out the evidence for hope in our future. My eyes are a little more open after taking this class and I found the learning to be quite pleasurable as well.
Date published: 2021-01-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Well-presented course, with relevant examples. I like this course; it is concise, well-explained, and to the point. However, the professor seems to give a way-too-rosy picture of the future regarding world population, global warming, loss of habitats, and biodiversity. I don't agree with some of the examples presented. For instance, in the final lecture, he mentions the city of Fortaleza, Brazil, as a probable model of future city slums, failing to mention that Fortaleza is among the most dangerous cities in the world, currently ranked number 12th, with one of the highest murder rates in the world as well as lots of corruption, rampant drug violence, and social inequality. After taking this course, I still think the Anthropocene Period is one of the worst destructive periods in the history of the Earth; humanity's future as a species is tenuous at best. The opportunity window for reversing this catastrophe is closing fast.
Date published: 2020-09-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wow! I've taken numbers of the Great Courses classes, but this one opened my eyes to so many new ideas. Great course, indeed!
Date published: 2020-09-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another superb course I've listened to several university level Geography courses , over past 15 years. All were informative. There is always a BEST. This is one of those. First several were well done, but THEN they became spectacular. I greatly appreciated being updated in the field, overall, especially in analyses of under developed world. I have worked for many years in a 3rd world Latin country in medical aspects of grass roots community development. I found professor'scomments enlightening. Comments in any way contadicted my experience here. CORRUPTION is fatal everywhere. Failure of population to purse education by the population is determinative. Lack of actual availability of enlightened, not expensive healthcare is essential.
Date published: 2020-09-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Stellar lectures Professor Robbins encyclopedic knowledge, enthusiasm and sense of humor held me spell bound throughout each lecture. In addition to each lecture being well structured, the successive lectures built one upon the next, thus facilitating the acquisition of increasingly in-depth knowledge.
Date published: 2020-09-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Some interesting material, but not what I expected Human geography is an interesting topic, but I find this course doesn't really hit the mark for me. Some of the lectures, or portions of some lectures, are fascinating, but the constant politically correct language usage is driving me crazy. The professor, Dr. Paul Robbins, uses a "critical theory" approach and applies a Frankfurt school "dialectic" to the material. The professor's presentation in the audio version is generally quite good. Dr. Robbins has a pleasant speaking voice and good cadence, but if I hear the word "problematic" one more time... Dr. Robbins also takes the common approach of judging historical issues by today's enlightened standards. Doing this once or twice in a course is understandable - we are all products of our own time. When it's a consistent approach to historical material, I find it annoying. I have not finished this entire course yet, and have nearly stopped a few times. What keeps me going are the occasional fascinating bits - for instance, listening to the lecture on disease in the midst of a global pandemic was really engaging.
Date published: 2020-08-13
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The community where you live, the food you eat, and the people you know are all part of a global chain of connections. In Understanding Cultural and Human Geography, go on an unparalleled interdisciplinary voyage. You'll see how our environment influences human life, and vice versa. When you complete this course, you'll have the tools to look beyond the headlines and analyze world events in a whole new way.


Paul Robbins
Paul Robbins

Geographers study a fascinating, often-inspirational, sometimes-troubling and always-changing world-I was really glad to be able to highlight their many weird and wonderful discoveries in this course!


University of Wisconsin, Madison

Professor Paul Robbins is the Director of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has a bachelor's degree in Anthropology from UW-Madison, and a master's degree and a doctorate in Geography from Clark University. An award-winning professor, he previously led the School of Geography and Development at The University of Arizona, and he has also taught at The Ohio State University.

Professor Robbins has years of experience as a geographic researcher and educator, specializing in human interactions with nature and the politics of natural resource management. He has taught topics ranging from environmental studies and natural resource policy to social theory. His research addresses questions spanning conservation conflicts, urban ecology, and environment and health interactions. He has done extensive fieldwork in rural India, as well as a range of research in the American Southwest, Yellowstone National Park, and elsewhere.

