Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Visions of la Geographie Humaine in Twentieth-Century France

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Visions of la Geographie Humaine in Twentieth-Century France

Article excerpt

In the western suburbs of Paris lies a remarkable property incorporating an elegant Japanese garden (Figure 1), a stretch of pine forest evocative of the Vosges, and a formal French garden. At the center stands a fine pavilion, and several detached houses are found within the confines of this welcome green space. The estate was landscaped by a Jewish banker and still bears his name: Jardin Albert Kahn. The Musee Albert Kahn is accommodated in one of the houses. Fascinated by the landscapes and peoples he encountered on business trips, Kahn sought to promote international understanding (Beausoleil and Ory 1995). He was drawn to the fledgling discipline of geography, served as a benefactor for travel scholarships and a prestigious academic post, and established a remarkable resource base. By 1931 this would include 72,000 photographic plates and 183,000 meters of film. He supported la geographie humaine through promoting the career of Jean Brunhes (1869-1930), who operated beyond French university life at the very distinguished College de France, where lectures were delivered but no degrees awarded.

Between the two world wars geography had become firmly established in lycee (high school) programs in France and was gradually developing an identity distinct from that of history, with which it continued to be taught. The community of university geographers remained small, and patronage was a powerful force in academic life. It allowed some scholars to escape from lycee teaching programs and become university professors but ensured that others, whose personalities, beliefs, or views did not fit, remained beyond or on the margins of the university world. The main cluster of geographical activity, in terms of academics and students, was at the Sorbonne in Paris, where Emmanuel de Martonne (1873-1955) and Albert Demangeon (1872-1940) led the Institut de Geographie and proclaimed the message of their master, Paul Vidal de La Blache (1845-1918). The only provincial center of any significance was the Institut de Geographie Alpine at Grenoble, where Raoul Blanchard (1877-1965) promoted physical, regional, and, to a lesser extent, economic studies. The present essay does not focus on the practice of geography at the Sorbonne but, rather, explores the lives and works of two well-qualified but nonetheless "marginal" scholars, Jean Brunhes and Pierre Deffontaines, who exercised their influence in other milieus. Critical attention is also devoted to Geographie Humaine, the three-dozen-volume series that Deffontaines edited for the publisher Gaston Gallimard (1881-1975).

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The role of publishers as "gatekeepers" in shaping geographical knowledge and orchestrating the work of scholars has not received the attention it deserves (Clout 2003a). Nonetheless, it is clear that Max Leclerc (d. 1932), managing director of the company founded by Armand Colin (1842-1900), performed a major role in the publishing history of Vidal and his disciples (Clout 2003b). Leclerc shared Colin's enthusiasm for the new discipline of geography and its potential for promoting nation building and citizenship. He accepted doctoral dissertations by the Vidalians for publication, sometimes insisting that presentation be modified, and then published subsequent monographs and textbooks; together with Vidal he conceived the Geographie Universelle series (Clout 2003c). The varying intensity of friendship among the most faithful Vidalians--Lucien Gallois, Emmanuel de Martonne, Albert Demangeon, Jules Sion, Antoine Vacher, and Henri Baulig--has been discussed recently, as has their more distant relationship with Raoul Blanchard, Jean Brunhes, and Camille Vallaux (Clout 2003b, 2003d).

By exploring conditions when the number of professional geographers in France was small and academic patronage was intense, my current objective is to trace the vision of human geography that was initiated by Brunhes, developed by Deffontaines (1894-1978), ably assisted by Brunhes' daughter, Mariel (1905-2001), and presented in Geographie Humaine, the series published by Gallimard. …

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