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Articles in Geographical Thought

Ellen Churchill Semple and Paths Not Taken

By Martin W. Lewis | February 11, 2011 | One Comment

When I was studying geography as a graduate student in the 1980s, little attention was paid to the history of geographic thought. When the works of early 20th century geographers did come up in seminar, they typically served as sign-posts for discredited approaches. Ellen Churchill Semple was a favorite target; passages like this one

Malcolm Gladwell and Ellsworth Huntington

By Martin W. Lewis | | 2 Comments
Malcolm Gladwell and Ellsworth Huntington

In this week’s New Yorker magazine, Malcolm Gladwell explains how Ellsworth Huntington created his maps showing “level of civilization,” discussed in the previous post. He simply queried 213 scholars in twenty-seven countries. Twenty-five of his respondents were from the United States. None was from west of the Minnesota or south of the Ohio River

Environmental Determinism, Ellsworth Huntington, and the Decline of Geography

By Martin W. Lewis | February 10, 2011 | 2 Comments

Geography is defined as “the study of the earth and its features.” Derived from the Greek for “earth writings,” geography traditionally focused on the world as a whole; investigations of smaller regions were a distinct if related branch of learning. For centuries, the main focus of geographical research was filling in the unknown portions of

Racial Classification, H. J. Fleure, and the Decline of Geography

By Martin W. Lewis | February 9, 2011 | 5 Comments

In scanning “races of the world” maps in atlases published before 1970, I am taken aback as much by the basic errors in world geography as by the crudity of the racial classification. Consider the first map above, derived from a Rand McNally original and printed in my own childhood companion, TheWorld

Absurdities of Racial Mapping

By Martin W. Lewis | February 8, 2011 | 7 Comments

In the conventional narrative of intellectual progress, people of the past are said to have habitually deferred to authority, ignoring sensory evidence if it contradicted accepted wisdom. Galileo’s experiments and telescopes may have been intriguing, but to the extent that they contravened Aristotle or the Bible, they were discounted by those adhering

Mapping Language and Race in the Finnic World

By Martin W. Lewis | February 3, 2011 | 9 Comments

In skimming through old atlases, one might be surprised to find Finns racially classified as yellow-skinned Mongolians. Yet until fairly recently, that was the norm. Consider the 1962 map posted above, “Classification of Mankind By Color of Skin,” from the popular Bartholomew’s Advanced Atlas of Modern Geography. Here both Finns and Estonians

The Failure of the Failed State Index

By Martin W. Lewis | January 11, 2011 |

The use of the term “failed state” has surged over the past fifteen years, as can be seen in the Google N-Gram posted above showing the frequency of the term’s occurrence in scanned books. A January 8, 2011 Google news search for “failed state” yielded—in the first twelve articles alone—stories on Sudan, Mexico, Egypt

Uses and Misuses of the Mercator Projection

By Martin W. Lewis | December 10, 2010 | 8 Comments

The World Bank is not the only organization to misemploy the Mercator projection for basic world maps. In a Google image search of “world map,” roughly a third of the initial set of maps returned greatly inflate the high latitudes. Not all, however, grotesquely exaggerate Greenland; one particularly unsightly map, reproduced above, solves

Religion in Africa; Agriculture in California

By Martin W. Lewis | October 25, 2010 |

Geocurrents is not usually concerned with touting books or other websites, although requests for such consideration to do come frequently. But some works are so geographically impressive that they do deserve special mention. As a result, today’s posting will consider one website, Eugene Adogla’s Religiously Remapped: Mapping Religious Trends in Africa, and one book

Why Iran’s Azeris Are Iranian

By Martin W. Lewis | May 10, 2010 | 2 Comments

The weakness of Azeri nationalism in Iran (discussed last week) seems surprising at first glance. Iranian Azeris form a large, distinctive, and relatively cohesive ethnic group that has been deprived of basic educational rights in its own language. Similar situations in neighboring countries have resulted in serious unrest if not prolonged insurgency – think of

Militias, Private Armies, and Failed States

By Martin W. Lewis | February 27, 2010 | 2 Comments

Max Weber famously defined the modern state as an entity claiming a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence to enforce order over a specific territory. By this definition, many of the countries that constitute the international geopolitical order fall well short of being genuine states. Consider Lebanon. From 1976 to 2005, a sizable

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