Chapter's Objectives

This chapter deals with the meaning, scope, themes, and approaches of Geography. In addition, it discusses the location, shape, and size of Ethiopia and the Horn. It also introduces the tenets of basic map reading skills. Hence, this introductory part of the text paves the way for an understanding of the geographic issues presented in the succeeding chapters.
Objectives At the end of this chapter, the learners will be able to:
 Comprehend the meaning and scope of Geography.
 Explain the themes of Geography.
 Explicate the implications of location, shape and size of Ethiopia and the Horn on the physical environment, socioeconomic and political aspects.
 Acquire basic skills of map reading.

1.1 Geography: Definition, Scope and Themes

Definition/Meaning of Geography

It is difficult to forward a definition acceptable to all geographers at all times and places because of the dynamic nature of the discipline and the changes in its scope and method of study. However, the following may be accepted as a working definition.

Geography is the scientific study of the Earth that describes and analyses spatial and temporal variations of physical, biological and human phenomena, and their interrelationships and dynamism over the surface of the Earth.

The Scope of Geography

Geography has now acquired the status of science that explains the arrangements of various natural and cultural features on the Earth surface. Geography is a holistic and interdisciplinary field of study contributing to the understanding of the changing spatial structures from the past to the future. Thus, the scope of Geography is the surface of the Earth, which is the very thin zone that is the interface of the atmosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere, which provides the habitable zone in which humans are able to live.

Approaches and Themes of Geography

Geography can be approached by considering two continuums: systematic and regional continuum. The systematic fields of Geography view particular categories of physical or human phenomena as distributed over the Earth while regional geography is concerned with the associations within regions of all or some of the elements and their interrelationships.

Themes of Geography

Geography has five basic themes namely location, place, human-environment interaction, movement, and region.


Location is defined as a particular place or position. Location can be of two types: absolute location and relative location. In the former case, the location of a place is defined by its latitude and longitude or its exact address.


Place refers to the physical and human aspects of a location. This theme of geography is associated with toponym (the name of a place), site (the description of the features of the place), and situation (the environmental conditions of the place). Each place in the world has its unique characteristics expressed in terms of landforms, hydrology, biogeography, pedology (the study of soils), characteristics and size of its human population, and the distinct human cultures. The concept of “place” aids geographers to compare and contrast two places on Earth.

Human-Environment Interaction

Humans have always been on continual interaction with their natural environment. No other species that has lived on our planet has a profound effect on the environment as humans. Thus, human-environment interaction involves three distinct aspects: dependency, adaptation, and modification. Dependency refers to the ways in which humans are dependent on nature for a living. Adaptation relates to how humans modify themselves, their lifestyles and their behavior to live in a new environment with new challenges. Modification allowed humans to “conquer” the world for their comfortable living.


Movement entails to the translocation of human beings, their goods, and their ideas from one end of the planet to another. The physical movement of people allowed the human race to inhabit all the continents and islands of the world. Another aspect of movement is the transport of goods from one place on the Earth to another. The third dimension of movement is the flow of ideas that allows the unification of the human civilization and promotes its growth and prosperity.


A region is a geographic area having distinctive characteristics that distinguishes itself from adjacent unit(s) of space. It could be a formal region that is characterized by homogeneity in terms of a certain phenomenon (soil, temperature, rainfall, or other cultural elements like language, religion, and economy).

Scope of Geography
Themes of Geography

1.2 Location, Shape and Size of Ethiopia and the Horn

The Horn of Africa, a region of eastern Africa, is a narrow tip that protrudes into the northern Indian Ocean, separating it from the Gulf of Aden. It is the easternmost extension of African land defined as the region that is home to the countries of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia, whose cultures have been linked throughout their long history. In terms of size, Ethiopia is the largest of all the Horn of African countries, while Djibouti is the smallest. The Horn contains such diverse areas as the highlands of the Ethiopian Plateau, the Ogaden desert, and the Eritrean and Somali coasts.

