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Human Geography: Understanding the Personal Impact of Places

Note: This article about human geography originated from a forum discussion in my GEOG101:  Introduction to Geography course, taught by Dr. Kristin Drexler. The course showcases the diverse scope of geography beyond the traditional focus on landscapes, terrain and maps.

Throughout history, nations have had disputes over geographical borders. But the residents of those nations have personal connections that reach far beyond the tangible limits of their immediate surroundings.

People form strong emotional bonds to certain geographical places; those bonds span great distances and endure over time. This realization vividly dawned on me during a childhood visit with my grandfather, when I learned a memorable lesson about the profound emotional ties people have to different geographical locations.

A Memorable Experience

My grandfather, Joseph Ordell Cook, in 1944. Image courtesy of Kyle Iorio.

My grandfather, Joseph Ordell Cook, was a U.S. Navy veteran and Pearl Harbor survivor. He once introduced me to a friend of his from India, a former British sailor.

Their poignant discussion involved Kashmir, a region of the Indian subcontinent that I was unfamiliar with at the time. Although I was young and recall little of their specific words, I remember that my grandfather’s friend kept repeating the phrases, “It was so beautiful!” and “I miss it so!” Those words resonated with a profound longing for his homeland.

As the man spoke of Kashmir, his emotions overflowed and he wept. His wife, equally affected, offered him comfort.

Witnessing my grandfather’s friend’s deep emotional connection to Kashmir, marked by such sadness, impressed me deeply and provided my first real insight into the complexities of human geography. It also showed the powerful emotional ties people have to specific places.

Understanding the Human Geography of Kashmir

Kashmir, a picturesque region nestled in the Himalayas, has been a flashpoint of geopolitical tension for decades. It’s a place of extraordinary beauty but also of profound conflict. The area is contested by India, Pakistan and – to a lesser extent – China.

The history of this region is marked by cultural, religious and political intricacies. According to the University of Oxford, the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947 led to the creation of India and Pakistan, with Kashmir becoming a major point of contention.

The conflict in this region is rooted in colonial history and religious divisions, deeply affecting the lives of those residents who call it home. My grandfather’s friend and his story put a human face to textbook facts, revealing the personal impact of geopolitical issues.

Related: The Cost of War in Ukraine Affects Everyone, Even Students

The Broader Impacts of Geopolitical Events

As an adult, I now understand the broader implications of geopolitical events on human lives. Regions like Kashmir, Ukraine, and the Middle East, which are experiencing tumultuous political changes, exemplify how geopolitical dynamics can drastically affect personal histories and emotions.

In Ukraine, like Kashmir, the conflict transcends mere territorial disputes. It touches upon issues of identity, history and the deep-rooted connections people feel to their homeland.

The annexation of Crimea and eastern Ukraine by Russia and the conflict in Israel and Palestine are poignant examples of how emotions transcend geopolitical events. These events have uprooted millions, with stories of loss, resilience and longing that are also seen among people in regions like Kashmir. Such situations remind us that behind every geopolitical struggle, there are millions of human stories waiting to be told and understood.

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The Importance of Human Geography

Human geography is not confined to political borders; it encompasses the emotional and cultural ties people have with places. An understanding of human geography is crucial in today’s globalized world, where migration and refugees are common. People carry with them their memories and personal attachments to their homelands, shaping their identities and perspectives in new environments.

Through this encounter with my grandfather’s friend and his wife, I learned the importance of personal narratives in understanding the essence of a geographical region. Human geography is a careful blend of land, politics and people’s stories. As we study different regions and their geographical complexities, remembering the human element gives us a more complete understanding of the world we share.

Kyle Iorio is pursuing a B.A. in history at the University with a focus on American history. His career encompasses nearly two decades in information technology as a geospatial information systems engineer in the Intelligence Community, followed by entrepreneurship in the restaurant industry. Currently, Kyle runs a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel breeding business.

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