He is the author of numerous books and articles, including the foundational textbook Political Ecology: A Critical Introduction and the award-winning Lawn People: How Grasses, Weeds, and Chemicals Make Us Who We Are. Professor Robbins has been interviewed by numerous media organizations, including The New York Times, and has been a guest on national radio and television programs, including National Public Radio's Science Friday.

By This Professor

Understanding Cultural and Human Geography
Understanding Cultural and Human Geography


Writing the World-The Mapmaker's Craft

01: Writing the World-The Mapmaker's Craft

We're all familiar with maps, but we seldom think about the stories they tell. Consciously or not, cartographers make choices, and these choices are informed by particular cultures and political situations. Start your foray into cultural and human geography by unpacking what maps can tell us about the world of their creators.

31 min
The Problem with Geographical Determinism

02: The Problem with Geographical Determinism

Learn some of the arguments for and against geographic determinism. After introducing basic concepts such as "place," "region," and "adaptation," Professor Robbins reflects on some of the ways in which geographic context influences people-and the way people influence the geography around them....

30 min
Anthropocene-The Age of Human Impact

03: Anthropocene-The Age of Human Impact

Humans have taken over the world. Our ecological impact has been so great that we may have created an entirely new geological epoch. Investigate some of the ways our species has affected the world around us, from changing the climate to remaking the land, and see what responsibilities we have toward the earth and our fellow humans....

29 min
Climate Change and Civilization

04: Climate Change and Civilization

Survey the history of the earth's climate from antiquity to the present, and examine the evidence that recent human activity is accelerating climate change. If this period is profoundly different from previous periods of change, find out what challenges we will soon face-and what opportunities technology and innovation afford us....

29 min
Global Land Change

05: Global Land Change

Step into the field of "land change science," an important subfield of geography that looks at the ways human activity has transformed the global land surface. See what factors have led to deforestation around the world and throughout history, as well as signs that we may be at a turning point where our forests and other environments will rebound....

34 min
The End of Global Population Growth

06: The End of Global Population Growth

Many fear what may happen if our population continues to grow exponentially. Think geographically about the problem and see what local conditions and patterns tell us about the world at large. Gain insight from demographic trends, including education, urbanization, and economic growth, that suggest the danger may be less than anticipated....

29 min
The Agricultural Puzzle

07: The Agricultural Puzzle

Shift your attention from population to food production. After reviewing the tools and measurements of farming systems, take a look at the transition from local subsistence to global production models. Then, consider the way new technologies and efficiencies will affect the sustainability of our agricultural system....

33 min
Disease Geography

08: Disease Geography

From cholera in 19th-century London to the West Nile Virus today, chart the outbreak of some of the world's most virulent diseases. A little detective work shows that pandemics are spatial. What does this mean now that we live in such an inter-connected world? How likely is a global pandemic? And how would we respond to future outbreaks?...

29 min
Political Ecology

09: Political Ecology

Discover a fascinating method for putting the relationship between humans and the environment in context. Political ecology unpacks chains of explanation, traces the flow of economic value, and examines structural constraints that help us understand myriad political and environmental problems....

30 min
Economic Geography-Globalization Origins

10: Economic Geography-Globalization Origins

Go back to the years before Columbus discovered the Americas, when global trade was a new phenomenon. Here Professor Robbins introduces several key concepts of economic geography and shows the critical role of "place" in capitalism. He then surveys the economy of trade in the 14th and 15th centuries....

30 min
The Columbian Exchange

11: The Columbian Exchange

Experience the economic transition of the Columbian Exchange, which began with the famous voyages of 1492. After reviewing the environmental impact of merging Old World and New World ecologies, you'll explore the rise of gold and plantation economies, as well as the "core-periphery" system of trade that emerged in the colonial era....

