Impact of Darwinian Theory on Geographical Thought NETSET CORNER

Impact of Darwinian Theory on Geographical Thought

Darwinian Theory of Evolution

Charles Robert Darwin, a naturalist, was born on 12th February, 1809 in England. He is famous for his theory of evolution and for a theory of its operation, known as Darwinism.

His evolutionary theories are published in his two books- ‘Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859)’ and ‘Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871)’.

The theory of evolution propounded by Charles Darwin revolutionised the biological, environmental and Earth Sciences.

The fundamental ideas in Darwinian theory of evolution included

[i] Struggle for existence.

[ii] Variation within species.

[iii] Survival of the fittest.

[iv] Natural selection.

It was essentially a theory of reproductive success in which organisms who could adapt to their environment and withstand environmental hardships continued to survive. On the other hand, relatively inferior organisms are steadily eliminated.

Impact of Darwin on Geographical Thought

Darwin’s theory influenced the growth and development of geomorphology, human geography, political geography and cultural geography. It added new philosophical concepts and methodologies in geography. It made geography socially and environmentally more relevant.

As per Stoddart the following four main themes from Darwin’s work gave new direction to geography

[a] Change through time or evolution.

[b] Association and organisation.

[c] Struggle and natural selection.

[d] Randomness or chance character of variation in nature.

The above themes given by Stoddart revolutionised the field of geography in following manner

Impact on Geomorphology

Darwin’s theory inspired geologists and palaeontologists to concentrate on development of geological timescale, systematic mapping of rock types, analysis of fossils and study of landforms. Hence, it led to ‘geologification’ of geography. Influenced by Darwin’s theory, Oscar Peschel in his book ‘New Problems of Comparative Geography as a search for Morphology of Earth’s Surface’ stressed on the study of morphology of Earth’s surface by geographers.

Darwin’s evolutionary concept of change over time inspired American geographer W M Davis to develop concept of geographic cycle (Cycle of erosion). He advocated that like the evolution of organic life, there is a sequential evolution of landforms. In the evolution of landforms, Davis identified three stages youth, maturity and old. He stressed that ‘landform is a function of structure, process and time’.

Impact on Landschaft

Under the influence of Darwin’s theory of origin of species, German geomorphologists defined geography as ‘landscape science’. They distinguished the natural landscape from the cultural landscape and recognised importance of human agency.

Impact on Human Geography

Darwin’s theory about ‘origin of species’ and ‘descent of man’ helped to explain man and environment relationship. It gave a new direction to doctrine of environmental determinism, that is, control on human activities by the environment.

Ratzel in his book ‘Anthropogeographic’ asserted that ‘similar locations lead to similar mode of life’. Ellen Churchill Semple in his book ‘Influences of Geographic Environment’ advocated that ‘man is the product of the Earth’s surface’. Huntington also declared that ‘climate controls the progress and development of human civilisation’.

Impact on Political Geography

Darwinian concept of struggle and survival of the fittest, influenced Ratzel to define the Concept of Lebensraum (living space) in his book ‘Political Geography’. Ratzel drew similarity between a nation and a living organism. He argued that as a growing organism searches for space, a country searches for territorial expansion. The concept of ‘living space’ also helped in the development of biogeography.

Impact on Cultural Landscape

Carl O. Sauer in his article “The Morphology of Landscape” coined the concept of ‘cultural landscape’. The landscape approach described the interrelation between humans and environment, primarily emphasising human impact on environment. Hence, it was an alternative to environmental determinism.


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