Location of Ethiopia

  • The location of a country or a place on a map or a globe is expressed in two different ways. These are astronomical and relative locations . Astronomical location, also known as absolute or mathematical location, states location of places using the lines of latitudes and longitudes. Astronomically, Ethiopia is a landlocked country located between 3oN (Moyale) and 15oN (Bademe – the northernmost tip of Tigray) latitudes and 33oE (Akobo) to 48oE (the tip of Ogaden in the east) longitudes. The east west distance (150) is longer than the north-south distance (120). The latitudinal and longitudinal extensions are important in two ways. First, as a result of its latitudinal extension the country experiences tropical climate and secondly due to its longitudinal extension there is a difference of one hour between the most easterly and most westerly points of the country. It is only for convenience that the 3 hours-time zone is used in all parts of the country. Relative location expresses the location of countries or places with reference to the location of other countries (vicinal), landmasses or water bodies.

Vicinal location
Sudan to the west and northwest
South Sudan to southwest
Djibouti to the east
Somalia to   the east and southeast
Eritrea to  the north and Northeast
Kenya to the south

In relation to water bodies & land masses
In the Horn of Africa
Southwest of the Arabian Peninsula
South of Europe
Northwest of the Indian Ocean
In the Nile Basin

The implications of the location of Ethiopia are described as follows:

  1. Climate: The fact that Ethiopia is located between 30N and 150N (between the Equator and Tropic of Cancer) implies that the country has a tropical climate, though modified by its altitude. The location of Ethiopia relative to the Indian Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean and the African and Asian landmass has also various bearings on the climate of
  2. Socio-cultural: Ethiopia is one of the earliest recipients of the major world religions namely Christianity, Islam and Judaism due to its proximity to the Middle East, which was the origin of these religions. The linguistic and other cultural relationships, which Ethiopia shares with its neighbours, reflect the influence of
  3. Political: The political history of Ethiopia has been considerably influenced by:
    • Geopolitical considerations of
    • Adjacency to the Red Sea (a major global trade route).
    • The Middle East geopolitical

As a result, Ethiopia has been exposed for external invasions in a number of times; though the country resisted foreign intervention and remains free of external domination.

Size of Ethiopia 

Ethiopia with a total area of approximately 1,106,000 square kilometers is the 8th largest country in Africa and 25th in the World. It extends about 1,639 kilometers East-West, and 1,577 kilometers North-South. About 0.7% of the country is covered by water bodies.

The size of Ethiopia also affects both the natural and human environment of the country.


  1. Possess diverse agro ecological zones
  2. Variety of natural resources
  3. Own extensive arable land
  4. Have larger population size
  5. Home for diverse cultures
  6. Greater depth in defence external invasion


  1. Demands greater capital to construct infrastructural facilities
  2. Requires large army to protect its territory
  3. Difficult for effective administration
  4. Difficult for socio-economic integration

The shape of Ethiopia and its Implication

Countries of the World have different kinds of shape that can be divided into five main categories: compact, fragmented, elongated, perforated, and protruded. These shapes have implications on defence, administration and economic integration within a country. Whether some kind of shape is advantageous to a country or not, however, depends on many other factors.

  1. Compact shape
    Compact (Poland)

    Compact (Poland)

    countries: The distance from the geographic centre of the state to any of the borders does not vary greatly. It is easier for defence, socio-economic and cultural integration.
  2. Fragmented shape countries:

    Fragmented (Fiji)

    They are divided from their other parts by either water, land or other countries.
  3. Elongated shape countries:

    Elongated (Chile)

    They are geographically long and relatively narrow like Chile.
  4. Perforated shape countries:

    Perforated (South Africa)

    A country that completely surrounds another country like the Republic of South Africa.
  5. Protrude shape countries:

    Prorupted (Thailand)

    Countries that have one portion that is much more elongated than the rest of the country like Myanmar and Eritrea.

Measuring the shape of countries

There are various ways of measuring shape of countries. These measures are known as the indices of compactness. These indices measure the deviation of the shape of a country from a circular shape, which is the most compact shape. Since there is no country with absolutely circular shape, those approximating a circular shape are said to be more compact.

