It would be relevant to discuss the works of the seven most popular geographers of America, who made significant contributions to the development of professional geography in the country and carried forward the ‘heritage’ of new geography.
Geographer # 1. Mark Jefferson:
‘None of Davis’ students did more to promote and improve the teaching of geography in the United States than Mark Jefferson, who was professor of geography at the Michigan State Normal College in Ypsilanti from 1901 to 1939.
Jefferson deserves a special place in the history of geography not only because of the enthusiasm he kindled among his students but also for the many contributions to the conceptual structure of geography that came from his pen’. He was at Harvard during 1897-99 where he studied geography with Davis. He was given the responsibility to teach new geography to some 1,300 Cuban school teachers.
He was opposed to the systematic approach in geography, but favoured some form of regional paradigm. He prepared reports, based on field surveys, on European colonies in Chile, Argentina and Brazil in 1921, 1924 and 1926. He wanted geography to emphasise on ‘man on the Earth’, not ‘the Earth and man’.
In fact, he was not influenced by the Darwinian paradigm of determinism, but favoured the concept of ‘indeterminism’, attaching much importance to man’s creative ability. Thus, he was opposed to Davis’s assertion of ‘environmental control and man’s response’.
On the nature of geography, Jefferson pointed out:
‘Someone has said that anything that you can put on a map is subject matter of geography. That is what I would call locational or distributional geography…. But geographers are contemplative persons who cannot be satisfied with so meagre an account of the subject. The nature of geography is the fact that there are discoverable causes of distributions and relations between distributions. We study geography when we seek to discover them…. But there is an art of geography—the delineation of the Earths features and inhabitants on maps—cartography, and a science of geography, which contemplates the fact delineated and seeks out causes of the form taken by each distribution and its relationship to others’.
Jefferson’s was a positive view of geography which is reflected in his much quoted statement that geography concerned itself with man – ‘where they are, what they are like, and why they are there’.
He was the pioneer, with such papers as that of 1909 which dealt with the Anthropogeography of Some Great Cities. It was followed by numerous other papers in 1913, 1916, 1917, and 1920, dealing with the distributions of Japanese, British and American urban peoples.
The early writers, Ratzel in Germany and Reclus in France, gave many plans of cities in their publications, but they rarely gave much attention to the principles underlying urban agglomerations, which Jefferson successfully referred to in his papers. According to him, ‘a country’s leading city is always disproportionately large and exceptionally expressive of national capacity and feeling’—which he called the ‘Law of the Primate City’.
In the period between 1909 and 1941, he had 31 papers published in the Bulletin of the American Geographical Society and its successor, The Geographical Review. This is by far the largest number of professional articles published in these prestigious periodicals during this time by any one scholar. Some of the articles were major contributions to the concept of geography. As one of the first American students of population distribution and of urban structures, he was an innovator and trail-blazer.
Geographer # 2. Ellsworth Huntington:
He studied with Davis at Harvard and was associated with Bowman at Yale. He was one of the forerunners of the deterministic concept vis-a-vis the Davisian tradition. During his field studies in Asia between 1903 and 1906, he found much evidence to support the idea that there had been a world-wide progressive desiccation since the glacial period. However, he recognised that there were cycles of cool-wet and hot-dry periods of varying length. He stressed the importance of climatic determinism.
In his book The Pulse of Asia (1907), he attempted to correlate the periods of drought with historical dates. He concluded that the migration of nomadic peoples from Central Asia, which led to the Mongol conquests of India and China and the invasions of Eastern Europe in the thirteenth century, could be explained by the drying up of the pastures on which the nomads were dependent. He formulated empirical generalisations based on these deductions.
Huntington’s generalisations on climatic determinism seem to be identical with those of Montesquieu, especially the one which he developed in his second book Civilisation and Climate (1915). The generalisation he formulated in the book is that man’s civilisations could only develop in regions of stimulating climate and that the monotonous heat of the tropics would forbid attainment of the higher levels of civilisation. Obviously, he referred to the cool temperate oceanic regions because he found these regions highly civilised and developed.
Though Huntington (1915, 68) emphasised the importance of climatic determinism, but urged that it be ‘put into relation not only with the results of other factors of the physical environment, but also with the opposite side of the shield, i.e., with the purely human factors’. He even suggested that diet was as important as was climate as an explanation of human energy.
His was clearly a normative theory and his generalisation might be called ‘pragmatic determinism’, or some kind of ‘scientific’ determinism. Huntington’s pragmatic determinism appears to be very much in line with G. Taylor’s ‘stop-and-go-determinism’ and V. Anuchin’s ‘neo-determinism’ as well.
Geographer # 3. Ellen Churchill Semple:
One of the most important protagonists of the paradigm of determinism was Ellen Churchill Semple who studied with Ratzel at Leipzig in 1891—92 and again in 1895, and carried forward his ideas into the United States. In fact, she was greatly stimulated by Ratzel’s different approaches to the paradigm of determinism, reflected in his Anthropogeographie where he attempted interpretations of so-called geographic influences on the course of history, as well as his modification emphasising the culture of human groups rather than the physical Earth.
