World History and the Meaning of Being Human: The Influence of Physical and Geographical Features – by Tessa Erickson-Thoemke. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at and

World History and the Meaning of Being Human: The Influence of Physical and Geographical Features – by Tessa Erickson-Thoemke. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at and

In an ostensibly man-made world, natural structures of the earth have greatly influenced human settlements. Climate changes and availability of water were crucial determinants of ideal land to settle on. Thousands of years ago, humans searched for abundant land that was easy to farm and would be safe from drastic climate changes. Thus, pushing many to settle in areas often surrounded by water sources like rivers, oceans, lakes, or basins. Despite encountering adequate land, adjustments often needed to be made. Looking across history, we can examine where early humans settled and why they chose certain areas and then compare those civilizations to a modern city that is thriving today.

Mesopotamia, “the world’s first complex society”, was established within two major rivers: the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. When uncontrolled, the water from the river was irregular and could ruin productive land: “annual floods and low-water seasons came at the wrong times in the farming sequence” (Tignor, 2018, p. 49). So, humans worked to create an ingenious irrigation system. This invention allowed the Mesopotamians to remain settled for a longer period of time as it provided rich soil and abundant, controlled water.

Inhabitants of the Ganges River valley also relied on a river to sustain their lifestyles. The indigenous people of this area had excellent “farming skills and knowledge of seasonal weather,” impressing even the violent Vedic people (p. 100). The Vedic people adopted their methods regarding successful land use, which shows that the indigenous people worked hard to make their civilization as productive as possible, much like the Mesopotamian did with their irrigation system. Both groups of people learned how to effectively utilize the land that they settled on.

A modern city that was also established along a river is St. Cloud, Minnesota. In fact, this city has the second-longest river flowing right through it: The Mississippi River. Once divided into three towns by deep ravines, St. Cloud became united in 1856 (“History of the City”, n.d.). Other resources, like the railroad and the granite quarry, attracted new settlers at the beginning, but the Mississippi River now serves multiple purposes for the city. According to Minnesota Nutrient Planning Portal, “St. Cloud is the first city along the Mississippi to obtain its drinking water from this resource” (“Mississippi River”, n.d.). The river is also used by power plants as a non-contract cooling water source. Best of all, it serves as a source of leisure: “a popular route for day-long canoe trips” and high quality fishing (“Mississippi River”, n.d.). Like the early civilization discussed prior, inhabitants of St. Cloud utilized this natural resource as well as they could. Even today, humans remain innovative when it comes to adapting the land they settled on.

When examining these civilizations and the physical geographic choices humans made, three specific priorities came to mind: sustainability, longevity, and productivity. Humans have a strong desire to sustain their lifestyles, which explains why they searched for certain land in certain climates. We like to be able to provide for ourselves, so settling on land that allowed farming and building of infrastructure was most logical. Non-nomadic humans also like to stay somewhere for a period of time. For most, constantly moving to new homes is unpleasant and exhausting; staying put in one place fosters stronger relationships and greater connections. Thus, profitable land in mild climate conditions allow humans to settle without a lot of concern. Finally, humans have a need to make things and make them well. As we see in all three of these civilizations, innovation is not uncommon. Whether it be an irrigation system, mastering the seasonal weather, or obtaining drinking water, humans have been able to and continue to use geographical attributes in resourceful ways.
From lessons of ancient history, we can learn to appreciate natural land attributes and to have respect for the resources they give to us. For thousands of years, geographical features, like rivers, have allowed humans to establish their settlements and thrive there. We must also recognize that these features should not be taken advantage of or overused. This happened in Mesopotamia when “the danger of planting every year” was unforeseen, “for by the third millennium the fertile soils had been destroyed” (p. 49). Recent climate change reports are also a cause for concern. Today’s settlers have taken the constancy of the climate for granted, so it is important for us to be aware of the potential changes approaching. Regardless of what happens, humans should be open to adaptability once again.

History of the city. (n.d.). Retrieved from
Mississippi River – St. Cloud major watershed. (n.d.). Retrieved from
Tignor, R. L. (2018). Worlds together, worlds apart: A history of the world from the beginnings
of humankind to the present. (5th ed.) New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.

From Professor Liang’s Spring 2019 World History I [Online] class, Tessa is a Psychology student.

