Discuss the future of human geography with reference to the approaches that have emerged since the 1950s.
Geography found its roots during periods of exploration when man's knowledge of the world was still subject to the imagination. For many decades, Europe and the British Empire in particular formed much of what cartography is today, and environmental determinism was widely used to serve imperialist needs. Many ideas and theories were highly influenced and composed by upper class academics and soon critiques were formed. During the mid 1930s, environmental determinism lost much of its support and regional geography fell into to favour. Soon however, regional geography was also criticised due to its limiting scope and constricting laws. This resulted in post war geography entering a dark period with a dwindling future due the feeling of the subject’s uselessness. Geography progressed well since the founding of the AAG and each well-known definition had its success. These definitions tended to aim to displace one another turn by turn and each definition spoke something true of geography but soon from the vantage point of the future we also saw the failures in them (W.Pattinson, 1964). Each definition had its own shortcomings and that was a result of professional specialization of certain fields yet still contributing to geography as a whole.
But during the late 1950s to early 1960s the quantitative revolution shifted the paradigm of spatial geography. Many saw that geography was losing support and it certainly was in universities, Harvard abolished the subject in 1948. Geography and the disciplines related to the subject needed to turn to physical and engineering sciences for the vitality it lacked (A.Strahler). Therefore the subject entered a far more scientific era and soon gained greater credibility as a result. Essentially this revolution led to a change from idiographic geography to law-making geography. Two of the leading geographers in the revolution were Richard Hartsthorne and Fred Schaefer. Hartsthorne’s manifesto for the discipline depicted the discipline as a coherent academic subject that used formulae to map landforms as well as to describe areas. However, Hartshtorne was heavily criticised for being overly descriptive and unnecessary. Schaefer argued that there was a need for the subject to be treated as a proper science, in particular he said there was a need for scientific analysis and not “mere description”. He wanted generalisations to be bought back into geography such as systematic analysis. Soon other definitions were being discredited during this paradigm shift such as military geopolitics (F.Ratzel) because geography had become more scientific. A few definitions were created to try and distinguish what geography was and where it was.
Richard Hartsthorne’s publication in 1939 spurred geography on to be far more scientific and law based. Hartsthorne defined 3 variables; humans, landscape and industry which became apart of his overcomplicated formulas that described regions and features. His findings were still heavily influenced by spatial geography causing them to be restricted by laws that allowed no room for human geographers to present their views. In a sense, you could take this as a positive, in that Hartsthorne was trying to unify geography under one banner but as we have seen over time, this is against the nature of the discipline. This numerical approach sparked other geographers to think of a more descriptive angle that asked more, why things happen.
William D. Pattinson’s journal titled the “Four Traditions of Geography” classifies geography into 4 distinctly logical areas. Originally written in 1964 and then revisited in 1990, Pattinson tries to distinguish geography into to 4 areas, 3 of which are applied to human geography and the 4th is mainly physical yet still linked to the aforementioned 3. The 4 traditions as defined by Pattinson are Spatial, Area Studies, Earth science...
References: Cutter S.L, Golledge R., Graff W.L, (2002) ‘The Big Questions in Geogarphy’, The Professional Geographer, 54:3, 305-317
Hartshorne R 1939 The Character of Regional Geography in Agnew J, Livingstone DN and Rogers A (eds) 1996 Human Geography: an Essential Anthology Oxford: Blackwell. Pp. 388-397
Johnston, R. (2002) ‘Reflections on Nigel Thrift’s optimism: political strategies to implement his vision’ Geoforum 33 421-425
Ratzel, F. (1894) ‘Volkerkunde’ vol.2
Schaefer F K 1953 Exceptionalism in geography: a methodological examination Annals of the Association of American Geographers 43: 226-249.
Strahler.A, (1952) ‘Dynamic basis of geomorphology’,The ‘Quantitative Revolution’, GG3012(NS) Lecture 4, University of Aberdeen, 2011, webpage: http://homepages.abdn.ac.uk/n.spedding/pages/gg3012/qrev.html
Thrift, N.,(2002) ‘The future of geography’. Geoforum 33, 291–298.
Pattinson, W. (1964) ‘The Four Traditions’, Journal of Geography pp. 202 - 206
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