Since greade school I have been fascinated by geography. Geography is not an easy disipline to define in part because of all the different braches of geography and the activities with which geograophers are involved. The basic definition is smething along the line of the study of the aerial differentiation of the earth's surface. People from ancient times have written about geography. Only since World War II, however, were plate tectonics understood which are the primary mechanism of geological change that are reponsible for geographic features. What originally attracted me to geography was the vast physical and human differences around the world. Only gradually did I become aware of how important geography was in so many aspects of human endevor. This has included both history and clothing, the two major aspects of our HBC website. Geography has affected much more, including climate, cultural, and economics. It has also affected human physiological development which left Native Americans dangeously vulnerable to Old World diseases. Many HBC pages touch on geography and we want to create a page to help HBC readers interested in geography find the pages we have developed. HBC is fortunate to have a geographer among its contributors. He tells us, "I have a Ph.D in what I like to think of as "Historical Geography." I was interested in trying to recreate landscapes (physical and cultural) from the past, and examine factors that impacted and shaped these landscapes. Geographers do other things, of course, such as develop Geographical Information Systems (GISs), hazards research, etc. I am happy to report that university geography departments have grown in size since I was in school. Unfortunately, there has been a trend to merge geography with other disciplines into "social studies". Geographical Awareness quizzes have shown a need to go back to basics, because students have little knowledge of place names these days. School budgets and cutbacks in staff have been a problem."
Geopolitics became important long before the term appeared. It is no accodent that river valley became the craddles of civilization andthe most valuable land for long periods. Carhage and Rome were both placed at imprtant locations to dominate the Mediterranean. And the European outburst came fromn Western Europe, the countries facing the Atlantic Ocean. And from that point the European naval powers sought to control vital locations such as Pananama, Suez, the Staits of Malaca, abnd the Cape of Good Hop, England used its position at Gibraltar and Malta to contriol the Meditwrranra, For America, control of New Orkeans at themouth of the Mississippiwas vital. The Germans after unification (1871) were mesmerized by geopolitical theorists who developed the theory that industralized Germany needed the resources of the East. Boththe Tsars and Stalin were intent on dominated the Ukraine with its vital resources. This set in motion both Stalin's Ukranian Famine and bloody Wotld War II struggle on the Eastern Fronr between NAZI Germany andthe Soviet Union.
The origins of geography date back to ancient times. There was a relationship between geography and astronomy in that the major debate in ancient times was whether the earh was flat or round (global). We know much more about the astronomical thinking of ancient civilization than geography, but there was probably often a relationship.
The Chaldean (a Babalonian people) are commonly named as the first astronomers. Eygpt acquired much leaning from Babylonia, but their learning became emnired in superstion and myth. It is in Greece that geography emerged as an important discipline and the first named geographers. The Greeks debated geographical issues with some fervor. The first geograpoher we note is Thales (6th century BC), obe of the seven sages. He saw the earth in a astronomical context and argued that contrary to the accepted belief that the earth was a plain, ot was like other heavenly bodies was a globe and at the center of the universe. Other geographers following Thales continued to insist thsat the earth was flat. Greeks like Anaximander, Anaximenes, Pythagoirus continued the astronomical debate. Their work, however, did not stringy influence populsar thought which was more determined by the obvious appearances. Thus the central issue of geograophy (the shape if the earth) was not really answered until the end of the medievsal era by practcal navigators like Coumbus and thinkers like Copernicus abd Gaileo. Long before this the Greeks continued to ework on geograoj\hy, Herodotus often called the father f history, mixed in a great deal og\f geograohy with his historical work (5th century BC). He was followed by Aristotle (4th century BC). He would dominate Westerm thouht for an incredible two milenia. Aristole in De Coelo proivides us a summany of sancient gepographic ans astromomical understanding. Aristole through reasing rather than physical evidence cponcluded that the western coasdt of Spain was near India. Alexander's campaigns added immensly to the Western world's understsanding of physical geography. The astnomomer Hipparchus in Bithynia (3rd century BC) began calculating the longitude and lasttitude of gepgraphicv places from celestial observations. Geograophers at the time did mot seiuze on his work, but it was critical to mapping. Geography is not just rekated to astronomy, but also to geometry which is necessary for calculating the cirumferemce, diameter, and volume of the earth, Thus Eratoshenes. a desciple of Euclid, was probablt the first author who attempted to develop geography into an organized discipline (3rd century) although his knowledge of northern and western Europ was sketcy at best. The Romans did not advance the tools and discipline of geography, the did acquire ememnse geograohic knowledge as they expanded their empire. Plutarch mentions the errection oif milliaria along the Roman roads which provided fefinitive measures of distance (2nd century BC). Ceasar commissioned a survey of the Roman Empire (44 BC) which developed as a mahor and lenthy effort. Part of the result was a huge painting in the portico of Agrippa. The results also appeared in Pliny's Nsatural History. The Greek geographer Strabo proviuded important descriptions. Other impoertant Roman geograpohers were Antonius Pius and Claudius Ptolemy. Ptoleny of Alexandria constructed a system of gography which dominated the Western mind until Vasco de Gams and Golumbus provided the information needed to cotruct a realistic understanding of geography (15th century). Their voyages were the result of the inquisness that had characterized the West combined with the technology to conduct extended voyages. In is interesting how many other civilizatins lacked the inquidtbeness of the West, even civilizations like China which had the technology to conduct extended voyages.
