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Human Geography

This guide highlights the resources for Human Geography, the study of human settlements in their places.

A short definition for Population Geography

The geographical study of population, including its spatial distribution, dynamics, and movement. As a subdiscipline, it has taken at least three distinct but related forms, the most recent of which appears increasingly integrated with human geography in general. The earliest and most enduring form of population geography emerged from the 1950s onwards, as part of spatial science. Pioneered by Glenn Trewartha, Wilbur Zelinsky, William A. V. Clark, and others in the USA, as well as Jacqueline Beujeau-Garnier and Pierre George in France, it focused on the systematic study of the distribution of population as a whole and the spatial variation in population characteristics such as fertility and mortality. Given the rapidly growing global population as well as the baby boom in affluent countries such as the USA, these geographers studied the relation between demographic growth and resources at an international scale, and population redistribution nationally (see demographic transition). An exemplary contribution might be Zelinksy’s mobility transition model (1971) linking migration and demographic change. They used secondary data sources such as censuses to map and describe population change and variation, including such trends as counter-urbanization. Such work could often be distinguished from population studies in general by its use of smaller scale data, below national level. Population projections at national and regional scales could be used to inform public policy debates on resource allocation. The increasing availability of more sophisticated spatial data, including more flexible census geographies, inter-censual surveys, and more detailed cross-tabulations such as the US Public-Use Microdata Samples encouraged more advanced modelling, simulation, and projection techniques (see geodemographics). This broad population geography has always been international and therefore comparative in scope, particularly under the auspices of the IGU Commission on Population Geography. To some extent, however, progress in the Global South has been held back by the poor availability of high-quality spatial data (Hugo 2006). Regular international conferences in population geography began in 2002.

A second variant of population geography is narrower in focus, akin to spatial demography. Geographers working in this field stressed the importance of keeping close to demography, its theories and methods, and therefore concentrating more on the core demographic variables of fertility, mortality, and, to a lesser extent, migration. They applied mathematical techniques to describe, infer, and also explain population patterns past and present. A volume edited by British geographers Bob Woods and Phil Rees (1986) Population Structures and Models: Developments in spatial demography typifies this approach. Woods’ own specialism was the historical demography of infant mortality in Victorian Britain. Spatial demography has a strong historical component, not least among French and British geographers. By detailing the spatial (and temporal) variation in mortality, fertility, nuptuality, etc., geographers were able to disrupt many of the generalizations of population change and identify the significance of place.

Many population geographers from the 1980s onwards expressed anxiety that they were marginalized from mainstream human geography and its embrace of social theories from Marxism to feminism, and postmodernism (Findlay and Graham 1991). Not enough research was being done on key issues such as famine, gender, and environment. They also sensed that other human geographers were overlooking the significance of population to wider processes. A ‘retheorization’ of population geography (White and Jackson) gradually took shape, involving more methodological diversity and theoretical plurality. New methods, such as lifecourse analysis, helped integrate biographical and individual-level studies into the field. In recent years there has been greater attention paid to gender, religion, age, disability, generation, sexuality, and race, variables which go beyond the vital statistics of births, deaths, and marriages. Furthermore, population geographers have begun to critique the standard census categories of the field, recognizing the social construction of childhood, whiteness, femininity, etc. Representative of this more theoretical approach is James Tyner’s (2009) War, Violence and Population: making the body count. Tyner argues that population geography should pay more attention to war and violence, using examples from the Vietnam War, Cambodia’s killing fields, and the Rwandan genocide. Grounded in post-colonialism and post-structuralism, he deploys Foucault’s concepts of biopower and disciplinary power to uncover the logics behind such violence.

This more recent form of population geography is increasingly aligned with human geography as a whole. One consequence has been the relative neglect of studies of fertility, mortality, and morbidity, the latter becoming the preserve of medical geography. Of the core demographic topics, migration continued to be the most central to population geographers; most of the papers in the main population geography journals, Population, Space and Place (launched in 1995 as The International Journal of Population Geography) and Espace, Populations, Sociétés (founded 1983), concern migration and related topics such as transnationalism.

All three forms of population geography outlined here continue side by side. Spatial and historical demography is making increasing use of data sources from outside Europe. Popular textbooks such as Population Geography: Problems, Concept and Prospects (Peters and Larkin 2010) teach new generations the basics of the subject. By contrast, Adrian Bailey’s (2005) Making Population Geography presents a broader, more theoretically informed perspective. Recent conferences and journal special issues have focused on climate change, neo-Malthusianism, children’s geographies, vulnerability, and difference, although migration continues to predominate.

Rogers, A., Castree, N., & Kitchin, R. (2013). "Population geography." In A Dictionary of Human Geography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 25 Jan. 2022

The study of human populations; their composition, growth, distribution, and migratory movements with an emphasis on the last two. It is concerned with the study of demographic processes which affect the environment, but differs from demography in that it is concerned with the spatial expression of such processes. Population, Space and Place is the journal of the UK Population Geography Research Group.

Mayhew, S. (2015). "Population geography." In A Dictionary of Geography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 25 Jan. 2022


The observed, statistical, and mathematical study of human populations, concerned with the size, distribution, and composition of such populations.

Mayhew, S. (2015). "Demography." In A Dictionary of Geography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 25 Jan. 2022

In the Library's collections

    Many of the books on Population Studies and Demography are located in the call number range HB 848 through HB 3697 on Berry Level 3.

    To browse in the library's catalog, do a subject search for Population. That will give a list of the subject headings under Population and the number of items under each heading. You can also do the same for Demography.

Introductory reading(s)

Selected book titles

Journal articles & titles

Articles and other writings about Population Studies can be found in many publications. Our collection includes several journals which look at Population Studies and Demography. Below is a short list of some of the journal titles we have in our Library's collection. Or you can use the search box at the top of the page.

Internet resource(s)

Keeping up with the journal literature

Want an easy way to keep up with the journal literature for all facets of Geography? And you use a mobile device? You can install the BrowZine app and create a custom Bookshelf of your favorite journal titles. Then you will get the Table of Contents (ToCs) of your favorite journals automatically delivered to you when they become available. Once you have the ToC's you can download and read the articles you want.

You can get the app from the App Store or Google Play.

Don't own or use a mobile device? You can still use BrowZine! It's now available in a web version. You can get to it here. The web version works the same way as the app version. Find the journals you like, create a custom Bookshelf, get ToCs and read the articles you want.