A Geographical Introduction to History

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

PART I
HOW THE PROBLEM SHOULD BE STATED

THE QUESTION OF METHOD

Of all the workers whom the Année Sociologique brought together, Émile Durkheim was the first, as we have said, who brought his critical reflection to bear on modern geography and its recent attempts at co-operation in the rational study of man. After him--with sometimes a slight difference of form--pupils and successors have manifested the same spirit. The starting-point which all adopt is very clear.

The typical and acknowledged representative of the "human geographers" is F. Ratzel. Now Ratzel in the Anthropogeographie, his most comprehensive work and his masterpiece, sets out to study all the influences which the soil may exercise on social life in general. Such a design is chimerical.1

It is beyond the powers of a single man. That is obvious, and is no objection. But it is beyond the power of a single science. This needs to be stated, because it is not generally understood. For the multitude of problems which are thus set is really infinite. And, what is more serious--for after all when we have the principles established and the rules fixed, the solution of an infinite number of problems is only a matter of time and patience--these problems are heterogeneous. So absolutely heterogeneous that a wise division of labour is indispensable.

It is possible that the nature of the soil and the nature of the climate have an influence on the collective outlook of men, on the myths, the legends and the arts of different peoples. That has to be determined; but is it not for religious sociology, or even for aesthetic sociology, to develop the study of such influences?

____________________
1
Durkheim, XVII, Vol. III, 1898-9, p. 356.

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