Geography has affected humans in manydifferent ways. Early geogaphers focused in reportiung on physical features and cultural difference. Gradually measurement became important and methods to fix locations which led to accurate mapping (cartology). Only relatively recently did geographers began to understasnd and describe the mny ways which geograpohy has impacted humans and civilization and continues to do so. One author wrtes, "So just as tere is a Carolingian Europe and a Mediterranean Europe, there is, to, often as a resultto these invasionsfrom the east, a Byzantine-Ottoman Europe, a Prussian Europe, and a Hapsburg Europe, all of which are geographically sestinct, and that live todaythrough somewhat differeing economic development patterns" differing patterns that cannot simply ebe rased by the creation of a single currency." [Kaplan]
And England's and America's history has been affected by their protective brriers, Alantic Ocean respevively. Wherevbarriers didnotvexist, there were ttempts tonbuild one,incuding the Gret Wall of China anD Hdrian's wall.
Geography was a factor shaping culture since the appearance of human hunter-gathes. The more primitive the people the greater the impact. But even as humpan culure became more sophisticated, geography continued tio be important. Geography has been a major factor in the development of civilization. It is no accident that civilization first appeared in great river valleys.
Geography is a major factor affecting climate. And climate has affected both history and clothing in many ways. Some argue that changing cliate was a factoir in forcing primates down from the trees, out of the forest and on to the African savanah resulted in the development of bipedalism, the destinctibe characteristic of homonoids. We now know that homonoids developed bipedialism before they emerged from the forest as a result of the 1994 discovery of Ardi (Ardipithecus ramidus) in Ethiopia. [Science] Ardi has been dated as 4.4 million years old. this is a million years older than Lucy (Australopithecus afrarensis).
Historians in recent years have given increased attention to climatology. The most obvious of course is the Ice Age which created a Bearing Sea land bridge to the Americas. Historians are finding climatic links to other major events such as the fall of the Romasn Empire and the plages. On recent years there has been increassing attention to the Little Ice Age. Climate has affected major military campaigns such as Naoleon's invasion of Russia (1812) and the World War II German invasion of the Soviet Union (1941). One wonders how Hitler who considered himself a military genius was suprised that it got cold in Russia during the winter. Climatolgy is now at the center of the climate change debate. Climate has also affected clothing. One major impact on clothing is utlity. While fashion has other iunfuences, the first major influence was utility, protection from cold weather. And this protective clothing enavke humans to populate nearly every corner oif the globe. While the other influences such as fashion have become increasingly important, climate continues to be an imprtant factor. A new development is sun-safe clothing.
Geography has also played a major role in economics. This was especially the case in the early phase of human development when man was dependent on the resources immediaely available. This can be seen in modern times with tribal peoples living in areas with limited resources developing only primitive life styles. A good example is the the Alacaluf in Tierra del Fuego.
For milenia after the development of civilization, economies were in lage measure agicultural focused on food and texttile production. This meant that the crops and livestock were primarily based on what was available and this was still powerfully affected by geograpohy. As humans expanded their transport technology there was an exchnge of plants and animals. This weas nost significant after the discovery of the Americas. Plants lik the potato and corn had an enormous impact when the were introduced in Europe. The geographic destribution of metals was also important. This was a factor in the industrial revolution. This of course first occurred in England where coal and iron were located close together . Technology can over come geographic limitations, but just as agriculture developed in river valies, industry first developed where iron and coal occurred close together and were relatively easily accessible.
Geological changes take place over emense time frames. Geological canges such as the creation of mountain ranges involve millions of years and human history is meaured in the thousands. Geological change has created the geographic featutes which have in turn impacted and incluenced human history. There are some geological events that have directly affected history. We know of powerful volanic eruptions (supervolcanoes) that injected enormous amounts of material into the atmosphere and set off sunamis. And because of the debris injected in the atmosphere, affected climate. This has caused feeezing conditions even in the tropics. And the imapact on agriculture and historical events was subtantial.
