How has man affected geography in the history of the world?

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  • 1 decade ago
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    brief history of Geography


    From the earliest times, people have sought to understand the world around them. For millenia, knowing where the herds would move next, or the best places to gather fruits and grains, was a key to survival. Humanity's essential nomadic nature has also expressed itself in early trade routes; it was an advantage to know where the people who had the things you wanted were, and where the people who wanted the things you had were.

    Although the first real geography experiment was probably Eratosthenes' measuring the circumference of the Earth, through all this time, geography was purely descriptive. It was important to know things were, but not necessarily so important to understand why they were there. To the Greeks and Romans, "geography" mostly meant compiling gazeteers, the best-known of which were produced by Claudius Ptolemy and Strabo.


    During the Middle Ages, European knowledge of the world was regressed into a religious iconography which reinforced the power structures of the time. The Chinese, with an empire to manage, understood their land much better. As with most other classical fields of knowledge, Islamic scholars preserved geography through this period. The legendary mathemetician and geographer Al-Khwarizmi expanded on Ptolemy's gazeteer, and this is what was introduced back into the West during the Renaissance. Knowledge of far-away places inspired some people to go look for them, and the Age of Discovery (and Colonialism, and Slavery) resulted.

    Exploration and exploitation

    All of this changed during the Age of Discovery/Colonialism. Europeans ran across the New World because of geographical ignorance, but the little knowledge of the world they did have gave them the power to conquer it. Between episodes of abusing native peoples, the explorers and conquerors occasionally remarked on how things were different from their homes. Cartography advanced during this period as well, as colonial powers sought to map their new empires. Sea monsters used to fill in the empty spaces on maps were a nice touch.


    Upon occasion, late 18th and early 19th century naturalists would pause in their collecting to remark on how what they collected varied from place to place, and to speculate on why that was. One of the most perceptive was Charles Darwin, who saw how the isolation of the Galapagos Islands created ecological niches that the creatures who drifted there evolved to fill. Alexander von Humboldt's journey through the Americas caused him to write about many topics of vegetation geography and geomorphology. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark described the native peoples they encountered in their expeditions. The notes John Wesley Powell took while he and his men shot the Grand Canyon in 1863 produced a vivid portrait of how and why the canyon got there.

    The first thematic maps also appeared in the early 19th century, turning cartography into a tool for explanation. Doctor John Snow's famous map of cholera deaths in London may be the first time a map was used to solve a public health problem. In 1869, Charles Joseph Minard produced a map illustrating Napoleon's Grande Armee evaporating as it marched across Russia during the fall and winter of 1812.

    Geography began to develop as an academic discipline from geology departments in the mid-19th century. The first acadmic geography chairs were endowed in 1874 by Kaiser Wilhelm I for all Prussian universities. In America, William Morris Davis, inspired by Charles Darwin, began laying out his theories of geomorphological processes. In the 1890s Russian geographer Count Vladimir Köppen devised the very first soil classification system, from which we get to use wonderful words such as podzol and chernozem.

    The early 20th century saw the birth of the first glimmerings of geography's vast potential to explain humanity: the notion that cultures are shaped by the natural environments in which they develop, environments that ultimately derive from their locations. However, this "environmental determinism" became warped, pressed into serving the national and racial superiority theories prevalent in some cultures at the time.

    Navel examination

    Meanwhile, Carl O. Sauer began a movement transformed American academic geography. Sauer, based at the University of California, Berkeley, stressed "historical geography", that is, understanding an entire landscape, and all of its influences throughout history. Such in-depth knowledge required geographers to specialize in particular regions of the world. Unfortunately, this was carried out to an absurd degree. One of the stories of this time tells of one student writing his Master's thesis on the soils of a particular county in Michigan, with his classmates writing theirs on the soils of neighboring counties.

    At the same time, geography departments embarked on a vast campaign of data collection and classification. All this raw data had a vast

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