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at)

See also, our Facebook page with curated news articles at

The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy ( is a student edited and student authored open access publication centered around the themes of global and historical connections. Our guiding philosophy is that those of us who are fortunate enough to receive an education and to travel our planet are ethically bound to share our knowledge with those who cannot afford to do so. Therefore, creating virtual and actual communities of learning between college and K-12 classes are integral to our mission. In five years we have published over 300 articles covering all habitable continents and a variety of topics ranging from history and politics, food and popular culture, to global inequities to complex identities. These articles are read by K-12 and college students. Our volunteer student editors and writers come from Nursing to Biology, Physical Therapy to Business, and remarkably, many of our student editors and writers have long graduated from college. We also have writers and editors from other colleges and universities. In addition to our main site, we also curate a Facebook page dedicated to annotated news articles selected by our student editors ( We have an all volunteer staff. The North Star Reports is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang and NSR Student Editors and Writers. For a brief summary of our history, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

Professor Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports. Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports. Ellie Swanson and Marin Ekstrom, Assistant Managing Editors, The North Star Reports.

(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy ISSN: 2377-908X The NSR is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact editor-in-chief Professor Liang at HLIANG (at)


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21 responses to “World History and the Meaning of Being Human: The Influence of Physical and Geographical Features – by Tessa Erickson-Thoemke. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at and

    • Elizabeth Mirkin

      Thank you for your article! I enjoyed when you talked about Mesopotamian irrigation systems, and how they helped to control their water and allow them to stay settled there for a long time. Humans ideally settle in places that have abundant resources that makes living easier, and your article did a great job explaining that. I was interested in your comment about not making the mistake of exploiting and overusing our resources. I think this a huge problem we have in society today which connects to our climate change crisis. If people were to use just about the bare minimum of resources they actually needed, we would be living in a completely different world.

    • Karl Wright

      Hi Tessa,

      Thank you so much for such a well-written article. I really appreciated your ability to tie an ancient nation with a modern city. As a society, we rarely tend to look at the past as a guide for future actions. With climate change and all the issues surrounding the environment today, it is important that we learn from the past in order to survive and thrive in this changing climate. I am interested to see what new techniques and ideas are developed to combat our changing climates, similar to the Mesopotamians developing irrigation systems to improve farming.

      Thanks for sharing,

  1. Tessa,
    I really enjoyed reading this! I agree that all early humans pretty much centered their lives around bodies of water. Although, we still see this in some places today, it isn’t crucial to our survival. I remember reading in Tignors, “Worlds Together, Worlds Apart” that the floods would destroy the good soil in some areas and they were super innovative when it came to going around the issue they had. Sustainability, longevity, and productivity are all factors of being human I believe. Although some like to be way more productive than others. I really liked reading your point of view. Thanks!

  2. Erin Diver

    Hi Tessa!
    I really liked your article! It was very clear and easy to follow. I especially enjoyed how you related the ancient time periods with our own, you touch on the importance of taking care of the planet. I believe we often forget that we can look back in history to understand the consequences of our actions before they even happen. We know what certain actions do that damage our planet, like over planting or deforestation. As we learned earlier in Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, even smokes and gases from ancient Rome remain for hundreds of years imprinted on our planet (Tignor, p.267). You make it clear that in order to maintain an environment we can enjoy, we have to learn not to overuse what resources it provides. Much is the same for the effect we have on Lake Superior: while we may enjoy it’s various provisions, like fishing or cooling off in the summer, we have to be careful not to over fish, or to leave to much of a change on the shore after a visit. Hopefully looking back in history to issues that we also face today will shed light on solutions.

  3. Tara Bighley

    Thank you for this interesting and very well written post. The thing that I liked best is that you related it to St. Cloud, which is a local city and a place that most of us know of. It was very neat to learn that St. Cloud is the pioneer city along the Mississippi, in the aspect that they are able to attain drinking water from the river. In my history class, I read something that reminds me of another civilization that set up shop along a river to sustain their lifestyle. This city was also along the Mississippi River in modern-day Illinois. The city, “Cahokia” Tignor et al. states, settled by farmers and hunters in 600 CE were “attracted by its rich soils, its woodlands for fuel and game, and its access to the trading artery of the Mississippi” (pg. 389). This proves that people will indeed migrate and move to where they need to be to thrive in this world.