An fact, volcanos may have played a key role in human development. Scientists theorize that horrific "volcanic winter" occurred 71,000 years ago, when Mount Toba in Sumatra erupted. It was followed by the coldest 1,000 years of the last Ice Age. This caused widespread famine, killing off most humanoids. Only scattered bands of humans suvived. It was this population "bottleneck" that created the rapid "differentiation" - or genetic divergence - of the surviving populations. [Ambrose] DNA work support this and suggest thast all modern humans descended from a few thousand people, presumably the survibors of Toba. More recent volcanic erruptions have been only a small fraction of the power of a supervolcano like Toba. Even so, they have impacted historical events.
The devastating volcanic eruption of Santorini in the Aegean may have been responsible for the destruction of Minoan civilization (about 1600 BC although dates differ).
The eruption of Krakatau (about 535 AD) may have played a role in the European Dark Ages.
The eruption of Tambora in Indonesia (1815) vaused atmopspheric events that were well observed in Europe.
In contrast, Pinatubo (1991) was a minor event, but had a notable impact on climate.
Geography has had an obvious impact on history. Just how significant is a matter of conjecture, but that it is very important there is no doubt. Anthropologists have established almost without doubt tht mankind developed in Africa. There is considerable difference of opinion as to how man spread out over the globe. Here geography must have played a major role. Some accounts suggest man first moved along coast lines. Notably all of the early civilizations emerged in river valleys. One at the edge of Africa, the others outside of Africa. The key factor with rivers was the importantance of dependable water source and alluvial flooding enriching the soil. In addition the movement away from tropical climate was a factor. Herding was based on rich graslands and grass is most lush beyond the tropics. The same is true of crop yields of important grains--species of grasses. [Cook] It was the agricultural abundance in these river vallies that gave rise to the first civilizations. Europe's emergence in the 16th century was strongly associated with geography. [Diamond, Guns.] Geography has continued to influence history. There are of course many other instances of geography affecting history. Russian history was affected by the vulnerability of the flat to Steppe to inasion. The geographic isolation of the Americas were factors in the success of the Conquistadores over the Native American civilizations. [Cook] Russian history is marked with invasion from east and west. The origins of Russia itself evolved around the major rivers. The Huns and Mongols swept east over Russia from the Mongolian Plain. It was the Sweedes, Poles and Germans that swept west. Britain in contrast benefitted by the security afforded by the Channel. At sea, it was an island nation, Britain, that became the world's preeminent sea power. An American naval strategist theorized that in modern history, command of the seas has been desisive. [Mahan] This ground-breaking assessment of seapower was premissed on geography. Geographical factors had a huge impact on the settlement of America. New York's rise was based on the important natural harbor and the fact that the Hudson River was an important route inland, made even more important when the Erie Canal linked the Huson to the Great Lakes, opening the West and turning New York into the most important city in America.
Location hs played a major role in history. The expansion of America and Russia occurred because there were no powerful entity blocking their expansion. Thus Russia expanded east and America west. At the same tme the major European countries expended heir considranlr energies and resources fighting each other over small provinces like Silesia, Alsace, or other fought-over provinces. So whike the Eyropean countries engaged in one war after nother, Americ created a huge country to the west and Russia to the east.
Geographic separation left Native Americans dangeously vulnerable to Old World diseases. This did not show up in body types, but it did affect the genetic resistance to Old World diseases. The key factor here appears to be that the New World had few animals that could be domesticated. Old World people domesticated a range of animals and lived in close contact to then. The result was to build up immunities to disease related to those domesticated animals. This domestication appears to have occurred after Siberian tribes made the transit ton the New World. Thus New World people developing in isolation did not develop the immunities.
Geography has afftected human physiology in a mumber of ways. Adaptation to cold seems to have been a major force. Thus we see differences in eye, hair, and skin color in northern Europe. This occured as humans migrated out of Africa to northern climates. White skin, light hair and blue eyes were adaptations to colder weather. Native Americans were much more recent arrivals to northern climes, perhaps explaing why they did not make phyiolgical asaptations. The eskimos reponse to the cold climate was primarily cultural (clothing, housing, and diet). They did mot make the same genetic adaptations that occurred in northern Europe. Perhaps the success of their cultural adapttions help to make genetic adaptatioins unecessay. Presumably nose and lip features were also affected. As native Americans moved into the high alditudes of the Andes, we see chest sizes (lung capacity) being affected. It is interesting that Native Americans did not make phisiolgical adaptations to cold, but did to altitude, suggesting that genetiuc changes can come relative fast if cultural if cultural adaptatioins are not possible. This genetic shift in the Andes occurred very rapidly. The same occurred in the Himilayas, but over a longer time frame. A characteistic of east Asians (China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia) is an epicanthal fold in the eye. This is a fold of skin that covers the inner corner of the eye. This gives Asisans a characteristic narrow, almond-shaped shape eye. The value of this adaptation is not clear. It appears to be an adaptation to protect against the cold and windy conditions in northern Asian steppe.
