Major Geographic Traditions: Earth Science, man environment relationship, area studies and spatial analysis

Major Geographic Traditions: Earth Science, man environment relationship, area studies and spatial analysis

Major Geographic Traditions

There are four traditions of geography. These are spatial tradition, area studies tradition, man-land tradition and Earth science tradition.

These were originally embraced by geographer William D. Pattison at the annual convention of the National Council for Geographic Education in 1963. He suggested that these four traditions were distinct but inter-related.


Earth Science Tradition

The Earth science tradition is the study of planet Earth as the home to humans and its systems, such as how the planet’s location in the solar system affects its seasons or the Earth-Sun interaction; the layers of the atmosphere; the lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere and biosphere and physical geography of the Earth.

Offshoots of the Earth science tradition of geography are geology, mineralogy, paleontology, glaciology, geomorphology and meteorology. This tradition seems to be the underlying foundation on which the other traditions are built upon, such as one could not determine distance in the spatial tradition if he had not yet defined the surface of the Earth and its complexities.

Views of Different Geographers Regarding Earth Science Tradition

In the 17th century, Bernhardus Varenius (1622-1650) published an important reference titled Geographica Generalis (General Geography, 1650). In this volume, Varenius used direct observations and primary measurements to present some new ideas concerning geographic knowledge.

Varenius also suggested that the discipline of geography could be subdivided into three distinct branches. The first branch examines the form and dimensions of the Earth.

The second sub-discipline deals with tides, climatic variations over time and space and other variables that are influenced by the cyclical movements of the Sun and Moon. The third sub-discipline deals with human elements.

During the 18th century, the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1808) proposed that human knowledge could be organised in three different ways. One way of organising knowledge was to classify its facts according to the type of objects studies. Accordingly, zoology studies animals, botany examines plants and geology involves the investigation of rocks. The second way was studying things according to a temporal dimension which is described as history. The last way was understanding facts according to spatial relationships which is known as geography. Kant divided geography into six branches: Physical, mathematical, moral, political, commercial and theological geography.


Man-land Tradition

The relationship between man and environment is a theme that has held the attention of man from the beginning of civilisation. The man-environment interaction is based on the philosophies of determinism and possibilism.


The idea that the physical environment has absolute control upon the life and activities of man is referred to as environmental determinism or simply as determinism.

It got support during the dark age f.e. between A.D. 8-13 in which explaination was done primarily on the basis of religion. Study of Darwin and the physiological transformation also gave a boost to the deterministic idea.

Views of Different Geographers Regarding Determinism

 Hippocrates, Aristotle, Herodotus and Strabo emphasised that man and their environment were inseparable.

 Montesquieu has pointed out that character of the people is determined by the prevailing climate i.e. people in the colder climates are courageous, physically stronger, frank, less suspicious and less cunning, whereas, people of warm climates according to him were timorous, weak in body, less courageous, less open to ideas and passive.

Humboldt has identified that diversity of the pattern in different regions of the world is due to diversity of interaction and the diversity is explainable through diversity of environment.

 Arab geographers writings also had the influence of deterministic view point. They divided the habitable world into climatic zones and highlighted the physical the cultural characteristics of races and nations of these zones. Al-Masudi e.g. mentioned that people inhabiting areas of abundant water availability were gay and humorous, while those inhabiting dry areas were short tempered. He further asserted, that the nomads, who live in open air are marked by the strength and resolution, wisdom and physical fitness.

Ratzel identifies that similar location gives similar mode of the life and proposed the latitudinal confirmity to cultural uniformity.

Semple in her book ‘Influence of Geographical Environment’ considers dominance of nature over man. Man, according to her, is a product of the Earth’s surface and he is the plastic moulded by nature according to the natural environment. Good development of chest and arm muscles in the coastal areas and of leg muscles in the mountains are cited examples of environment control.

Criticism of Determinism

The possibility of man to impact the environment. is grossly underestimated.

Economic prosperity taking place in diverse climatic conditions is an example of contradictory nature.

It gives negligible importance to perception. Similarity of environmental conditions does not necessarily result in similar human activities.


The idea of possibilism is two fold: First, that physical environment offers opportunities for a range of possible directions of development and second, that it depends on human initiative.

Views of Different Geographers Regarding Possibilism

According to Febvre “Man is a geographic agent and not the least. He everywhere contributes his share towards investing the physiognomy of the Earth with those changing expressions which is the special charge of geography to study.”

Vidal de La Blache asserted “Nature sets limits and offers possibilities for human settlement, but the way man reacts or adjusts to these conditions depends on his own traditional way of life.”

Jean Brunhes believed ‘Nature is not mandatory but permissive.”

Barrows, the prominent ecologist, gave greater importance to man than to environment.

Criticism of Possibilism

It does not encourage study of physical environment.

It promotes overanthropocentrism in geography.


Area-studies tradition

Area studies are inter-disciplinary fields of research pertaining to particular geographical, national or cultural regions.

Typical area study programs involve history, political science, sociology, cultural studies, language, geography,literature and related discipline.

Area-studies tradition can be studied, described and explained in terms of general and regional geography.

General geography deals with one or a few aspects of the human environment or human population and study their varying performance in the world or over a predefined geographical space. It is essentially analytical and makes use of generic concepts. e.g.-Study of pattern of distribution of temperature, rainfall, vegetation, minerals, crops and population at world level or continent wise.

Regional geography is study of the geography of regions. It is necessarily synthetic and deals with unique situations and their peculiarities. e.g. Study of landforms, climatic variable, soils, vegetation, minerals, fauna and flora and superimposition of these physical factors on the cultural landscape or any of the elements of socio-cultural aspect.


Spatial Analysis Tradition

An approach to human geography which focuses on the spatial arrangement of phenomena is called locational analysis. The quantitative technique employed in locational analysis is known as spatial analysis.

The goal of spatial analysis was ‘building accurate generalisations with predictive power by precise quantitative description of spatial distribution, spatial structure and organisation and spatial relationships’.

Unwin defined spatial analysis as study of the arrangements of points, lines, areas and surfaces on a map. The followers of spatial science advocated that human geography focused on role of space as a fundamental variable, influencing both society’s organisation and operation and behaviour of its individual members.

Spatial analysis closely associated with philosophy of -positivism gained popularity during period of quantitative revolution. Using application of spatial analysis, the E generalisations were obtained based on three fundamental -spatial concepts of direction, distance and connection.

Criticism of Spatial Analysis

Spatial analysis is criticised on several counts

(i) Logical impossibility of defining spatial variables independent of the context within which they were supposed to operate.

(ii) It does not take into account the cultural values and normative questions while attempting to establish the man and environment relationship.


N.B- Notes will be updated time to time

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PDF Name: Major Geographic Traditions Notes by Netset Corner

Source: Arihant Geography Book

Language: English

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