AN INTRODUCTION TO THE HISTORICAL SUBJECT MATTER OF “GEOGRAPHY”:
1. Places, Peoples, Events. The Greek and Roman ‘ethnogeographies’ (c.450 BC-100 AD) were part of an ancient and continuing search to observe and integrate different categories of information. First understandings of agro-ecology. Itineraries. Coordinates and the ‘world’ map of Ptolemy (c. 160 AD). Medieval Christian authors substituted symbolic space for the grid map, and re-interpreted the world in terms of salvation history (c. 500-1400 AD). Islamic authors presented their own ‘ethnogeographies’, and re-work the subfield of agro-ecology (c. 800-1200 AD); early Islamic symbolic maps.
2. From Observation to Concept and Age Representation. Late Medieval navigation maps (13th-15th c.). The map-makers’ celebration of the exotic. Antiquarian remakes of Ptolemy (after 1470). Politicized or ethnocentric world maps of the (Re)Discovery. Non-Western maps: Islamic world maps, based on Ptolemy (14th-16th c.); the Turkish map of the ‘New’ World, based on Western sources. Spanish and indigenous mapping in the ‘New’ World. New projections and the first atlas (late 1500s).
3. From Medieval Itineraries to Early Regional Geographies. The role of pilgrimages. Marco Polo’s travels. Reports, sketches and maps of unfamiliar places. 19th c. regional geographies as gazetteers of primarily economic data. Carl Ritter. Continuity with the Classical tradition, in the absence of academic field methodologies.
4. The Exhilaration of Re-Discovery. The alternative strands – spontaneous field observation, outside of academia. After 1492: The publicizing of Columbus; Oviedo’s natural history; Cieza’s vibrant regional observations; Sahagun’s cultural record; and López de Velasco’s urban planning. The French Expedition in Egypt (1799-1800), spearheaded by an art historian. Humboldt’s vertical zonation model. African ‘exploration’ as the catalyst of geography at universities.
5. From Military Maps to a Science of the Physical Environment. Flemish topographical mapping and the war between Spain and the Netherlands (after 1560). Hachure maps for battlefield logistics (late 1700s). Napoleon’s topographic mapping project and its impact. Worldwide mapping of climatic variables, plant associations, faunal distributions, geology, and soil categories (late 1800s). Richthofen’s geomorphology text illustrates how the search for physical representation had moved to ‘understanding’ and initial synthesis.
6. Competing Presentations of Deductive Geomorphology. Tectonic geomorphology. Davis’ cycle of erosion. Quaternary geomorphology and the concept of time. ‘Climatic geomorphology’, emphasizing the role of climate, vegetation and soil formation in sculpturing distinctive landforms in different environments. Generational change vs. national schools (1880s to present).
7. Inductive Geomorphology and Fresh Synthetic Efforts. Landscape geometry, process studies, systems theory, environmental reconstruction, applications to the study of human impacts, e.g. soil erosion. An increasing divergence between textbooks and ongoing research (1930s to present).
8. Trying to Build Cultural and Human Subdisciplines. Rural settlement geography as an analog to geomorphic mapping. Ratzel’s treatise on anthropogeography (vol.2, 1891) attempts to explain world cultural divergence by migration and environmental adaptation. Semple’s misinterpretation of Ratzel leads to the red herring of environmental determinism (Huntington). Sauer discovers Kroeber, then Marsh. The Berkeley School goes beyond ethnocentrism. Hartshorne, the CIA, and American ‘political geography’. Midwestern regional description, and Hartshorne’s reinterpretation of Hettner. Influence of the ‘urban ecology’ school. A quantitative ‘revolution’ or joyride?
9. Pulling Back from Oversimplification and Positivism. The ‘humanistic’ and Marxist protests to logical positivism. Duncan’s superorganic critique: Berkeley under fire. A new appreciation of cultural behavior. Cultural ecology as process, rather than reified patterns. ‘Power’ and political ecology. Sauerian re-mobilization and the ‘dynastic’ approach. The ‘new’ cultural geography.
10. Pathways of Postmodernism and an Emerging Environmental History. The role of attachment, ‘place’, and symbol in a cultural landscape that consists of more than material attributes. Deconstructing ethnocentrism and other ‘isms’. Political correctness and (re)creating history. The many variants of environmentalism. Toward a pragmatic environmental history as a prerequisite to effective mitigation of problems. For geography as a whole, there has been a phenomenal diversification and reaching out to our sister disciplines.
11. Are the Threads (Re)Connecting? Does it really matter that they do? It is standard to have competing perspectives and methodologies in the observational and social sciences. Even as paradigms shift, new dialectical tensions arise, provoking fresh challenges and debates. In fact, diversity and debate, if they do not get out of hand, are integral to healthy intellectual communities.
This course will attempt to examine a selection of still-current themes from this sprawling heterotopia of distinct but shifting approaches, bound together by a partly intuitive search to understand the “whole earth”. Like other scholarly traditions, Geography has had its trajectory of repeated thesis and antithesis, but its persistent efforts to integrate unlike categories is unique in the liberal arts.
Specifically, “nature” and “people/culture” come with different epistemologies, and there has always been ambiguity as to whether and how to integrate them into a unified paradigm, either for research or for teaching. The task is compounded by the essential dimensions of space and time. The map, personal exploration, location, and spatial ordering define the logical engagement for geographical “practice”. At the same time, the comparative ways that people engage with resources and the environment, today and in times past, means that interpretation requires both synchronic and diachronic components. Place and space provide a “stage” that is dynamic, rather than static.
One of the important legacies of Geography’s 19th c. re-emergence is the central role of fieldwork, and particularly, field research abroad. Although “exploration” during the late 1800s was tainted by some degree or other of Colonial behavior, and some research abroad during the 1940s and 50s was paid for or done in collusion with the CIA, the Berkeley tradition focused sympathetically on indigenous cultures, and subsequent developments in political ecology emphasized the virtues of traditional land use and took critical anti-hegemonic positions. Thus Geography has long played a somewhat unique role within the social sciences, in emphasizing international research and dealing with non-Western cultures in a positive manner.
Geography has resisted becoming a dry and impersonal academic medium, always stepping back from the brink of ivory tower abstraction. A part of this had been a response to the interests of the potential audience. The ancient Greek travelers who created the durable genre of “places, people, and events” understood the healthy human curiosity about “how the world looks”, about “what other peoples do and how they behave”, and about “where things happen”. Another part of the explanation is that geographical “practice” across two millennia has been primarily driven by the information and conceptualization of observant people from all walks of life – seafarers, pilgrims, soldiers, merchants, agents of government, retired farmers, medical doctors, writers, and geometers. It has never been the unchallenged preserve of academic scholars and philosophers, especially so because Geography only became part of the university curriculum quite late. Even now, professional journals by Geographers in every country are challenged by successful, popular magazines about geographical subject matter. In short, Geography is both an academic discipline and a “popular” field. As a result, communication–whether by ancient story telling, modern media, or in the lecture hall–has always been a legitimate part of the enterprise. The curiosity of the educated public about the “world” demands that “teaching” and research go together.
That is why the history of Geography is so fascinating. It is about the cumulative wisdom of countless thinking and thoughtful individuals. It reflects the lifelong search of Everyman and–woman, to make sense of and to order the world around them. That makes it a diffuse and difficult history to “read”. And, as a search for understanding the world and its interrelationships, Geography becomes as much a philosophy as it is a discipline.
In order to celebrate the intellectual history of what we, as a diverse group, enjoy doing in many different ways, the course is devoted to discursive lectures and discussion about traditional and current issues and dialectics.