A Geographical Introduction to History

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

CHAPTER 11
THE QUESTION OF PRINCIPLE AND THE METHOD OF RESEARCH-- HUMAN EVOLUTION, HISTORIC EVOLUTION

YOU have wisely thrown out ballast, we shall be told. It is plain that by taking things in this way, by reducing geographical pretensions to their lowest terms, by claiming for anthropogeographers merely a share, sometimes more, sometimes less, of collaboration in a work of general explanation, you escape that reproach of ambition which sociologists bring so vehemently against those whom they all confuse, either purposely or carelessly, with the impenitent Ratzelians.

Yes, we escape it--but only to expose ourselves to objections of another nature. There are two of these, more especially, which we must now state as clearly as possible, and discuss. One concerns the principle. There is, of course, nothing irremediable in the errors with which sociologists reproach geographers, who are taxed by them with ambition in every sense of the word. If the latter claim simply for geography-- as they are doing more and more, and with good reason-- a variable share in the explanation of facts infinitely complex, without deriving them from the mechanical action of a rigorous determinism, they will be free from the charge. But they will not create a science by so doing. This, it is plain, is a fundamental objection, and one which must be closely examined. The other, though merely a question of method, is not less serious: geographers, faced with inextricably involved and complex phenomena, study them as they are presented, alleging that the different series of which they are composed act and react and so among themselves explain one another. This is an error of method. The true line to follow would be to analyse the complexes minutely, to decompose them into their several elements, and to study these one by one in a definite manner, separating each one from

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