GED Social Studies Practice Test: Nations and Regions

A nation (sometimes referred to as a state) is a political unit. It has:

  • defined and generally recognized boundaries
  • a population
  • a government
  • an economy
  • sovereignty (the ability to direct its own affairs).

A state is often characterized by common use of a language (though there are many multilingual states), a shared history, and, often, a predominant religion (for example, in India, the predominant religion is Hinduism).

This does not mean that a nation is monolithic. For example, in India, Muslims co-exist with Hindus (sometimes peacefully; sometimes not). The now-defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was a mega-state composed of 15 nations with a multitude of languages, religions, and cultures. Think of the United States; look at the cultural differences between, say, California and Maine. Both are part of the U.S., and both use English, but they are different in their history, attitudes, climate, and ethnic make-up.

Nations are relatively recent innovations. the Greeks and Romans had city-states, while empires were often not united by language and common history. In the late middle ages, feudal states began to coalesce into modern nations with definable boundaries. Nationalism is the concept of unity through common lands, culture, religion, and languages.

Boundaries of nations are sometimes set in conformance with physical features (for example, mountains, rivers, or deserts). The Pyrenees Mountain Range separates Spain from France. France and England are separated by the English Channel.

Boundaries can also be drawn according to language, religion, or cultural groups. Sometimes, boundaries are set by international bodies (such as the United Nations) or regional groups (such as the African Union). The area around a boundary is often called the frontier.

The eastern boundary of the United States is the Atlantic Ocean. But where, exactly, does the U.S. end? International law recognizes a boundary up to 12 nautical miles (13.8 miles) from the shore for a coastal nation. If two nations are separated by a river, the political boundary is drawn in the middle of the river.

A region is a physical area that may cross national boundaries, but there is often a predominant religion or language. For example, the “Middle East” is composed of a number of countries, but Islam is the predominant religion and most of the countries use Arabic as their first language. Similarly, “Western Europe” is, for the most part, Christian (Protestant and Catholic) and rooted in the Greco-Roman tradition. “Eastern Europe” is composed of Slavic peoples and the dominant religion is Eastern Orthodoxy.

A group of countries that do not share linguistic and cultural attributes may also be considered a region simply because of proximity (closeness). For example, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh have different languages and a variety of religions, but this region is often referred to as the “Indian subcontinent.”


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