  4. Evan Wohlert

    Awesome job on writing this article! I never knew that St. Cloud was once considered three separate cities at one point and that’s something I found very interesting. I’m glad that you mentioned in the final sentence that humans today should be open to adaptability as I feel many people are too reliant on certain things today. It was a smart decision to include Mesopotamia as an example because they were one of the first to manage the ebb and flow of the rivers and changing climate. As Tignor stated in “Worlds Together, Worlds Apart” the, “unpredictable waters can wipe out years of hard work, but when managed properly they can transform the landscape into verdant and productive fields (p. 49). This line from the text makes me wonder, should humans be transforming the land the way that we are today? What are your thoughts on the subject? Let me know what you think and awesome job once again!

  5. Tanner Egelkraut

    Thanks for sharing about St. Cloud. I never knew much history about St. Cloud being that I am from the cities. I appreciated how you talked about the Vedic people adopting the ways of farming in Mesopotamia. This reminded me of the Turkish invaders into India who also adopted the local customs and decided not to force their own way onto the locals. In this sense, they were both able to share their cultures with each other (Tignor et al., 2018, p. 367). I think it is interesting how the Vedic people did a similar thing many years prior.

  6. Kyle Star

    Great job with this post, it was a great read. Living around some sort of body of water is something that humans really take serious. The advantages we get and ability to survive is way better. Being from a city in Canada that is right on the river, I am able to see these certain advantages all the time. I completely agree with you saving that longevity, sustainability and productivity are all apart of being human. These three factors are so huge, and I have never really thought of these. It cool to always get a knew perspective. It was really cool when reading the Tignor, “Worlds Together, Worlds Apart” all the different communities that took advantage of moving closer to bodies of water. Without the humans back than teaching us how important it was, we would not be where we are at today.

    Thanks for sharing


  7. Brett Radford

    Hello Tessa,
    I found your post to be very interesting as Tignor talks about bodies of water and what they have done for people since the beginning of time. Specially when it came to their trade roots back then and how using water really helped trading and helped boost the economy. I also agree with you that people live in places based on the location and a lot of cities around the world are surrounded by water, and rivers. Your connection to St. Cloud was very interesting to read and i think you picked a great city to use. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Kasey Kalthoff

    Thanks for sharing your comparisons of geography and civilizations. I really enjoyed your point on sustainability, longevity, and productivity. In my history class, I am studying the book “Worlds Together Worlds Apart”. The textbook covers a lot about nomads and how the reason for their migrations was often because of the environment. Specifically the pastoral nomads often had to move to new pastures to feed their herds (Tignor et al., 2018, p. 48). It is important for us to realize that we move and settle based on geography. Thanks for sharing,
    Kasey K.

  9. Lexie DeWall


    Thank you for sharing your insights on different areas of water and what an important physical geographical characteristic it is! Living around a body of water is something that many people take into consideration when searching for somewhere to reside. “Storing and channeling water year after year required constant maintenance and innovation by a corps of engineers” (Tignor et al., 2018, p. 49). As you can see in this quote, water was critical for the the fertilization of their crops. Water in my case is very important for fresh drinking water. I am fortunate enough to live by Lake Superior, and it is the largest out of the great lakes.

  10. Sarah Symanietz

    I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed reading this post. I was born and raised in the St. Cloud/Sartell area and find many of these comments about the Mississippi river to be very close to home. My grandpa actually worked his entire career at the Sartell Paper Mill placed next to the river. Additionally, when I drive home to visit my parents I get the pleasure of driving along the river for a small stretch. Rivers such as the Mississippi, Nile, and Tigris have had great impacts on individuals inhabiting near them. Similar to Mesopotamia, Egypt was a well developed area that utilized the Nile for agriculture and many aspects. Additionally, the Romans created aqueducts to channel water in from farther off sources. These bodies of water have created not only a place to gather and settle, but a beautiful oasis filled with resources.

  11. Grace Macor

    Hi, Tessa.

