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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 75.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from How to use maps... solve world problems. We turned to this course to help my son with his grade 9 Canadian geography. That course so far has been memorizing the map of Canada (into provinces anc capitals) and a consideration of some global issues like climate change and microplastics through assigned articles. We have no textbook, Ontario doesn't have one for grade 9. We won't be any better at labelling a Canadian map after this course, which is a matter of memorization. But we will want to ask questions: when were these lines drawn and especially why, do they work, and what problems do they cause. For example, do they create states (provinces) with internalized centers of contol. This course does cover topics, using different terminology, like cultural mosaic vs melting pot, which were the terms we used so many decades ago when I learned the material because it was imposed. Ah now it's coming back to me, as I write this. I tend to give a perfect 5 stars to courses that change the way I think, The course is breathtaking in places, like it's coverage of diseases or the relationship between Russia and Ukraine. I checked and the course was written in 2014, now it's 2024, In the meantime, these have been huge issues, understandalby if not predicably with this course. I've listened to all 24 lectures and I'll turn to the notes now. Though it's less than 12hrs invested, I find at least 1.25x playback is better for my wandering mind, I'll turn to the notes to pin down new points that I'm interested in, who were the key, instrumental people mentioned, what are the details behind the Westphalia state system, what were the situations we investigated, like wild horses, that illustrate how to apply geography, and why geography exists as a separate subject as opposed to a specialty within its applications - commonalities among the diverse situations, such as whether states control situations they depend on. An excellent course.
Date published: 2024-03-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Far more than a high school course Much of the negative criticism in the reviews regrets that Professor Robbins does not take a “high school” approach: what is the capital city, how long are the rivers, what are a given country´s export and imports, where the world´s grasslands are, are so on. Instead, Robbins approach is essentially cultural, economic and historical, why a group of humans would differ spatially from another group, influenced by the diverse political, economic and other factors that constrain and impel humans. As his geographical approach involves studying societies, then elements of sociology such as power relations, social structure, stratification and gender, are inevitable. History and scale can also determine the geography of humans. The influences on say Barbados, developed as small island of once colonial slave plantations to grow sugar, are very different from the sheep and horse herder societies of Mongolia, and although both are a product of their history, both operate in the global economy. Robbins has to cover a huge amount of ground and it is inescapable that some topics will be glossed over. Nevertheless, his course is an excellent introduction to cultural and human geography, and there are many issues I will want to pursue in more detail. My only criticism is that parts of the course are badly out of date as it was delivered in 2014. For instance, the lecture on disease geography (Lecture 8), while good, needs updating with a discussion on Covid, given the enormous changes Covid made – socially, economically and culturally – throughout the world.
Date published: 2024-01-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceptional and thought provoking. Presented by a knowledgible and enthusiastic instructor, this course was a delight. It also made very good use of visuals. I have many take aways to explore in more depth after having completed this series of lectures. Thank you, Professor Robbins.
Date published: 2023-07-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from New way to understand how communities develop The professor's goal in this course is to show you how the life and development of different communities and civilizations is impacted by the places in which they occur. This is quite a different approach than history courses, which deal mainly with the element of time and construct long narrative lines. This course jumps from place to place around the globe to illustrate the numerous ways in which geography has affected human populations through factors that involve food production and distribution, manufacture, pressures causing migration, disease ecology, seemingly unexplainable cultural preferences, and the like. It examines important issues of the day like economic globalization and urbanization. There is a masterful summary of the recent crisis in the Balkans as well as the partition of India. Fans of Jared Diamond's Guns Germs and Steel will be disappointed to hear Professor Robbins deflate the book's premise that there is a simple, overarching geographic explanation for the cultural and economic dominance of Europe over the rest of the globe in the last millennium. He emphasizes, instead, that geographic effects mostly occur on a more granular, local level, interact with multiple other factors, and hence the resulting flow of events is complex and difficult to predict. Sort of like the weather. Having some background in history will benefit those interested in taking this course. For example, Prof. Robbins makes the observation that the concept of the modern nation-state was first embodied formally in the Treaty of Westphalia. This remarkable insight will probably not be fully appreciated by those who have never been exposed to the history of Europe in the Reformation era. I have one minor complaint, of a technical nature. On watching the lectures with my particular DVD player, there was a variation in the picture size from one lecture to another. Some had a larger picture that appeared cropped, in that some of the text boxes near the right and left edges were truncated. I've seen this glitch in a few other TC courses, although none that were produced in recent years.
Date published: 2022-11-07
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good for Basic understanding Subject matter was well presented but I prefer the visual aspect of seeing the speaker and having visual exhibits as well.
Date published: 2022-09-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Insights into Spatial and temporal variety An important and illuminating course How did the child of a German Father and an Irish Mother become interested in Cricket? Why was there no repetition of the Brixton Riots following the tour of the West Indian Cricket Team? What is 'Heimat'? What is the difference between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft? What is the Anthropology, Geography of Jane Austen's Novels? What is the significance of Classical Architecture in Methodist Chapels in Wales? This course did not explicitly answer these questions, but rather prompted me to ask these questions given my ethnic, and cultural origins, education. Geography was compulsory in my education, as was European Languages and Literature, because it was argued that it was a gateway to both the Sciences, the Humanities and the Social Sciences. I wished that the American Geographer had devoted some of is time to explore some European Geography, the cultural, political, and social influences of Cricket in the British Commonwealth and how it comes about that the Afghan immigrants into Germany have interested the Germans in Cricket when after forty years in the EU the British made no attempt to do so, and Afghanistan was not a member of the British Empire. This course aroused my interest in the paradoxes of place and time, and culture, and speculated on a number of problems that modernity presents to Ecology, Environment, Economics and Society and for that we should be grateful but it raised questions of specific interest, not without universal significance in relation to British culture and European traditions which perhaps only American Geographers can explain without self-congratulation and complacency. It would very interesting to hear their researches and explanations. Why do I,and many like me, find that tennis and cricket should be played only in white and find that the games lose some of their aesthetic appeal as sports rather than culture. The course raises such questions, and, as he showed, they are not without important resonances and ramifications beyond the esoteric contexts of British culture and politics; Brexit, for example was not only a manifestation of ignorance but also insularity and cultural arrogance! BaruchXX
Date published: 2022-05-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting perspective Something different and interesting. Different perspective from most school courses.
Date published: 2022-04-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A bit too optimistic, overall I will always watch courses on geography because the topic fascinates me and perhaps I have watched enough courses that I am probably not the target audience for this rather basic course. I watched all 24 lectures and was left with a feeling that the professor feels that a world government is the answer to all of the world's problems. As optimistic as he is, I feel that he is somehow missing the reality of human nature in the "human geography' of this course.
Date published: 2022-04-23
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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

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