Frankly, this is a huge topic which I don't think anyone can do justice here. Which I guess is why you ask for references! Nonetheless, let's have a go.
I would venture that the most important thing to remember is that cultures are a product, first and foremost, of their geography. Geography provides the resources, abundances and scarcity, and texture of the society. You're going to have to put a lot of effort into grasping the geographic and climactic causes, likely to influence specific outcomes.
Take for instance the Little Ice Age. This period, from the 1300s to 1800s, has been alleged to have produced various quirks of history that had profound long term consequences.
One argument I heard went that it led to northern European architecture and family structure changing. Because it was decidedly colder, people lived closer together. This manifested in upstairs-downstairs master-servant arrangements, as the upstairs was warmer than the downstairs and everyone had to have their living and sleeping rooms built around the main chimney stack. This thus changed attitudes and began to stratify society more between upper and lower classes.
Another more robust example is the effect the little ice age had on Russia's fate. At the time Muscovy was just a peripheral backwater bordering wilderness. This had been not very profitable, as it is those empires at the centre of major trade routes; rivers, and seas, which can monopolise defensive positions to become major ports, and thus rich cultures. That's typical of Carthage, Athens, Rome, Alexandria, etc.
But when Europe got very cold all of a sudden (the Thames in London froze over completely) demand for fur rose, and suddenly Russia had a resource everyone wanted. In order to increase production the Tsar sent soldiers and mercenaries eastwards, literally outgunning the local descendants of the Mongol horde; who still fought with swords and bows, killing them, and importantly taking their furs and hunting grounds, which were sold westwards. The income and territorial expansion together were foundational to the creation of the Russian empire.
Incidentally, it has been argued that because the Russian empire didn't have any natural defences between its heartland and its rivals, it developed (and still has) a paranoid and aggressive attitude to its neighbours in order to feel safe.
The evolution of cultural ideas is a little more chaotic, as major events like the protestant reformation, spread of Islam, etc, are not down to geography. Other things, like the arrival of the industrial revolution, most definitely are. Without wood and coal it would not have been possible in Britain.
However the way culture develops from certain ideas certainly is again, geography dependent. Consider Apartheid South Africa. The racial ideology of the Boers has been said to have been rooted in the Calvinist faith of their ancestors, but why did the protestant Dutch who remained in the Netherlands become one of Christianity's most progressive churches, whilst the religion of the Boers turned into one of the most regressive? Both shared a common ideology founded in Calvinist pre-destination (everything is as God wills is, free will does not exist).
The Netherlands became a major trading empire, and their homeland became a cosmopolitan centre of trade and art. In contrast, the Boers fled to settle one of the most remote parts of the world at the time, fleeing further into the African continent as moderate English settlers arrived on the coast.
In this cultural vacuum of religious fundamentalism, they viewed the world through a literalist interpretation of the Old Testament and pre-destination - that is, they were the new Israelites who had to fight their way through those who were not God's chosen people. And, of course, the reason the native Africans were so lacking technologically was because God wills it. This culture was only possible through cultural isolation, again, dependent on geographical context. Which explains the radical difference between the two Calvinist cultures.
It should also be little surprise that the protestant reformation saw the establishment of new state churches in kingdoms which had previously been primitive backwaters, but by the 1500s were attempting to assert themselves, in Europe and the wider world. The political and economic centre of gravity in Europe was shifting from the Mediterranean south to the Baltic North, with England, Sweden, Germany, Russia. Religion is often an expression of politics, and so it was so then. And subsequently the art and religious styles of the new movers and shakers developed in opposition to the old ways.
So... in conclusion: geography, geography, geography.