Geography as a Discipline: History of Geography & Doctrines

In this blog article we are provides a detail analysis on Geography as a discipline, here we will also come know about the history of development of geography and different doctrines ancient medieval and modern doctrines etc, so lets start

Geography as a Discipline: History of Geography & Doctrines 

Table of Content

  • Geography Discipline
  • Definition of Geography
  • History of Geography
  • Ancient Doctrines
  • Medieval Doctrines
  • Modern Doctrines



The subject of Geography is as old as the mankind itself. From the time of his appearance on earth man had to think deeply about his environment, food and shelter. From the time of his birth until his death man is always engaged in obtaining knowledge of his close surroundings as well as far off places. It is just like you students learn about many geographic concepts while travelling in a bus, a train or an aeroplane. During the journey while looking at changing scenery, natural features, vegetation, crops, dress of the people design of the houses etc., you constantly increase your fund of geographic knowledge. On approaching a big town or a city, you find that the crops in the fields too change. Mostly vegetables, replace the cereals crops. During the journey in the mountainous regions, you may come across terraced fields with distinctive crops growing in them. While gaining altitude you may even notice changing varieties or species of trees. In your mind you use this diverse information to construct meaningful geographic patterns. Near the sandy sea coasts when you keenly observe someone playing on the sands or sailing in the ocean waters or fishermen catching the fish you understand many things of geography. All this information gives you important clues in understanding man-environment relationship. This helps us in expanding our realm of thought our thinking, perception and reasoning further expand our capacity to absorb knowledge, thus helping to make us better citizens.

The moment we think of geography we begin to ask many questions. What is the content of geography? Or what is being taught under this particular theme? What is the structure of geography? What methods and techniques we use for its study? We will first attempt to understand the answers to some of these questions in this post.

Definition of Geography

‘To describe earth’, we use the word ‘geography’ in English. In Egypt there is a city named Alexandria. In 3rd century B.C. there lived a Greek philosopher named Eratosthenes. He was the first to use the word ‘geography’ to describe earth. He wrote a book named Geographia. In this great work he described some major human settlements of that time and some chief geographical concepts.

In Greek language the word ‘Ge’ means ‘the earth’ and Graphienmeant ‘to write or describe’. Therefore, Geography literally means to “write about the earth including that appears on it.”

Considering modern view of geography, the old notion is no longer valid. Today geography is considered a fast developing science. With the passage of time many changes have occurred in its scope and content. Therefore, there is no all encompassing definition of geography. In the book entitled ‘Geography In the National Curriculum (1989)’ the Geographic Foundation of U.K. has given the following definitions:

“Along with environment and economic processes, geography studies the spatial relationships and topography created by man. Identification of these places on earth is done by studying mutual relationships between man and environment. It forms the centre of focus of geography.” From modern prospective this definition is very close to the point. But the subject matter of geography has been made very extensive for the purpose of studies.



(The word ‘Geography’ is appropriately described in Hindi as BHUGOL meaning ’round earth’. The word has been in use in astronomy before Christian era, describing the round shape of the earth. Then there was no geographic tradition in India like that of Europe. The word ‘BHUGOL’ was discovered in Sanskrit encyclopedia. So the scholars thought it fit to use the word ‘BHUGOL’ as Hindi translation of ‘Geography’. Even then in Sanskrit literature the words ‘Bhu-Vidaya’ and Buvankosh’ were used in the context of Geography In 1917, a Hindi encyclopaedia edited and published by Narendra Nath Basu used the word ‘Bhugol’ to mean ‘Geography’ considering Bhugol Vidya to be the synonym of geography and provided its definition. Even if he would have used either, of these two words it would have equally been a meaningful word. In Sanskrit the word Bhuvan is used to convey the meaning of elements of earth, life, human, water, space. ‘Tribhuvan’ meaning three worlds lithosphere, atmosphere and hydrosphere. But the word ‘Geography’ is best described by ‘Bhugol’. In accordance with the rules of lexicon word meanings and their syntax have variants and may even change.)


History of Geography

Geography from the very dawn of history was characteristed by the investigations and explanations of the world we live in. Therefore, it was sometimes also known as ‘Gazetteer Geography’. In reality, because of lists of highlands’ depressions, cities and other places it contain, it was very boring and uninteresting subject. But today geography is more interactive as it studies man-environment relationships from different perspectives and in different contexts. In this manner, the content and scope of geography is widened from time to time. Let us throw some more light on this issue.

Technical and Other Terms

Ecosystem is the interacting system of a biological community and its non-living surroundings. The phenomena is characterised by the actions of sense organs-eye, ear, and nose – by which we can see, hear or smell. The natural features include mountains, plateaus, plains. The cultural features are like cities, temples etc. The Hello-centric Theory that planets and their moons revolve round the sun is now universally accepted.



