Hettner-Schluter controversy on the ‘content’ and ‘purpose of geography’ in the early twentieth century seems to have had significant impact on the contemporary geographic tradition not only in Germany, but also outside it. The controversy sharply divided the German geographers into two broad groups—one adhering to the Hettnerian tradition, the other to the heritage being established by Otto Schluter (1872-1952).
The controversy appeared to have developed with the publication of J. Wimmer’s Historische Landschaftskunde in 1885, and it was Otto Schluter who in 1906 applied the term ‘Landschaftskunde’ (landscape science) to designate the concept of geography.
Schluter insisted that geographers look first at the things on the surface of the Earth that could be perceived through the senses and at the totality of such perceptions—the landscape. He objected to the chorological definition of geography, and noted that accepting the landscape as the subject matter of geography would give the field a logical definition.
Schluter’s landscape morphology was a distinct form of regional geography and he insisted that geographers should consider and emphasise the form and spatial structure created by visible phenomena on the surface of the Earth as their unifying theme. All human distributions of non- material character, such as social, economic, racial, psychological and political conditions, should be excluded from the study as ends in themselves, but they could be considered while explaining the observable landscape.
He raised objection to both the environmental emphasis on land-human relationships of the current schools—Ratzel, Davis, Mik and Vidal Blache—and to the view of areal associations of terrestrial—phenomena as expounded by Hettner. (Neither, it seemed to Schluter, provided a distinctive field).
The regional concept (Landschaftbegrift) of Schluter, like that of Hettner, is a geographical position of the Earth’s surface which showed a certain degree of homogeneity within boundaries that could be defined.
However, Hettner emphasised upon the ‘Wesen’, a personality of an area as based upon the similarities of contiguous places and then phenomena, spatial cohesion, and the causal cohesion of the various natural realms in this area. Schluter emphasised upon the ‘Bild’, the association or assemblage in space of landscape elements as the essence of his landscape unit. The morphology of landscape is related with the ecology of landscape, and it interprets the non- material character of human distributions only in so far as they are relevant to the landscape.
Hettner was opposed to Schluter’s limitation of geographical study to the visible landscape. He was concerned with the uniqueness of areas, whether this uniqueness was evident in the visible landscape or not. He refused to recognise the limit set by it on the study of human facts on space. Hettner’s approach provided an electrical structure for geography as a distinct discipline whereas Schluter’s concept of cultural geography—the landscape concept—has stood the test of time and has continued to grow by increasing clarity in concept and practice, and in the shaping of new problems relevant to the rapidly changing society.
Schluter was very influenced by history and it was under the influence of Kirchhoff that his interest from Germanistic studies to geography was made possible. He applied historical methods in geographical studies, especially in analysing landscapes.
In his three-volume work on the settlement areas of Central Europe in early historical times published shortly before his death, he distinguished between ‘Urlandschaft’ and ‘Kultarlandschaft’, the former refers to the landscape that existed before major changes were introduced through activities of humans, and the latter means a landscape created by the human culture.
He attempted to reconstruct the ‘Urlandschaft’ of Central Europe. He discovered that the approximate date when the major movement of new settlement into the forests began was 500 AD. By using the evidence of place names and reading the descriptions by ancient Greek and Roman geographers, he reconstructed the pattern of forested land and open land for that date. He then traced the process of settlement that created the ‘Kultarlandschaft’.
With regard to the content and purpose, Hettner focused attention on terrestrial areas while Schluter stressed the terrestrial landscape. Hettner’s approach resulted in the orderly presentation of categories of data on the Earth surface viewed in relation to a physical framework. Schluter’s approach stresses on the use of land by man in terms of his heritage, purpose and technology.
Penck recognised that the essence of geography lies at the fact that it deals with terrestrial areas, and that the visible content of the landscape determines the content of modern geography. He opined that the smallest region (Landschaft) is an area which has unity of form and function.
Schluter is often credited with having founded ‘modern cultural geography’ on a base comparable to that of geomorphology. He attempted to draw a distinction between genetic analysis (that is, the process of change in form) and causal or dynamic analysis (that is, the causes that lie behind the process of change). To him, human geography should aim at the recognition of the form and arrangement of the earth-bound phenomena as far as they are perceptible to the senses.
He claimed that his method was morphological and its procedure parallel to the study of landforms. All human distribution of non-material character, such as social, economic, racial, political, etc., are excluded from this study as ends in themselves and are considered only is so far as they are contributory to an understanding of the evolution and character of the landscape.
This mode of approach is parallel to that of physiography and is concerned not with the exclusive study of the processes (i.e. mechanics of evolution), but with the facial expression of these processes on the landscape. The cultural landscape embraces both immobile and mobile forms. This morphological approach is clearly a fundamental departure from the Darwinistic environmental approach.
The geographic concept of landscape seemed to have made deep impact on Jean Brunhes in France, and the ideas of Schluter and Brunhes became the research objectives of the continental geographers. However, the British geographers showed lack of interest in the concept of landscape morphology. In the USA, Carl Sauer gave a basic evaluation of the new direction in his Morphology of Landscape (1925), but apart from this, landscape morphology attracted little interest in the new world.
Carl Sauer attempted to represent geography as a science that finds its entire field in the landscape. Its concern is only to establish the connection of phenomena in the visible landscape and these connections are the ones of spatial associations and not of some hidden causality. In fact, the ‘morphologic method’ of Schluter, and later of Carl Sauer, was simply a restatement of Comte’s designation of ‘la reel’ as the only appropriate domain for scientific enquiry.
It may be noted that Schluter’s concept of landscape morphology represents an approach to regional geography, but his approach to the geography of cultural landscape appears to belong to the branch of systematic geography. There has been an increasing interest in the cultural landscape in recent years, perhaps as a reaction against the uniformity of most modern buildings and other landscape features.