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Yet America is a poem in our eyes; its ample geography dazzles the imagination, and it will not wait...
Emerson, Ralph Waldo
How does "geography" influence any nation's development?
The phrase "geography is destiny," is more a polemical if not political statement than an adequate academic reflection of how landforms and water systems affect the course of human settlement. There are many forms of determinism -- but geographical is related to environmental determinism and both can be traced at least to the historian Herodotus, in ancient Greece, but Clarence Glacken has deeply analyzed the tendency from then until Darwin's time showing that many great thinkers have attributed the success of failure of ethnic minorities, their nationalities and states, or even empires to the environment.
The most famous statement of geographical determinism, elicited its finest expression in the writings of D. H. Lawrence, who insisted among the northern peoples there was a sort of "ice wisdom." This knowledge from the ice age was the very sort of blood knowledge that tropical people's do not possess because they did not experience the ten or more glaciating advances during the last million years that tested the metal of European, Asiatic and North American peoples.
The idea that knowledge is passed in the blood from generation to generation was refuted by Darwin, and later Mendel, and then again by contemporary genetics. Yet the belief that we are shaped by environmental circumstances remained alive in the medical professions. The bias today is that human nature is shaped by our inheritance. That inheritance is largely the product of environmental change and biological adaptations to that change, or at least that is the way a popular construction of environmental determinism explains our fate. We live at the mercy of an angry god who created the landscape as a test of our skills. Shaped by the land we perish under the weight of its natural laws. Malaria or literally "bad air" (mal + aria) was attributed to hot, humid and virtually unhealthy vapors emitted from swamps and low lying areas. Some places can be bad, after all, Kentucke, in the Shawnee language meant "a dark and bloody ground."
Nothing is more persistent in its perniciousness than a pervasive idea that refuses to submit to rational explanation. Environmental determinism is just one form of geographical prison that we confront. People are inferior to other people because of their geographical situation, living conditions and exposure to nature, is the most pernicious manifestation of this belief. In 19th century London, during repeated Cholera epidemics, the ruling classes and the educated elites all blamed the poor for the disease due to their slovenly habits. The spread of the disease in the hot summer months was said to be due to geography of squalid, tenement living conditions.
But was environment the immediate cause of their behavior and the underlying cause of their death from this horrible disease? Before railroads, which needed to adhere to geographical contours such as following water sources and river valleys through mountain passes, the food people consumed was based on geography so the idea that health and disease, food and malnutrition, and success or failure where entwined with geography was common place. Even when Adam Smith extolled the virtues of the markets, the size and location of markets --studied by economic geographers-- became a matter of placement along a river, or other artery of travel. Commerce seemed to funnel through high mountain passes, water bodies, or stall, for a while, at the falls in a river system.
Geography or the tug of space on its inhabitants seemed to explain why Greece dominated the early mediterranean, how China dominated Asia, why Spain ruled the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, or why Britain was inhabited the world's shopkeepers." Geography determined one's sphere of authority and territorial hegemony. Or did it? Environmental history has to marry geography to ecology and it must discard the habit of determinism, since geographical, genetic,economic or environmental determinism are all traps to ensnare the mind from thinking more deeply about where we are.
She provokes us with this covert geography and that is the territory for the ecological historian to traverse, describe and perhaps discover unseen pitfalls. ?
JVS, August 10, 2007
Geography to know:
Fifty (50) answers or 2, two points per answer.
Geography is destiny. Except when it isn't.
Ralph Waldo Emerson,
History and geography, in Rousseau’s view (1762) like ". . . most of the problems of education are problems of motivation, as teachers try. . . ."
quoted in The Rise and Fall of Childhood, by C. John Sommerville
Long-term means geological time or millions of years. Over such a time span no one can promote their self-interest, because it would take a genetic investment in the future.
And selecting for traits to last over the long-term in the genetic sense often selects against short-term gains.
Irrational preoccupation with soil, blood, property and one's identity is inherently human; perhaps a waste of the unused portions of the prefrontal cortex, but a human characteristic all the same.
Knowledge is always enveloped by uncertainty, restricted by experience, access, and curiosity–but surely knowing is intrinsically circumscribed by physical, chemical, geological and biological conditions such that knowledge is the exception to the more general rule of ignorance.