#HistoricalGeography Thoughts

Noel Castree has said that “geography spans social science, humanities and geoscience and its glue is a focus on people-nature relations, scale (spatio-temporal) and the difference it makes with regard to place/locality/proximity.”[1] It is also concerned with borders of various kinds and landscapes. These are the units of analysis in geography. Historical geography, however, studies the “series of changes which cultural landscapes have undergone and involves reconstruction of past cultural landscapes.”[2] Its primary objective is to “establish a critical system which embraces the phenomenology of landscape, in order to grasp in all of its meaning and color the varied terrestrial scene.” Geography as a field found itself transformed by the cultural and political contests of the 1970s as did other disciplines. The affordances of the modern computer also influenced methods within history and geography. But did these shifts change the epistemological dimensions of each field? I have been thinking about the distinctions and parallels between historical geography and history in terms of each field’s preoccupations of how researchers produce the attendant knowledge for their historical or historical geographical specialties with attention paid to the historian’s use of “spatial history.” One finds within these discussions that there are some parallels, however the major distinction between the two are the efficacy of chosen topics largely evidenced by which are worthy of rigorous research for one’s publishing agenda. In examining these distinctions and parallels an understanding of disciplinary “essence” of each can emerge.

Three questions are asked, however, when a scholar endeavors a research agenda in history:

What can the (topic) tell us about the big issues that have preoccupied historians for generations? What can the (topic) say about empire, war, revolution? What can the (topic) say about issues that have preoccupied the last generation, such as gender, identity, or slavery? 3


[1] Noel Castree in email to the author. 12/4/2020

[2] Michael Williams “‘The Apple of My Eye’: Carl Sauer and Historical Geography.” Journal of Historical Geography 9, no. 1 (1983): 5. https://doi.org/10.1016/0305-7488(83)90139-1.

[3] The State of the Field of Environmental History J.R. McNeill Annual Review of Environment and Resources 2010 35:1, 345-374

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