30 min
Uneven Development and Global Poverty

12: Uneven Development and Global Poverty

Turn from the history of economic activity and development to the field of "national income accounting." You'll map the distribution of global wealth using such measures as gross domestic product, the human development index, the corruption perception index, and the geography of debt. Find out why uneven economic development persists....

29 min
The New Global Economy

13: The New Global Economy

In recent decades, transportation and information technology have fundamentally changed the flow of goods around the world. Now that our transportation system has minimized the role of "space," the global economy has shifted east to China. See what this means for business today-and where the future of the economy is heading....

30 min
Restless Humanity-The Migration Conundrum

14: Restless Humanity-The Migration Conundrum

People migrate from place to place for a number of reasons. Whether pursuing opportunity or escaping turmoil, people respond to global politics and the economy. In this lecture, you'll explore the remarkable scale of human mobility and learn what structural conditions change the rate and direction of migration....

30 min
Urbanization-The Rise of New World Cities

15: Urbanization-The Rise of New World Cities

Revisit the question of population in this survey of urbanization. Look at the history of cities and find out what is driving our current state of rapid urbanization. Consider the ecological costs and economic and environmental opportunities of a global city-dwelling population....

30 min
Geography of Language

16: Geography of Language

Tour the global distribution of language families. Although our world has a remarkable diversity of languages, a small handful-including Mandarin, English, Spanish, Arabic, and others-have come to dominate the world. What does the decline and loss of so many languages mean for our global culture?...

32 min
Understanding Cultural Geography

17: Understanding Cultural Geography

Tackle one of the most fundamental questions about culture: why does it vary at all? After exploring culture as a system of shared meanings and practices, consider the origins of culture and its relationship with place. Then reflect on the interactions, and in some cases consolidation or erasure, of cultures around the world....

30 min
The Importance of Place

18: The Importance of Place

Thanks to global communications, economic growth, migration, and urbanization, distinctive "places" appear to be vanishing. Re-examine the concept of place and consider the ways people make places. In the economic and environmental landscape of the 20th and 21st centuries, local cultures may be changing, but they are not going away....

30 min
Cultural Commodification

19: Cultural Commodification

In today's world, it's difficult to separate culture from the global economy. As local cultures become commodities in the form of art, tourism, fashion, and other industries, this changes the way culture is produced and consumed. Reflect on the challenges and opportunities inherent in cultural commodification....

32 min
Culture, Power, and the Politics of Meaning

20: Culture, Power, and the Politics of Meaning

Because culture is a system of shared meaning, cultural concepts-including history-are invented constructs. Meanings can change, which means some elements of culture are inseparable from politics. This lecture explores that connection by looking at the politics of women's veils in Turkey and France....

30 min
The Geopolitical Imagination

21: The Geopolitical Imagination

From Afghanistan in the 19th century to the Ukraine today, tackle the global configuration of powers. Take a close look at several geopolitical theories and apply them to some of the 21st century's key trouble spots. The competing interests in the world of statecraft are a messy but captivating business....

31 min
Regionalism and the Rise of New States

22: Regionalism and the Rise of New States

Continue your study of geopolitics with a look at the nation-state. Using the cases of Kosovo, South Sudan, and East Timor, this lecture shows how political geographies emerge and asks questions about the distinction between national identity and state territory. See what challenges accompany the creation of new states....

31 min
Supranationalism-Taking on Big Problems

23: Supranationalism-Taking on Big Problems

Solving international challenges is a bit like playing whack-a-mole: if one state cracks down on a problem, such as locusts, the problem often simply moves to a neighboring state. Close your study of geopolitics with a consideration of supranational organizations such as the European Union. Learn about the possibilities and obstacles to international governance....

31 min
Future Geographies

24: Future Geographies

Visit five places around the world, each a distinct window into a possible future for humanity on this planet. You'll discover that even though the pace of globalization is accelerating, the future nonetheless will be filled with remarkable geographic diversity-even if that diversity is different from the geography we have today....

34 min