Ellen Semple published her first professional article in 1891 dealing with the Appalachian Barrier in American history, and in 1901, she published a paper based on her own field observations on the highlands of eastern Kentucky regarding the results of isolation on the settlers of that area. Her first professional book American History and Its Geographic Conditions appeared in 1903.
With its publication, Semple’s professional status in the horizon of the US geographic scholarship came to be recognised. She offered a mechanical approach to explain the so-called geographic influences on the course of American history. In the preparation of the book, Semple seems to have relied on preexisting causes to explain the observed phenomena of American history.
Semple is known for her book Influences of Geographic Environment (1911), which is an explicit bowdlerisation of Ratzel’s own lectures.
About the method in the book, she points out – The writer’s own method of research has been to compare typical peoples of all stages of cultural development, living under similar geographic conditions. If these peoples of different ethnic stocks but similar environments manifested similar or related social, economic, or historical developments, it was reasonable to infer that such similarities were due to environment and not to race. Thus by extensive comparison, the race factor in these problems of two unknown quantities was eliminated for certain large classes of social and historical phenomena.
Then she pointed out man to be ‘a product of the Earth’s surface’, ‘a child of the Earth, and dust of her dust’, which had ‘entered into his bone and tissue, into his mind and soul’. But at the same time, she insisted that ‘geographical factor and influence’ shuns the word determinants and speaks with extreme caution of geographic control.
Her book revealed numerous examples which sharply contradicted her principles. The examples she used to explain her propositions were frequently so crude that they effectively constituted ‘a metaphysical assertion’ rather than ‘a basic hypothesis’.
It may be argued that claims of this sort failed to recognise that determinism was not a universal hypothesis capable of empirical validation, but rather a logical structure of cause and effect which needed to be translated into the scientifically credible vocabulary of necessity and sufficient conditions.
However, James and Martin (1981) point out two basic characteristics of Semple’s viewpoint contained in the book, (a) First, that under certain circumstances there is a tendency for people to behave in predictable ways—which is a verbal approach to probability theory, (b) Second, her ‘islands of ethnic expansion and islands of ethnic retreat’ offer an important modification for the contemporary theory of innovation dispersal.
Positivist determinism appears to be expressive in her later works on the geography of the Mediterranean, entitled The Barrier Boundary of the Mediterranean Basin and Its Northern Breaches as Factors in History and The Geography of the Mediterranean Region – Its Relation to Ancient History (1931).
Geographer # 4. Albert Perry Brigham:
Another protagonist of “the deterministic concept of the Davisian tradition” was Albert Perry Brigham who worked with Shaler and Davis at Harvard in 1891-92. He was on the faculty of Colgate University until his retirement in 1925. He held several posts in the Association of American Geographers and in 1914 he became the President of the Association.
His book ‘Geographic Influences in History’ appeared in 1903, the same year in which Semple’s book on the same subject was published. Both of them had identical views with regard to the geographic control. In fact, Brigham had a pragmatic approach towards geographic influences and control, but he rejected the climatic determinism. He sought for empirical generalisations to test the scientific validity of the paradigm of determinism.
He pointed out – “Our goal is broad generalisation. But the formulation of general laws is difficult, and the results insecure until we have a body of concrete and detailed observations. Detailed investigation of single problems … must for a long time prepares the way for the formulation of richer and more fundamental conclusions and general principles than we have yet been able to achieve”.
He was of the view that under certain favourable conditions, the inhabitants tend to behave in a predictable manner, and there the environmental control gradually becomes ineffective. Hartshorne (1976) observed that in spite of Brigham’s caution with regard to the environmental control and human response, and the need for empirical generalisation to test the alleged control and influences, many geographers continued to draw plausible, but unverified, conclusions from their studies.
Geographer # 5. Rollin D. Salisbury:
Rollin D. Salisbury, who was the Chairman of the Department of Geography at Chicago from 1903 to 1919, was sceptical about the paradigm of determinism. He rejected the idea of simple cause and effect relation between the physical Earth and the human response. To him, physiography was the scientific study of the stage setting on which the human drama unfolded, but, he said, the relation of the stage setting to human action was not a causal one.
Harlan H. Barrows, on the other hand, opposed the paradigm of determinism, offering a very careful statement, reversing the usual form. He speaks of geography as ‘the study of man’s adjustment to the natural environment’ or ‘human ecology’. He considered that geography should concentrate on the study of man’s associations with his natural environment, and that it should also concentrate on such themes as lead towards synthesis.
Adjustment was not caused by the physical environment but was a matter of human choice. He insisted that the physical conditions must be studied in relation to man. Such a view was first developed by Kirchhoff in Germany and Ratzel incorporated it in the second volume of his Anthropogeographie. Barrows’ was essentially “a pragmatic possibilism” that sought to embrace the organising freedom of man, bounded by the realities of the physical environment. His was a normative theory.
