Bernhard Varenius Contribution to Geography, Geographical Thought

Bernhard Varenius Contribution to Geography by Netset Corner


The period of Varenius and Kant is known as the Classical Period of Modern Geographic Thought. Varenius was born in a village near Hamburg in Germany, he studied Philosophy, Mathematics, and Physics from the university of Hamburg. In 1967, he got an assignment as a private tutor at Amsterdam. This was the time when Dutch East India Company was actively expanding its influence in the countries of East Indies. The Dutch were keen to know more about the geographical setting, economy, and society of the region.

In 1649 he published Descriptio Regni Japoniae (“Description of the Kingdom of Japan”), which in addition to describing Japan included a Latin translation of an account of Siam (Thailand), possibly by the Dutch navigator Willem Corneliszoon Schouten, and excerpts from the Arab traveler and geographer Leo Africanus on religion in Africa. This book consists of five parts:

[i] a description of Japan,

[ii] a translation into Latin of a description of Siam (Thailand) by Schouten,

[iii] an essay on religion of Japan,

[iv] some excerpts from the writings by Leo Africanus on religions in Africa, and

[v] a short essay on government-dealing with places and people.

Varenius made two significant contributions to the development of geography

[i] he brought together contemporary knowledge of Astronomy and Cartography, and subjected the different geographic concepts of his days to sound critical analysis, and

[ii] he was the first to divide Geography into “general” and “special” which ultimately led to the development of “systematic” and “regional geography”.

Thus, Varenius was the first scholar who laid the foundation of the dichotomy and dualism of Systematic vs. Regional Geography. The General Geography emphasises on universal laws while the Regional Geography formulates regional or special laws.

Varenius further divided General Geography into the following three parts:

[i] Absolute -the terrestrial part, in which the Earth as a whole-its shape and size-are discussed.

[ii] Relative or planetary part – concerned with the Earth’s relation to other heavenly bodies.

[iii] Comparative part giving a general description of the Earth, the relative location of places on the surface and the principles of navigation.

He was in agreement with Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo who established the heliocentric universe.

According to Varenius, Geography deals with the surface features, climate, water-bodies, forests, soils, deserts, minerals, and fauna and flora and their relationship with man. The cultural landscape, according to him, includes the description and explanation of the inhabitants-their appearance, arts, commerce, culture, language, religion, cities, and government.


[1] Varenius was the first scholar who laid the foundation of the dichotomy and dualism of Systematic vs. Regional Geography.

[2] His famous book- ‘Geographia Generalis’


N.B- Notes will be updated time to time


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Bernhard Varenius Contribution to Geography


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