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What is geography?


In his chapter in the GA’s Handbook of secondary geography, ‘What is geography?’, Professor Alastair Bonnett describes geography’s aim to study the world, both near and far, as ‘the most far-reaching and ambitious’ of any discipline.

He describes geography as ‘a modern specialism, concerned with environmental and international knowledge’, but one with a longer and deeper-rooted desires to seek order in the world, to explore it and to discover it imaginatively. He points both towards geography’s colonial pedigree ‘and more happily, a restless desire to break down the barriers between the classroom and the streets and fields, and to venture outside into the sunshine and the rain.’

In the GA’s 2009 Manifesto for geography,  Professor Peter Jackson likened geography to a language that provides a way of looking at and thinking about the world. He argued that we need the ‘vocabulary’ of the subject (geographical information) to speak the language, but also need its grammar: the rules and procedures that allow us to construct meaning and to organise and attach significance to the vocabulary.

The grammar of geography is derived from its key concepts, significant features and distinctive approaches. The GA’s Framework for the school geography curriculum describes these grammatical, or disciplinary, features of geography and shows how these underpin the educational value of geography in schools.


Further reading and support


Geography in the school curriculum

Geography speaks directly to young people’s curiosity, wonder and concern for the world around them. It is a subject that can provide them with the knowledge and competencies they need to understand and contribute to the world they live in. At a time of crisis about the fragile state of life on planet Earth and fears about resources, health, disease, social injustices and human conflict, the distinctive insights about space, place, environment and Earth systems, gained from geography and considered at all scales, assume a huge significance.

However, it is not just disciplinary skills and knowledge that are important. The educational value of geography can be enhanced by developing young people’s capabilities as human beings, to enable them to use their geographical understanding to live in harmony with others and to share responsibility for the well-being of the planet. Part of the reason for teaching geography in schools is therefore to ensure that young people are geographically informed, morally and ethically aware, and able to develop their own values and potential as citizens in the 21st century.


Further reading and support

Become a member

GA membership provides specialist support and expert advice for geography teaching

Geography Quality Marks

Register for the 2025 Quality Mark before 31 July and receive a 20% discount off your fee

National Festival of Fieldwork 2024

The GA encourages everyone to take part in June 2024