4 minute read

Geography

Military And Public Geography

If geography has had a mixed reception in research universities, its ideas and practitioners have been embraced by both the military and the public sectors. Thus Napoléon Bonaparte (1769–1821) not only developed strategy based on knowledge of geography but also sponsored a translation of Strabo's Geography. Following the Napoleonic Wars there was a great interest in geographical exploration worldwide, especially the interiors of the continents (little known at the time), and geographical societies were founded in major cities. Furthermore, instruction in geography has been part of the training in service academies ever since. There is, understandably, an increased interest in geographical intelligence during times of war in all of the military services—navy, army, and air forces—which engage in so-called defense studies and mapping. Thus during World War II the British Royal Navy, Naval Intelligence Division, commissioned a series of handbooks on the geography of various areas that were later declassified and made available to general libraries. This was also true of maps made by the U.S. Army Map Service and of charts, the work of various hydrographic services together with coastal studies in the form of navigational pilot books. The role of air forces is well-known in not only providing the means for aerial reconnaissance but also in sponsoring aeronautical chart series at "geographical" scales. Thus map coverage of the Earth on the scale of 1:1,000,000, begun through the efforts of Albrecht Penck (1858–1945) as the International Map of the World (IMW), was completed at this scale by the maps of the U.S. Aeronautical Chart and Information Service during World War II. Ironically the United States had not officially cooperated with the IMW, but the private American Geographical Society of New York mapped all of Latin America at this scale. Furthermore, as a result of wartime experience, many returning veterans in several countries during this period made careers in applied or theoretical geography, some founding or working in geography departments, which were established in many colleges and universities in the 1940s and 1950s. These personnel are now mostly retired, or deceased, and later wars did not produce a similar great expansion in academic geography. In fact some of the then newly created departments, especially in the United States, were merged with other instructional units, renamed, or terminated. This is attributable to a number of causes, not least the abandonment of the geography department at Harvard University during the presidency of the scientist James Conant (1893–1978). The Harvard precedent was followed by other, even public, institutions that formerly had strong departments of geography. These universities often have splendid map collections, which find little use among students and faculty not geographically "literate."

Just as geography is essential to the military establishment, so it is valued in the public, civilian sector. Thus, that most fundamental of human geographical distributions, population itself, is of the greatest interest to census bureaus of various countries and internationally, with the United Nations having a vital concern with demography. Similarly, topographic and land use data of various scales is essential to the effective administration of urban and rural areas in the form of maps and reports. Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), who also sponsored geographical exploration and wrote an important geographical treatise, well understood this, and he initiated the United States Public Land Survey, passed into law as the Land Ordinance of 1785 and first applied in Ohio. Subsequently recti-linear surveys expanded over three-quarters of the United States, which became the public domain, thereby transforming the American landscape and producing a torrent of cadastral maps, plat books, and county atlases in the nineteenth century, and beyond. Also, between World War I and World War II, the detailed Land Utilisation Survey of Britain was conducted under the direction of L. Dudley Stamp (1889–1966), and it has had a profound effect on the economic life of that area (despite its title, Scotland was not covered). The idea was to make a record of existing land uses and to plan for the future. By 1940 the survey was essentially complete and proved of enormous value to Britain as it expanded its agricultural production during World War II. The concept was adopted by other, especially densely settled, countries and gave rise to the formation of the Commission of the International Geographical Union (IGU) on land use.

The remarkable expansion and improvement of highways of all kinds during this period led to the production of road data, published by government highway departments, automobile clubs, or oil and tire companies in many countries, becoming perhaps the most commonly available geographical source material worldwide. To a lesser or greater degree all government departments from foreign offices to small municipalities require geographical data, and more personnel are needed to process this information than are trained in existing educational institutions. However, the great success of geography in these applied fields has not been matched by similar success in theoretical realms in recent years, which will be the subject of most of the remainder of this essay.

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