    Thanks for posting! Water is crucial in the survival of man kind. It serves humans in many ways. The importance of water is also noted in the African continent. In Worlds Together Worlds Apart, Tignor et al. discusses the impact of the Niger River. Tignor states, “They established settlements at such places as Jenne and Goa, which eventually became large trading centers. Here, artisans smelted iron ore and wove textiles, and merchants engaged in long-distance trade” (2018, p. 193). Similar to Duluth, Jenne and Goa thrived on their ability to trade iron ore on the river basin. Although this occurred thousands of years apart and on two different continents, Duluth can heavily relate to the cities of Jenne and Goa.

    Nice post!

  12. Alli Einck

    Hi Tessa,
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas! I really enjoyed reading your post. I agree that all humans center their lives around bodies of water. Tignor et al. (2018) discussed a lot about people moving and adapting because of floods and changes in the environment. For example, the Nomads specifically had to move a lot for their farming (p. 49). It was critical they had water for their crops. They needed to be able to store and channel water so their crops could flourish.

  13. Elijah Ortega

    Hello Tessa,
    I found this article extremely interesting. Having grown up in Minnesota my entire life I find reading about its history to be quite intriguing. To hear the history of St.Cloud as being the first city along the Mississippi to have used its water as a drinking source. I also found the fact that many settlers would benefit from the granite quarries to be quite interesting. I previously had not been aware of the purpose of these quarries, but traveling to them and jumping off of their steep cliffs was always an enjoyable experience. Thank you for sharing these thoughts and teaching me a bit of Minnesotan history.

  14. Emily Knoer

    Hi Tessa!!
    I thought your article was very interesting. I do not have much prior knowledge about specific ancient civilizations so I enjoyed learning more about how they utilized the rivers around them to benefit their society. I also enjoyed that you related the topic to Minnesota and talked about the Mississippi River and how it affects St. Cloud. And, as a sustainability major, I agree that it is extremely important to keep our rivers and waterways clean. Many of them are being polluted by runoff and it is affecting a lot of our waters ecosystems and in turn our whole environment. Overall, I really enjoyed your topic and your writing was very good so thank you for sharing!
    – Emily

  15. Rylee Whitney

    Great article! I think we often take for granted the resources we have around us and the impact they make on our life. If we didn’t have these bodies of water and the nutrients they provide, who knows where we would be today. Our ancestors knew what they were doing when they settled in places like Saint Cloud and Duluth. It really struck me when you stated, “When examining these civilizations and the physical geographic choices humans made, three specific priorities came to mind: sustainability, longevity, and productivity.” I think we need to continue to keep this idea in mind while some continue to pollute our land and water. We need these resources to have longevity and be productive. Therefore, we need to act in a more sustainable manner in order to keep our civilizations today thriving as they did years ago when people first came to this land.
    Thanks for the good read!
    Rylee Whitney

  16. Tamer Mische-Richter

    Reading the words “sustainability, longevity, and productivity” in context of why people decide to move somewhere makes me think of mining towns in the Upper Peninsula. People moved to the UP and created a mass of mining towns dotted between Lake Superior and Lake Michigan. What I believe most of them had not prepared themselves for was what comes after mining. The UP is scattered with depressed towns that have to overwinter in some of the harshest conditions in the lower 48. Feet of wet, heavy snow can fall in a night and winds that frostbite off fingers and toes is not uncommon. However, there are areas of the UP that are considered a Utopia for many Yoopers. Marquette has beautiful summers and a University that has supplied an economy with a resource other than copper and iron. Civilizations change to their climate as well as what hard and good times bring them.

  17. Jake Foster

    Hi Tessa,
    Thanks for the interesting article. Sometimes it’s hard to remember how developed everything around us is. If we stripped all of the buildings, roads, and farm land away, it would blow my mind to see how far we’ve progressed. Especially places like Northern Minnesota and the Duluth-Superior area. If only we had a time machine to see what these places looked like in their natural state…

  18. hannah Desmond

    I really liked your last sentence on how humans should be open to adaptability. I feel that we do live in such a developed society where if your hungry you drive to the store or in your cold you turn the heat on. Majority of people have lived with these privileges their entire lives, where change in climate doesn’t stop them from going to the grocery store and rising temperatures doesn’t stop them from turning on the air conditioner. Humans are obedient and structural beings, how can a society change together? I think the popular trend of not using straws is a step in the right direction, like professor Liang said “Change happens in generations.”

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