Ancient Doctrines

Man first started expressing his geographic beliefs in words. Then he described these in sentences. It is true that modern geography does 1. Geographic descriptions are found in not find mention in old Vedic literature. But of many geographic facts and phenomena is certainly found in the Vedas. The universe, earth, air, water, sky, sun, stars and zodiac signs do find mention in the Vedas; the Buddhist and Jain literature. In this literature there appears some semblance of cultural and human geography too. The epics, Ramayana and are full of geographic details.

Early advances in geography were also made by the Greeks. Some 900 years before Christ, Homer had said that the earth was separated like a wide flat bottom of Odyssey river. Thales of Miletus (624-546 B.C.) was the first to describe round shape of the earth. The Greekphilosopher Pythagoras (450 B.C.) and his pupils had accepted the round shape of the earth. Parmenides (450 B.C.) identified the heat zones of earth i.e. tropics Frigid and temperate zones. Geography. He had given geographic

Herodotus (500 B.C.) is considered to be the father of description of his travels to then known lands. Hippocrates (460-377 B.C.) discussed the effects of environment on man. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) composed his famous work ‘Politics’. In this he described the effects of geographic factors on the composition of a state.

In our own age Strabo (63 B.C. -24 A.D.), Ptolemy (127-151 A.D.) in their great work Geographia provided a new direction to geography. Ptolemy was also a great map maker (cartographer). He developed the skills of cartography.

Ancient Doctrines

1. Geographic descriptions are found in Vedas, Puranas, Mahabharta and Ramayana.

2. Homer (900 B.C.) first described earth.

3. Thales (624-546 B.C.) and Pythagoras had described earth of round shape.

4. Parmenides (400 B.C.) had described the temperature zones of the earth.

5. Herodotus (500 B.C.) is considered to be the father of Geography.

6. Hippocrates (460-377 B.C.) described the ܘ effects of environment on man.

7. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) showed the importance of geographic factors in the composition of a state.

8. Strabo (63 B.C. 24 A.D.) and Ptolemy (A.D. 127-151) made considerable advances in geographic knowledge.


Medieval Doctrines

In medieval period growth of scientific knowledge in Europe was caught in the tussle between religious philosopher could speak on anything which did not have the sanction of the church. Due to the fear of the church repression Copernicus could not propagate his heliocentric theory. In this period growth of scientific knowledge had come to a standstill.

In the medieval period it were the Arabs who took the lead in the growth of geographic knowledge. Between the 9th and 14th centuries. Arab travellers and traders have given a descriptive account of their travels to many countries of the world. Notable among these are travelogues of Macropolo of Venice and Arab traveller Ibn Batuta. The books like Arabian Nights, Sinabad and the Sailor and Char Darvesh are full of adventure and thrill. Abu Zafar Muhammad bin Musa has also written a book on geography based on the ideals of Ptolemy.

Medieval Doctrines

1. In this age growth of knowledge had come to a standstill.

2. Scientists like Copernicus and Galileo had to bear the repression of the church for speaking against church held beliefs.

3. In the Medieval period Arabs made great advances in geography.

4. Marco Polo and Ibn Batuta in their travelogues contributed greatly to geographic knowledge.


Modern Doctrines

In A.D. 1492 Columbus discovered America. In 1498 Vasco da Gama made a successful voyage and landed at Calicut on the west coast of India. In 1521 Magellan and his companions sailed round the world and finally proved that the earth is round. Captain James Cook and Sir Francis Drake during their explorations discovered new countries, islands, rivers, mountains and other lands. The list of new lands and landforms kept on increasing with these new discoveries. The map-makers drew their maps and charts. Among these Mercator is well known.

In 1630 Bernhard Varen, a Dutchman, in his famous work Geographia Generalis wrote on the subject matter of geography and provided modern geography a definite direction. This book remained one of the most outstanding works on geography for about next 100 years.

The nineteenth century witnessed emergence of geography as a discipline. The twentieth century saw its further growth and specialisation.

The German geographers A.V. Humboldt and Karl Ritter were the pioneers. A.V. Humboldt (1769-1859) provided scientific base to geography. He provided comparative statements of different regions in Geography, Karl Ritter (1779-1859) laid special emphasis on human experiences in regional context. Both of them were foremost and one of the first persons to write on geography.

In the later period of 19th century geography subject gained great popularity in schools. Information about distant lands was very important to prospective traders, administrators and settlers. Geography had emerged as a great companion in this respect.

Upto the close of 19th century geographers studied man-environment relationships. They were searching for answers to great variety of human life. By the beginning of twentieth century there was growth of geographic knowledge in the form of man-environment relationships.

There then arose a controversy as to what extent natural environment can influence human life and whether human beings were capable of modifying the environment. This controversy gave rise to two schools of thought known as the Possibilism and the ‘Determinism’.


N.B: Possiblism & Determinism concept will discuss in next post, please follow our website to get up-to-date articles. 


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