Five Themes of Geography
How does Iowa compare to other places on Earth?
Factors in descriptions reflect the information that one wishes to know. There are many ways that Iowa's location can be identified: latitude and longitude, relationship to neighboring states (south of Minnesota) or height above sea level. Each can be correct. This primary source set focuses on five themes of geography: location, place, human-environment interaction, movement and region.
Landscape and Agriculture
Iowa's landscape is often described in terms of the types of agriculture that each area fosters. The hilly northeast is more suitable to dairy and beef cattle. North Central Iowa has some of the richest farm land in the world spread across relatively flat and well-drained prairies. Western Iowa receives less rainfall than other parts of the states as it starts a transition into the more arid Great Plains. Southwestern and South Central Iowa have hilly pastures like the northeast and support many cattle operations. Southeastern Iowa was originally the most heavily forested region at the time of initial European settlement, especially along the major river valleys that drained the rest of the state.
The Iowa landscape owes much to the series of Ice Ages that brought glaciers scraping down from the northeast. It is generally acknowledged that the far northeastern corner of the state had only minimal glaciation, leaving the rugged hills intact. In the last Ice Age ending some 14,000 years ago, the unstable climate produced glacier fronts that advanced and retreated across hundreds of miles, breaking up the rock into gravel and fine silt that became incredibly rich topsoil over the next two millenia. Agriculture has also vastly changed the Iowa landscape. Almost all of the forests that once covered 15 percent of the state and the prairie cultures that greeted pioneers have been cut down to produce fields for crops and livestock.
In the early days of European settlement, rivers were the major routes of transportation for both people and goods. Railroads appeared in the 1850s and opened vast tracts of the Midwest to rapid settlement and agriculture commerce. Cars and trucks transformed rural and urban life in the early 20th century followed by commercial air travel starting in the 1930s. The interstate highway system linked the nation more closely than ever in the 1950s.
A regional definition of Iowa also depends on what one considers to be the most significant factors. In agriculture, we are the heart of the Corn Belt that extends from eastern Nebraska through western Ohio. Our Mississippi river towns are similar to the industrial centers of the Great Lakes states. Politically, our loyalty to the Union in the Civil War led to the domination of the Republican Party for over a century and distinguished us from our Democratic neighbor to the south.
Who we are, where we are, what we are ... these are all questions that reflect the principal interest of those asking the questions.
Location: How can Iowa’s location be described?
- Galbraith Railway Mail Service Map of Iowa, 1897 (Map)
- Dissected Map of the United States, 1900 (Map)
- Standard Map of the World, 1942 (Map)
Place: How does Iowa’s geography compare to other areas of the world?
- Merchants of the Sahara Desert in North Africa, between 1880 and 1923 (Image)
- Workers Cutting Bananas from Trees in Costa Rica, between 1910 and 1920 (Image)
- Farm Land in Monona, Iowa, May 1940 (Image)
Human-Environment Interaction: How has Iowa’s environment been changed?
- Gowers' Land Agency, 1855 (Document)
- "Beautiful Prairies of Early Iowa" Newspaper Article, August 30, 1911 (Document)
- Freshly Plowed Land in Greene County, Iowa, April 1940 (Image)
Movement: How do people and goods move throughout Iowa?
- Bird's-Eye View of Iowa City in Johnson County, Iowa, 1868 (Image)
- Railroad Map of Iowa, 1881 (Map)
- Highway next to Farm Land in Grundy County, Iowa, April 1940 (Image)
Region: What makes Iowa’s region unique?
- Railroad Map of the American Midwest, 1858 (Map)
- "National Parks of the Midwest," 1968 (Map)
- "Opening of the Midwest" Mural in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 2011 (Image)
|Five Themes of Geography Teaching Guide|
|Printable Image and Document Guide|
Galbraith Railway Mail Service Map of Iowa, 1897
Dissected Map of the United States, 1900
Standard Map of the World, 1942
Merchants of the Sahara Desert in North Africa, between 1880 and 1923
Workers Cutting Bananas from Trees in Costa Rica, between 1910 and 1920
Farm Land in Monona, Iowa, May 1940
Gowers' Land Agency, 1855
"Beautiful Prairies of Early Iowa" Newspaper Article, August 30, 1911
Freshly Plowed Land in Greene County, Iowa, April 1940
Bird's-Eye View of Iowa City in Johnson County, Iowa, 1868
Railroad Map of Iowa, 1881
Highway next to Farm Land in Grundy County, Iowa, April 1940
Railroad Map of the American Midwest, 1858
"National Parks of the Midwest," 1968
"Opening of the Midwest" Mural in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 2011
Iowa Core Social Studies Standards (6th Grade)
Listed below are the Iowa Core Social Studies content anchor standards that are best reflected in this source set. The content standards applied to this set are middle school-age level and encompass the key disciplines that make up social studies for sixth-grade students.
No. Standard Description SS.6.16. Utilize and construct geographic representations to explain and analyze regional, environmental, and cultural characteristics. SS.6.17. Analyze and explain the cultural, physical, and environmental characteristics of places and regions and how this affects the life of the people who live there. SS.6.18. Explain how changes in transportation, communication, and technology influence the movement of people, goods, and ideas in various countries. SS.6.19. Explain how global changes in population distribution patterns affect changes in land use in particular countries or regions.