A "Caesarian," "Augustan," or "Justinian" Worldview of Theoretical and Quantitative Geography?

Article excerpt

An evolving world view of theoretical and quantitative geography is presented using an analogy from the development of the ancient Roman and Byzantine Empires between Julius Caesar in the first century BC to Justinian in the sixth century AD. This is used to set the discussion platform for a series of papers presented by participants from the early days of quantitative revolution in geography and its transformation into a robust and relevant spatial science. Current theoretical and quantitative geography needs to be, first, active in developing new ideas and applications, second, to continue to transform its methodology to be more societally relevant and scientifically robust and, third, to actively engage cultural critiques of these processes.

Background

As chair of the Commission on Modelling Geographical Systems (CMGS) of the International Geographical Union (IGU), I would like to thank Alan Murray for the opportunity to publish a series of papers from a special event at the ICU Regional conference in Brisbane (July 3-7, 2006), "'Legends' in Quantitative Geography and Geographic Information Science." These sessions represent the fruition of an ambitious idea which I was told would be virtually impossible to achieve. Today shows that all things are possible, if people, who are committed to the intellectual and societal worth of quantitative and theoretical geography, can work toward a common goal. In this regard, I am particularly indebted to Bob Stimson as convenor of the Australian Research Council Research Network in Spatially Integrated Social Sciences (ARCRNSISS) with his executive, for cosponsoring these sessions and to the eminent panel of scholars who participated in the three sessions.

The idea of holding "Legends" sessions came after Barry Boots and myself put together a series of papers in a special edition of the Journal of Geographical Systems from the IGUCMGS Conference in Glasgow in 2004 and Professor Peter Haggett, who was present, provided a retrospective overview of the papers and reflections of how the discipline had evolved since the 1960s. The seminal work by Chorley and Haggett (1967) in Models in Geography was a catalyst and confirmation that models should be an integral part in the evolution of geographical knowledge. This Glasgow connection of the present with the past seemed to me to be a very valuable exercise as Peter was but one of a series of names I had read or corresponded to as a postgraduate student in the 1970s. The results of the quantitative revolution in geography from the 1960s and 1970s were very exciting to read. There was an intellectual freedom and expectation to develop new ideas and techniques from a plethora of other disciplines. It was like an explorer being encouraged to go into new territory and make discoveries and parallelled the explosion of generational change in the culture and music of the 1960s. Further, I was also fortunate to be supervised by Barry Garner at UNSW who was part of Peter Haggett's network in the diffusion of quantitative techniques (see Haggett 2008).

The "Caesarian" worldview

The analogy I would like to use to give some perspective to these events is the evolution of the Roman Empire. I want to set a novel context for reviewing the quantitative revolution with the themes of "new territory," "transformation," and "contestability" within the broader discipline of geography.

Julius Caesar in his conquests of Gaul and much of central Europe (even mounting an expedition to Britain) between 58 and 51 BC (and the publishing of his history The Gallic Wars in AD 54) was the major mechanism for the imposition of Roman order and culture (though borrowed heavily from the Greeks) upon the barbarian nations. Likewise, the essence of the quantitative revolution was to use models and scientific method to seek order in spatial patterns and processes over a plethora of descriptive and regional geographies of the 1950s. …