1 minute read


Geographical Determinism

A concept that retarded the acceptance of geography as a serious academic endeavor until quite recently was geographical determinism. Although stemming from earlier work by the German geographer and ethnographer Friedrich Ratzel (1844–1904), with adherents in other European countries, the high priestess of this cult in the United States was Ellen C. Semple (1863–1932); another American espouser of "determinism" was Ellsworth Huntington (1876–1947). In its extreme expression the theory asserts that the work of humans is controlled or "determined" by geographical conditions: climate, landforms, and the like. This idea was opposed by the scientifically trained English scholar Eva G. R. Taylor (1879–1966) and others in Britain, France, and elsewhere. The debate continued throughout the twentieth century, but has few adherents in the early 2000s. An alternative to determinism was proposed, namely possibilism, which suggests that humans have a number of possibilities from which to select. Possibilism apparently owed its origin to the French geographer Paul Vidal de la Blache (1845–1918), who, with his followers, never accepted the concept of determinism. At this time most of the world, including North America, was influenced by European ideas so that traditional, indigenous geographies became subsumed under colonial and other European ideology. Thus India, under British rule, became one of the best studied and surveyed areas in the world. China, Japan, and Korea resisted this cultural hegemony, but eventually accepted it.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Gastrula to Glow dischargeGeography - The Nature Of Geography, Geographical Determinism, Military And Public Geography, Geographical Theories, The Limits In Geography