Reply To: Human geography

  • Encyclios

    April 24, 2023 at 9:47 AM

    The hard core of the paradigm of classical human geography

    What differentiates one region of the Earth from another is first and foremost the number of inhabitants. Starting from density maps, geographers assess the pressure that human groups exert on the environment, thus setting up the fundamental problem of any ecological approach: how the population of the area under consideration succeeds in deriving its livelihood from the local ecological context, to what extent it changes it, and whether this action is irreversible. The cartography of densities goes hand in hand with the physiocratic orientation of this first type of human geography and its special interest in everything related to rural and pastoral life.

    The study of production places in the foreground the analysis of human activities, which, moreover, are not all intended to satisfy material needs: in fact, man needs to create a living environment for himself and to organize places where he can feel safe, rest, gather as a family and meet his fellow human beings.The description of human activities would be a boundless task if there were not a certain order and certain regularities were not evident. In societies where the division of labor is little advanced and the way of life remains rural in nature, the necessities associated with the calendar of crops and livestock are manifested almost unchanged in the use of time by both men and women.This conclusion is reached by describing the various ‘kinds of life,’ a concept that from Vidal de la Blache onward becomes fundamental to all classical geography.

    Among other things, the study of the kinds of life serves to understand how humans fit into the environment; ecology does not yet have operational concepts to propose, as the idea of ecosystem and the analysis of the energy cycle have not made their appearance. In the description of the kind of life, the complex of land-use activities is examined, how natural vegetation is regulated, utilized or replaced by crop associations, and how crops are consumed. The main part of these is used for human food (on site or elsewhere, if production is put on the market), another part serves for domestic animals, and the remainder provides raw materials (e.g., textile fibers) for industries. Fertility conservation and soil erosion control techniques are not all equally effective: in exploiting the planet, humans are usually prescient, but sometimes endanger the natural heritage.

    In order to live long, it is not enough to produce enough, as numerous diseases loom over humans: the resulting risks are usually greatest where the relationship life is most active and in environments where certain pathogen complexes thrive. Medical geography represents another important contribution of the classical method to the analysis of the role of humans in ecosystems.

    Because of their naturalistic orientation and the emphasis on population density and consequent ecological pressure, classical geographers devote more time to analyzing the ‘vertical’ relationships established by humans with their environment than to elucidating the ‘horizontal’ interhuman linkages; however, this aspect is not neglected, although it is not considered primary. Ratzel and Vidal de la Blache both insist on the importance of circulation phenomena, without which the spread of innovations would not be understood: to them societies modernized by the transportation and industrial revolutions owe their increasing independence from their surroundings. In this regard, Vidal de la Blache developed, especially towards the end of his career, some original insights, which, however, were not taken up by his continuators.

    The study of circulation introduces the evolutionary dimension into classical geography: the problems of primitive cultures, totally dependent on a circumscribed and nearby environment, have little in common with those of modern urban dwellers, whose food supplies not infrequently come from other continents. The succession of forms of enhancement and peopling now attracts geographers, who often devote their best essays to it. Because they generally preserve the imprints of previous situations, landscapes lend themselves to archaeological interpretations. Both the Germans and the American Sauer and his pupils are inclined to analyze landscapes minutely and the way in which they are periodically reorganized; in France, on the other hand, attention is given, rather than to them, to men and the structures they create: hence the prominence given to regional studies.