Geography in History Education: Effective Integration Strategies and Examples

By Rocca, Al M. | Social Studies Review, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

Geography in History Education: Effective Integration Strategies and Examples


Rocca, Al M., Social Studies Review


"As Geography without History seemeth a carkasse without motion; so History without Geography wandreth as a Vagrant without: a certaine habitation."

-Captain John Smith

INTRODUCTION

Noted historian Michael Kammen, writing in his well received summary of the state of historical investigation and the teaching of history, The Past Before Us (1980), recognized the importance of geography. He noted that the integration of geographical interpretations into historical studies is long overdue, and he maintained that even those historians with "training in geography" were now becoming more sensitive to the "role of the environment, material resources, and land use in human history." Kammen commended the work of the French historians known as the Annalistes group, that pioneered serious investigations into historical geography and he praised them for their "finely attuned sense of place" and their ability to explain historical events through geography. Kammen pointed to the work of geographer Paul English and his book City and Village Life in Iran. English connected the historical pattern of urban domination as being influenced heavily by the importance of carpet weaving and over-reliance of export trade. Lastly, Kammen urged that the teaching of local history cannot be successful without comparative geographical analysis that delineates unique physical and social attributes.

Since Kammen's work in 1980 we have seen the formal teaching of geography de-emphasized in both the K-12 and college curriculum. Community colleges and fouryear universities have down-sized their geography departments, or worse yet, eliminated geography courses completely. Every year national educational surveys and standardized-test scores point to an increasing lack of geographic knowledge about local, regional, national or global geography. Even D. W. Meinig's bold attempt to re-write American history in his massive three-volume compilation entitled, The Shaping of America: A Geographic Perspective on 500 Years of History has not made a significant impact among historians, educators or the general public. However, a few bold geographers have stepped forward and connected with their history colleagues to influence history-social science curriculum, particularly at the K-12 level.

In California, Christopher "Kit" Salter was one of those geographers. He served as the geographic consultant on the 1987 History-Social Science Framework Committee. A look at the Course Descriptions in the California History-Social Science Framework clearly reveals the concept that history and geography are considered of equal importance in curriculum content and should be integrated throughout all units of study. Grades 5, 8, and 11 give course descriptors as, "United States History and Geography," while grades 6, 7, and 10 are titled, "World History and Geography." As a member ofthat Framework committee, I distinctly recall Salter arguing persuasively for more geography content in the new social studies curriculum and for a new integrative approach. He provided one example after another of how geography greatly influenced significant historical events. In a short time, he certainly had convinced me, and the committee at large, of geography's importance. Interestingly, Salter did not convince us to just add more formal geography units into the curriculum, or even offer more formal geography courses, but rather to think about integrating geography comprehensively and effectively into history. The result is not only seen in the Framework, but in the ensuing HistorySocial Science Academic Content Standards.

GEOGRAPHY INTEGRATlON STRATEGIES

One convenient method for integrating geography into the history curriculum involves considering the five themes of geography. Each theme has applications in every history unit. Teachers need to revisit the themes, as laid out in the Framework, and consider integrating them in a regular and purposeful manner. …

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