The Way of the World

The Way of the World

The Way of the World

The Way of the World

Excerpt

Geography isn't what it used to be. This, perhaps, is just as well, since for many of us the word merely conjures up painful memories of childhood hours spent wrestling with the tributaries of the Mississippi and, even worse, with

. . . alle the havens, as they were,
From Gootland to the Cape of Fynystere,
And every cryke in Britaigne and in Spayne.

As a matter of fact, even in Chaucer's time, there was much more to being a geographer than dexterity with place names. The geographers of his day--"cosmographers" was their more usual name then-were men of broad-gauge minds, skilled in the arts of mensuration, navigation, and mapping, and equally well versed in history, theology, and natural lore. Their books were monuments of erudition: the world was their parish, and they strode across it in seven-league boots, describing volcanic activity here, social customs there, and climatic influences elsewhere, and citing authorities at every step. Frequently they overshot their borders and marched off into terra incognita, about which they were wont to write with equal authority, if fewer footnotes.

With the proliferation of academic subjects in later times, the geographer evacuated (albeit reluctantly) part of the parish in favor of his younger brethren in the newly established physical and biological sciences, and began to devote himself more particularly to the exploration and description of the earth's surface. Even this left him with plenty to do. When the Ameri can Geographical Society . . .

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