World History and the Meaning of Being Human – Physical and Geographical Features and Impact on the Environment – by Kasey Kalthoff. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports
Geography, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “a delineation or systemic arrangement of constituent elements” (Merriam-Webster, 2019). I would like to pick apart this idea of arrangement and how it is seen in our past, present, and future. In our history, I will be comparing the Han Dynasty and its location on the Eastern side of the Asian continent with Greece which sits just inside of the European continent. In our textbook Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, the Greeks were lightly discussed in Chapter 4 and I most recently read about the Han Dynasty in Chapter 7 (Tignor et al., 2018). Currently, I live in Duluth, and I have for the past four years. I will be comparing the geography and arrangement of Duluth with Eastern Asia and Greece.
The Han Dynasty settled itself in what we now know as China. Our textbook indicates that the Han Dynasty was “a remote and barren country” (Tignor et al., 2018, p. 251). As a result, oases became popular settling spots for many (Tignor et al., 2018). Oases were essentially water holes in the desert where a more fertile ground could be found. The Han Empire, due to its vastness, also had many forests that unfortunately were taken down (Tignor et al., 2018). According to Tignor, “China’s grand environmental narrative has been the clearing of old-growth forests that had originally covered the greater part of the territory of China” (Tignor et al., 2018, p. 252). As a result of the mass deforesting of China, the Han Empire experienced a great consequence in the form of flooding (Tignor et al., 2018) Due to the fact that there were no trees to help prevent the erosion of soil, the river levels were raised causing many devastating floods (Tignor et al., 2018).
The Greeks were spread across many smaller islands as well as on the mainland of Greece (Tignor et al., 2018). Being surrounded by water had its advantage in the form of power. Our textbook states, “Athens was becoming a major sea power” (Tignor et al., 2018, p. 140). Tignor is describing the war between the Persians and the Greeks and how Greece owes its successes to the sea. The Athenians were able to call upon “their long experience of sailing on the Mediterranean” to have victory over the Persians (Tignor et al., 2018, p. 142).
The similarity between the Greeks and the Hans is that they were able to adapt and arrange themselves in a way that made them benefit from the geography of their respective continents. The Hans settled themselves around oases in order to agriculture food and have access to water. The Greeks were expert sailors due to being surrounded by water. They used this to their advantage when challenged by neighboring foes. I found that the biggest differences between the Hans and the Greeks are the actual geographical attributes. A large amount of China is actually a desert and greatly lacks water. In comparison, Greece is surrounded by water which they were able to use to their advantage.
I believe that a big part of why humans choose to settle in certain geographic locations is due to the ability to survive. The Hans peoples settled near oases because the water and fertile soil enabled them to eat and drink (Tignor et al., 2018). Similarly, Athenian warriors were able to call upon their skills due to the environment that they were used to in order to survive a war with the Persians (Tignor et al., 2018). It all comes down to survival. We value and prioritize our ability to live and prosper; I believe that the environment and geography have a lot to do with that.
A big lesson comes from the impact that humans have on the planet. Currently, there is a lot of talk about how humans treat our planet and the negative results that come from using excessive amounts of resources. Ironically, this has been going on since the beginning of the Common Era (CE). One example is the Han Empire and its massive deforestation campaigns to make room for farming (Tignor et al., 2018). I quote, “As the Han peoples moved southward and later westward, filling up empty spaces and driving elephants, rhinoceroses, and other animals into extinction, the farming communities cleared immense tracts of land of shrubs, and forests to prepare for farming” (Tignor et al., 2018, p. 252). Sadly, animals are still being driven into extinction due to deforestation, hundreds of thousands of years later. This is the lesson that I want current humans to know; we almost always have a negative impact on the environment, but we should now be using our current technology to find a solution for this.
As I said earlier, I have lived in Duluth since September of 2015. The most striking geographical attribute that Duluth has is Lake Superior, one of the biggest bodies of freshwater in the world. We most definitely use the lake for our benefit, just as the Greeks did. And like the Han people, we settled in the area because of the lake and the nutrients it provides us with. In contrast, we are not using the lake as our only source of food or to win wars as the Greeks and Hans did.
In conclusion, studying geography and how civilizations have used its attributes has been interesting for me. It was challenging to look at history from an environmental standpoint. I felt that I was having to read the textbook differently. I was so much more focused on the geography and studying maps rather than on the content. It was very surprising to find that section on deforestation and pollution so long ago in our history. I hope our future holds an improvement on environmental impact. Geography, its arrangement, and the environment are invaluable to the human race and should be held highly moving forward.
Geography. 2019. In Merriam-Webster.com. Retrieved April 19, 2019, from https://merriam-
Tignor, R., Adelman, J., Brown, P., Elman, B., Liu, X., Pittman, H., Shaw, B. (2018). Worlds
Together, Worlds Apart (Fifth Edition). New York, NY: W.W. Norton.
From Professor Liang’s Spring 2019 World History I [Online] class, Kasey is a Nursing student.
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