There are four most commonly used measures of compactness. These are:

The ratio of area of country to its boundary length: Area-Boundary ratio. The higher the A/B ratio, the greater the degree of
The ratio of boundary length of a country to the circumference of a circle having the same area as the country itself: Boundary-Circumference ratio. It measures how far the boundary of a country approximates the circumference of a circle of its own size. Therefore, the nearer the ratio to 1 the more compact the country
The ratio of the area of the country to the circumference of the smallest inscribing circle: Area-Circumference ratio. It compares the area of the country with the circumference of a circle that passes touching the extreme points on the boundary of the country. The higher the A/C ratio, the greater the degree of
The ratio of the actual area of a country to the smallest possible inscribing circle: Area- Area (A/A‟) ratio. The area of the inscribing circle is the area of the smallest possible circle whose circumference passes through the extreme points on the boundary. Half- length of the longest distance between two extreme points gives radius of the inscribing circle. The nearer the ratio to 1, the more compact the country

     Table : Ethiopia’s shape compared to its Neighbors in the Horn



Boundary (km)

A/B ratio

B/C ratio

A/C ratio































1.3 Basic Skills of Map Reading

What is a Map?

A map is a two-dimensional scaled representation of part or whole of the Earth surface on a flat body such as piece of paper, black board, wood or cloth. Map reading encompasses a systematic identification of natural features and manmade features. Natural features include mountains, plateaus, hills, valleys, river, ocean, rocks, plain etc. On the other hand, manmade features include roads, railway, buildings, dam etc.

Importance of maps

  • Provide the basis for making geographical details of regions represented i.e. the geographical facts of an area such as relief, drainage, settlement
  • Maps are powerful tools for making spatial analysis of geographical facts of areas represent.
  • Maps are useful for giving location of geographical features by varied methods of grid reference, place naming
  • Maps are used on various disciplines like land use planning, military science, aviation, tourism, marine science, population studies, epidemiology, geology, economics, history, archaeology, agriculture etc.
  • Map makes storage of the geographical data of areas
  • Maps are potentially used to asses’ reliable measurements of the geographical The measurements can be of area size, distance etc.

Types of Map

There are many types of maps according to their purpose and functions. For the purpose of this course, topographical and statistical maps are considered.

Topographical maps: Topographic maps depict one or more natural and cultural features of an area. They could be small, medium or large scale depending on the size of the area, purpose of a map, scale of a map, date of compilation, and nature of the land.

Special purpose (thematic) maps: These are maps, which show distribution of different aspects such as temperature, rainfall, settlement, vegetation.

Marginal Information on Maps (Elements of Maps)

Marginal information is shown on a map to enable the reading and interpretation of the geographical information of an area represented. This includes:

  1. Title: It is the heading of the given map which tells what the map is all
  2. Key (legend): It is the list of all convectional symbols and signs shown on the map with their
  3. Scale: It is the ratio between the distance on the map and the actual ground distance. Scales enable the map user to interpret the ground measurement like road distance, areal sizes, gradient etc. It can be expressed as representative fraction, statements/verbal scale, and linear (graphic)
  4. North arrow: It is indicated with the north direction on a map; used to know the other important directions of the mapped area like east, west, south, and
  5. Margin: Is the frame of the map. It is important for showing the end of the mapped
  6. Date of compilation: It is a date of map publication. This enables map users to realize whether the map is updated or

Basic Principles of Map Reading

In developing map reading abilities and skills, certain basic principles must be applied by the map-reader to translate map symbols into landscape images. Map Readers must have ideas about the symbol and also the real World (landscapes). Every map symbol must be visualized by the reader to read a map. The first symbols introduced should be those, which refer to landscape features of which the reader already has some images.

Secondly, knowledge of directions is an important principle in reading maps. One of the basic functions of maps is to help us to orient ourselves and to locate places on the earth. Unless a reader knows the basic directions, he or she may not use a map effectively. Before locating features using a map, north (the north arrow) should be determined.

Maps are covered in a series of lines that make up a grid. The lines have numbers accompanying them that allow you to accurately pinpoint your location on a map. Once you have located where you are, the grid system makes it simple to give an accurate description of your location. This description, which will be a series of numbers, is known as a grid reference.

What is a Map
Importance of maps
Topographic maps
Thematic maps
Elements of Maps

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