Geography of the United States Term Paper

Pages: 6 (1983 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: American History

Geography of the United States is one of the most diverse of any continent or country of the world. It has become the focus of many songs, from "This Land is Your Land," to "America," in a way that topography seldom is in national anthems and patriotic hymns. The beauty and richness of the land's diversity is matched, of course, in the expanse of the nation's culture and population, from sea to shining sea, from the rich oil fields of Texas to the high and dry Rocky Mountains, to the skyscrapers of New York City, to the seas of California's West Coast. "A car trip from coast to coast typically takes a minimum of five days -- and that's with almost no stops to look around. It is not unusual for the gap between the warmest and coldest high temperatures on a given day in the United States to reach 70 degrees Fahrenheit (about 40 degrees Celsius)." (From Sea to Shining Sea, 2005)

Of course, in modern life, the physical environment of a nation helps define human opportunities. It does not in itself determine human activities but it can certainly facilitate them, and the diversity of the United States geography has proved a source of economic strength, as well as historical and scientific curiosity. "In general, the more advanced the level of technology, the greater the leeway" that is, creativity and flexibility, "a population has in dealing" with the challenges and opportunities posed by the topography of the land. (Birdstall & Florin, 1992)

The diversity and technical advances of the United States are partly due to the central role its physical environment often played in the pattern of people's activities and facilitating the spread of technology. For instance, one factor in the importance of New York City is certainly its location on one of the world's most developed and longest natural harbors.

The United States is not all urban, even today. It is still one of the breadbaskets of the world in the Midwest and Southern Florida's long growing season and mild winters enable it to be a leader in the production of oranges, lemons, and sugarcane. New York's proximity to harbors brought many immigrants to the land in that region as well as the ability to import new goods and export American goods to other lands. Georgia's verdant and tropical climate made it a place of vacation destinations, and earlier in the nation's history, even a place where the slave trade found a home, because of its ease of growing crops. This diversity of climate caused conflict in the United States history, coalescing in the Civil War, proving that diversity is not always a source of strength, but also conflict.

Part of the reason for the beginning of the Civil War was the expansion of the United States into the West. As it incorporated new territories into its fold, it incorporated new questions of whether it should be balanced in favor of slave states or free states. This again shows the interrelationship between geography and history. The impressive expanse of the United States is important to remember, as when the United States "became the world's first modern democracy after its break with Great Britain (1776) and the adoption of a constitution (1789), during the 19th century," almost all of the Western states that exist presently within the current 50 were added to the original 13 as the nation expanded across the North American continent and acquired a number of overseas possessions. (About.com, 2005)

The original colonies were mostly temperate in climate, but today it is difficult to characterize the United States climate, as it is tropical in Hawaii and Florida, arctic in Alaska, semiarid in the Great Plains west of the Mississippi River, and arid in the Great Basin of the southwest. Low winter temperatures in the northwest are ameliorated occasionally in January and February by warm "Chinook" winds from the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. (Birdstall & Florin, 1992)

Today, the United States is far more urban than it was when it was first created, even while it has expanded to encompass far more farmland into its fold than it did at its birth. About 70% of Americans live in urban areas, and more than 40% are in areas of 1 million people or more. In 1990, the U.S. farm population numbered about 5 million (2% of the population), a figure that has declined steadily since the first national census in 1790, when over 90% of all Americans were farmers. (Birdstall & Florin, 1992) The industrialization spawned by a proximity to cultural diversity and trade with other lands created a new America, and the new immigrants created a more multifaceted and tolerant culture. Thus geography, history, and population are neither separate nor causal. One factor does not cause immediate developments in the other factor -- geography does not cause history or vice versa, rather these factors are interrelated.

America's extensive transportation network was an important element in its high level of economic interaction to enable the settlement of the West. Until the last decade of the 19th century, there was a strong westward population shift toward frontier agricultural lands. But the focus of opportunity then changed, as manufacturing grew more profitable and migration shifted to urban areas. Nearly 20% of all Americans change their residence in any one-year period today. Despite the diversity of territory and region, Americans are thus a very mobile people, and willing to shift regional alliances, although some of this residential migration is local in nature, much also result in substantial interregional population movement. (Birdstall & Florin, 1992)

Furthermore, America is far less regionalized than it used to be because of the simultaneous mobility and immigration shifts. Currently, geographers define America into fourteen distinct regions, called: Megalopolis, the American Manufacturing Core, the Bypassed East, Appalachia and the Ozarks, the Deep South, the Southern Coastlands, the Agricultural Core, the Great Plains and Prairies, the Empty Interior, the Southwest Border Area, California, the North Pacific Coast, the Northlands, and Hawaii. But rigid regional boundaries do not always fit the evolving landscape of the United States. "A given portion of the country may be occupied by parts of two or more regions, but the boundaries of many regions may also be fairly broad transitional zones that contain many of a region's characteristics. At times, these zones mark an area where the mix of characteristics is so subtle or complex that it is difficult to assign the area to any one region. Parts of the margin between the Agricultural Core and the Great Plains are examples of this, as are sections of the transition between the Agricultural Core and the Deep South." (Birdstall & Florin, 1992)

Several of the regions closely follow political boundaries, as is infamously defined in the current talk of red states and blue states. Other boundaries are purely geographical -- the reason for the sole designation of Hawaii as a region is rather obvious. California is separated from most of its adjacent landscape and climate and "because of its leadership role in changing the culture of America and its statewide political "solutions" to its local resource problems. Megalopolis has been defined traditionally along county lines. The geography of the region has been altered by post-industrial, high tech, financial service, resort and tourist enterprises." (Birdstall & Florin, 1992)

Even the Midwest was once known as the breadbasket of the world has seen substantial changes. Actually the number of family-owned farms in the U.S. has continued to decline, while corporate farming has exploited the benefits of scale and dominated the areas. "While grain and cattle producers worry about falling prices and declining export markets, those concentrating on specialized fruit, vegetable, and poultry output experience sustained growth." (Birdstall & Florin, 1992)

This stress upon economics and geography is not to ignore the impact of the actual configuration of the nation absent of people. The United States is characterized by high mountains in some areas with an interior of the country is a vast, sprawling lowland that stretches from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border and then on to Alaska. "Geographers with an interest in landform development place this expanse of flat land and gently rolling hills in three different physiographic regions -- the Atlantic and Gulf coastal plains, the interior lowland (which some split into the Great Plains and the interior plains), and the Canadian Shield. (Birdstall & Florin, 1992)

The United States is rich in national, natural resources. Scattered deposits of petroleum and natural gas are found throughout the Appalachian coalfield. Southern Illinois and south-central Michigan produce some petroleum, as do scattered sites across the northern Great Plains and the northern Rockies." (Birdstall & Florin, 1992)

The most important petroleum fields, however, have been those in the southern plains, along the Gulf coast, and in southern California. The greatest number of oil producing wells is located along the full length of the Texas and Louisiana coasts, although there are some in central Kansas… [END OF PREVIEW]

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