It hs made considerable difference what country any given country bordered on. Poland's history has been largely determined by its location between Russia and Germany. Mexicans like to repeat the phrase, "So far from God and so close to the United Sates." Germany's proximity to Russia set up huge struggles in World War II with the Germans desiring to controll the East with its vast agricultural potentil and natural resources.
Some countries have been affected mire by geopgrapy and in different ways. Perhaps no country has been more affected
by geograophy than Panama. It was even geography that led to its creation. Because Panama is an istmus where a canal connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans possible. Of the major countries, it is probably Russia with its huge steppe that has been the country most significantly affected by geography. The steppe more than any other gographic feature has been an engine for genating history. They for a time have dominated both China and Russia as well striking into Europe and the Middle East. England's island geography has been both a protective shield and as with the Vikings an avenue for invasion. And Japans island position enabled it to develop independently from China. America's separation from Europe by the Atlantic Ocean. was a key element in its development and subsequent world history. Italy a a Mediterranean Peninsula was perfectly posed to dominate the Mediteranean. Afghanistan's geography has played a role in invasions of India incliding the creation of the Moguhl Empire. Today the poprous borders with Pakistan make it a kind of supportive rear area for Pakistan's struggle with India. Neighboring Iran is in unique position of staddling the oil producing areas of the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf. China's need for raw mterials have lead it into Africa and Southeast Asia, often suppoting brutal, repressive regimes leading to moral conflicys with the West.
There are some geographic features that have played key roles in world history. They include bodies of water, deserts, planes, and mountains. Surely the most important is the vast Euro-Asian Steppe. One author claim that the stepp's 'pitiless' climate bred hard and cruel men. [Kaplan] We are not sure about that, but the steppe did bred warring tribes. They struck out of the steppe to the east and west. To the north and south the Steppe horsemen were stopped by the Arctic barrier and to the south the Gobi Desert and Himilayas. China has been the linch-pin of history, affecting European history before the Europeans were even aware of China. When China was strong the steppe tribes struck west. During periods of weakness in China the steppe tribes invaded the Middle Kingdom. The Himilayas and the Alps were both mountain shields. The Atlantic and Pacific Oceans cut off the Americas from the rest of humanity. River systems have played a huge tole in history, plaing a role in the creation of civilization. The English Channel has even before Roman imes played a huge role in English history and as a result European history. And until the 19th century and the development of railroads they were critical to commerce. The Sahara is another major feature which seems to have played a major role in peopleing the Nile Valley and determining the ethnic makeup of North Africa and Equarorial Africa. One of the most notable geographic features is Gibraltar. It is a huge rock set in one of the most critical points imaginable. This peninsular at the southern tip of Spain has played an enormous role in history. An Anglo-Dutch force seized Gibraltar from Spain during the War of the Spanish Succession (1704). Spain was forced to cede Gibraltar to Britain 'in perpetuity' under the Treaty of Utrecht (1713). It became an important base for the Royal Navy, especially during the Napoleonic Wars and World War II.
HBC is fortunate to have a geographer among its contributors. He tells us, "I have a Ph.D in what I like to think of as "Historical Geography." I was interested in trying to recreate landscapes (physical and cultural) from the past, and examine factors that impacted and shaped these landscapes. Geographers do other things, of course, such as develop Geographical Information Systems (GISs), hazards research, etc. Through the use of satellites. which revolutionized the collection of accurate place specific data, the GIS has led to such innovations as the directional systems in many cars today. Mapping of the Moon and Mars are extensions of this technology, although, I guess they can hardly be called 'geo', as in geography, any more, being out of this world. I am happy to report that university geography departments have grown in size since I was in school. Unfortunately, there has been a trend to merge geography with other disciplines into "social studies". Geographical Awareness quizzes have shown a need to go back to basics, because students have little knowledge of place names these days. School budgets and cutbacks in staff have been a problem."
Ambrose, Stanley. University of Illinois. Ambrose's theory is summarized in "Ancient 'Volcanic Winter' Tied To Rapid Genetic Divergence In Humans", Science Daily (September 8, 1998).
Cook, Michael. A Brief History of the Human Race (Norton, 2003), 385p.
Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs and Steel.
Kaplan, Robert D. The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About the Coming Conflicts and the Bttle Against Fate (2012).
Mahan, Alfred Thayer. The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783 (1890).
Science (October 2, 2009). This special issues of Science include 11 aricles from 47 researchers presenting the findings on Ardipithecus ramidus after 15 years of work.
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