When people think about geography, they may start with, say, the location of Liechtenstein – and go no further. Yet there is human geography as well.

Nancy Thorne, a South Aiken High school teacher for the past 28 years, brings human geography to 50 students in two Advanced Placement classes.

She does it well, too. Earlier this summer, Thorne and eight other teachers throughout the country won K-12 Distinguished Teaching Awards from the National Council for Geographic Education.

“It’s how humans interact with the Earth and environments, where all kinds of other disciplines meet,” Thorne said. “It’s the course that’s the most fun.”

Human geography includes disciplines of politics, economics, ethnicity, cultures, immigration and populations.

In the area of politics, Thorne and her students look at a kind of survey of political systems and their interactions.

One can start with borders. How are they determined and who gets to decide where the borders are? They can be found within counties, states and countries, and wars have been fought over them.

Water is political. Florida is suing Georgia over state water rights, and Alabama is in the mix, too.

“We can look at local issues, but look at the issues in Egypt and Syria,” Thorne said. “On a global scale, how do we deal with that? We can see the current administration trying to decide on those situations.”

Thorne enjoys sharing with her students topics about urban communities versus rural areas as an economic side of geography. Culture is another facet; ethnic cultural groups tend to be more locally structured and don’t change much over time, she said.

Population growth is a fascinating and also crucial aspect of human geography, Thorne said. In short period of time, the world’s population has increased from 7.1 billion to 7.2.

“If the students I’m teaching live a full life, the Earth will have more than 14 billion people when they are in their 60s,” Thorne said. “Can we support all those people with food, and what will be the social ramifications?”

The national organization presented awards in many different categories.

Thorne welcomed all the opportunities to attend seminars, including one that provided ways for teachers to improve their work with students.

“It was a good way to learn about the things I’m interested in,” she said. “AP human geography is growing the fastest within geography education.”

Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard’s education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.