Geographer # 6. Carl O. Sauer (1924):
He was an activist of ‘the possibilist movement’ in the United States during the inter-war period. He was influenced by the concept of ‘Kulturlandschaft’ of the German geographer Otto Schluter who focused on the study of the human habitat as the creation and work-place of human groups, whose relations are conditioned by their group habitat and heritage.
Sauer called for such field studies which aimed at exposing the areal expression of man’s activities – Man, behaving in accordance with the norms of his culture, performs works on the physical and biotic features of his natural surroundings and transforms them into the cultural landscape. The design of the landscape includes the features of the natural area, and the forms superimposed on the physical landscape by the activities of man, the cultural landscape. To him Man is the latest agent in the fashioning of the landscape.
Sauer insisted that instead of going into the field with a set of a priori principles concerning the effect of the physical environment on man, one should seek to observe the facts and then draw conclusions from them. He insisted that no field of study can be defined in terms of a single causal hypothesis that would commit the students to a particular outcome of an investigation in advance.
To go into the field to look for influences or evidences of control exerted by the physical Earth (condition), is to accept a single dogma. He did not deny the possibility of environmental determinism in specific cases, but insisted that the concept of influences should be exposed to objective testing.
Carl Sauer (1925) represented geography as ‘a science that finds its entire field in the landscape’. According to him, the systematic organisation of the content of the landscape proceeds with the repression of a priori theories concerning it, so that ‘geography relies on a purely evidential system, without prepossession regarding the meaning of its evidence’.
It is concerned only to establish ‘the connections of phenomena in the visible landscape, and these connections are ones of spatial association and not, definitely not, of some hidden causality. Geography could now be established as a positive science’. In effect, his ‘morphologic method’ was simply a restatement of Comte’s designation of ‘Ie reel’ as the only appropriate domain for scientific inquiry.
Sauer’s landscape paradigm appears to be an intrinsic part of the possibilist philosophy, the focus of which was the study of on-going processes leading to landscape change up to, and including, the present and the beginning at the pre-human stage of occupancy. The human geographer must be obliged ‘to make cultural processes the base of his thinking and observation’.
Physical environment is conceived not as the principal source of explanation for the condition of the humanised cultural landscape, but rather as the setting and environmental patterning upon which agents sculpt their peculiar ideas in ways conditioned by their cultural make-up. He approached the human use of the Earth ecologically and while he was critical of the paradigm of a determinism represented in the United States by Ellen Semple, he was himself strongly influenced by ecological concepts of culture traceable to the same biological sources.
Geographer # 7. Derwent Whittlesy:
His concept of ‘sequent occupance’—’the view of geography as a succession of stages of human occupance which establishes the genetics of each stage in terms of its predecessor- represents anti-thesis of environmental determinism, or sharply contradicts the paradigm of determinism.
In a sense, the concept of sequent occupance represents a distinct form of ‘pragmatic possibilism’, as it explicitly refers to the French concept of genre de vie. ‘Sequent occupance’ tends to recognise the fact that any change in the genre de vie (way of living) of a region inevitably leads to the reappraisal of the significance of resource base.
Sequent occupance studies the ways in which each culture uses a region in its own way. This is demonstrated in America where most regions experienced a sudden change from the Indian to the European culture, and in many parts of Europe which progressed from agrarian to industrial cultures.
Sequent occupance stresses the stages in the development of a region, not through studies of local differentiation as a result of the long continued and largely undisturbed interplay of man and nature over the centuries (as in the France of Blache), but by emphasising how easily shifts in regional character can take place.
A large number of studies that appeared during 1920s and 1930s made use of the method of ‘sequent occupance’, and in this regard special mention must be made of Robert Piatt. He was a member of the Department of Geography at Chicago from 1919 to 1957.
In his works Problems of Our Time (1946) and Environmentalism vs. Geography (1948), he rejected the paradigm of determinism. In fact, he became one of the advocates of the possibilist, philosophy, and his generalisations were based on empirical observations.
Geography in the United States, during the inter-war period, however, witnessed the publication of large number of studies which emphasised over the paradigm of determinism. It was probably because of the changing ‘genre de vie’ of American people that brought about changes in the landscape through ‘innovation diffusion’ in the field of technology and science.
James and Martin (1972, 326) observe:
‘Out of these studies of sequences of development of cultural landscape vis-a-vis settlement, certain principles began to emerge. One was the principle that same physical conditions of the land could have different meaning for people with different attitudes towards their environment, different objectives in making use of it, and different levels of technological skills. In agricultural areas it was clear that slope had one meaning for the man with a hoe and quite another for the man with a tractor-drawn plow. It might be that the introduction of machinery could reduce the arable area of a country or change the kind of soil that was to be considered desirable. People with one kind of culture might concentrate their settlements on flattish uplands, whereas another people in the same area might concentrate in the valleys. Water power sites that were useful for the location of industries before the advent of steam lost that attraction when power came from the other sources.’