North American Exploration - Vol. 1

By John Logan Allen | Go to book overview

2 / Native North Americans' Cosmological Ideas and Geographical Awareness: Their Representation and Influence on Early European Exploration and Geographical Knowledge

G. MALCOLM LEWIS

If the earth's surface were homogeneous in every respect and all peoples were cognitively and culturally the same, there would be one earth- wide environment and a simple set of recurring spatial relationships. There would then be no need for exploration or for geography. Indeed, geography would be inconceivable in that it would have no basis in reality. In fact, of course, the earth's surface, at whatever scale it is considered, is heterogeneous. Man's environments and the characteristics of particular places are diverse. Likewise, the spatial relationships between these environments are incredibly complex. Such diversity and complexity compel awareness by individuals. That awareness, when shared between them, may become formalized, institutionalized, and given a name: in the Graeco-Roman tradition, geography; in the Chinese tradition, ti li; in the much later Germanic tradition, erdkunde; and so on. In intellectually less developed cultures such awareness lacks a formal status but exists as part of uncategorized lore. Since people occupy different parts of a heterogeneous earth surface, exhibit a range of cognitive styles, and have achieved a diversity of cultural conditions, the content and structure of their awareness differs.

Inevitably, therefore, there are and always have been many geographies: different in content; different in structure; and different in the balance and relationship between components obtained through direct experience, those that are communicated by others and those that are derived

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