A Geographical Introduction to History

By Lionel Bataillon; Lucien Febvre et al. | Go to book overview

A GEOGRAPHICAL INTRODUCTION TO HISTORY

INTRODUCTORY: THE PROBLEM OF GEOGRAPHICAL INFLUENCES

THERE are two problems, we do not say great problems, for that would imply the existence of fixed data and preliminary certainties which are lacking in this case, but two vast and confused collections of ill-defined questions by which everyone who is interested in history is at once confronted. Two words, two labels rather, are sufficient to mark them. We call them commonly the "Problem of Race" and the "Problem of Environment", and it is of the second of these that we wish to state the terms. But how are we to begin? How should we conceive a general geographical introduction to the various special volumes of an elaborate enterprise of scientific synthesis? Let us attempt to set it out clearly, for this is no superfluous precaution.

We are proposing to consider, in one small book of four hundred pages, the vast question of the relation of the land to human societies and of human societies to the land. We propose to increase our difficulties by transposing the problem into terms of time, and by asking ourselves what conditions are imposed on history--imposed in advance--by the habitable earth, the U+03ἰκουμένη of Humboldt, the œcumene of Ratzel, in its different portions and varying states. If it were a case of trying to arrive at positive results, of stating definite conclusions, and dogmatically formulating laws, would not the attempt be fantastic, not to say contrary to reason? Ought we not to emphasize at the outset that there cannot be, and ought not to be, a question here of anything but setting our feet upon the right road--of a critical and thoughtful examination of the problem itself, in fine?


I
History and Traditional Position of the Problem

We should certainly not be treading on Virgin soil if we took things otherwise. Precedents and precursors are not wanting.

-1-

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