The Spirit and Purpose of Geography

By S. W. Wooldridge; W. Gordon East | Go to book overview
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It is one of the glories of modern knowledge that the study of geography has been transformed. . . . The proper study of man's habitat is one of the triumphs of the rational spirit.

K. B. SMELLIE, Why We Read History ( 1947).

The Concise Oxford Dictionary declares soberly under "geography": "Science of the earth's surface, form, physical features, and political divisions, climate, productions, population, etc."

This definition is true without being either very helpful or illuminating to the serious student of the subject. Even this brief statement would make it appear that the scope of geography is distractingly wide and its aim far from clear. The form of this earth is strictly the concern of geodesy, its physical features are, in part at least, the concern of the geologist, and its climates the result of meteorological processes, the study of which is a branch of applied physics. No less does the explanation of its political divisions appear to fall to the historian, since they are the outcome of long-term human processes--migrations, wars, revolutions and the complex sequence of political and social change. "Production," it is true, is in one aspect an affair of geography, but it is also more especially the concern of economics. Similarly, although the distribution of population is plainly of geographical interest, much has been written on population and its problems which is outside both the interest and the competence of the geographer.

The only phrases in the dictionary definition on which we have made no comment are those which pre-empt for geography the "earth's surface" and its "natural divisions." It might well


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