Detailed Course Information – Geography 882

Geography 882: The Development of Geographic Thought

Instructors: John Arnfield and Kevin R Cox

Course Rationale

Geography 882 is a required course for the program of study leading to a doctoral degree in Geography. Why is this? When students leave Ohio State with a Ph.D. from this department, they are carrying a label identifying themselves as geographers. We believe that it is important that they take with them a clear picture of what the discipline has been in the past and what it is now, and that they are aware of the issues that are likely to play significant roles in its further development. In addition, we expect that doctoral-level students should be giving some thought to the important philosophical and methodological issues that underpin their work. In a specialized doctoral program such as that at Ohio State, it is particularly important that these issues be confronted.

Please note that this course, as taught in Autumn 1995, was something of an experiment. While it has been a component of the graduate program at OSU at least back into the 1950s, this quarter was probably the first time it was taught jointly by a physical and a human geographer, each with different philosophical perspectives. We hope that this arrangement will provide the potential to make the course an exciting and challenging experience for student and instructors alike.

The nature of this course is such that we are particularly interested in the student’s ideas. We hope to be able to introduce the class to some ways of thinking about particular issues but neither instructor is likely to be happy if class members were to adopt their viewpoints completely and uncritically. We expect critical analysis of the readings, of our ideas and of the ideas of other class members and will be disappointed if this course does not encourage this. Naturally, we expect your positions and criticisms to be rationally defensible, however.


There is no required text. Instead, seminars will be based on lists of readings provided by the instructors for each course component.

The following is a list of some books that students will find worth consulting on an occasional basis.

  • Bird, J., The Changing Worlds of Geography (Clarendon Press, 1993).
  • Cloke, P., C. Philo and D. Sadler, Approaching Human Geography (Guilford Press, 1991).
  • Entrikin, J.N. and S.D. Brunn (eds.), Reflections on Richard Hartshorne’s “The Nature of Geography” (AAG, 1989).
  • Gregory, D., Geographical Imaginations (Basil Blackwell, 1994).
  • Gregory, K.J., The Nature of Physical Geography (Edward Arnold, 1985).
  • Goudie, A. et al. (eds.), The Encylopaedic Dictionary of Physical Geography (Basil Blackwell 1985).
  • Haggett, P., The Geographer’s Art (Basil Blackwell, 1990).
  • Haines-Young, R. and J. Petch, Physical Geography: Its Nature and Methods (Harper and Row, 1986).
  • Hartshorne, R., The Nature of Geography (AAG, 1939).
    Hartshorne, R., Perspective on the Nature of Geography (John Murray, 1960).
  • Harvey, D., Explanation in Geography (Edward Arnold, 1969).
    Johnston, R.J., Philosophy and Human Geography (Edward Arnold, 1983).
  • Johnston, R.J., Geography and Geographers: Anglo-American Human Geography Since 1945 (Edward Arnold, 1991).
  • Johnston, R.J., D. Gregory and D.M. Smith (eds.), The Dictionary of Human Geography (Blackwell, 1986).
  • Livingstone, D.N., The Geographical Tradition (Blackwell, 1992).
    Stoddart, D.R., On Geography (Basil Blackwell, 1986).
  • Unwin, T., The Place of Geography (Longman, 1992)

Note that most of these works are slanted quite decisively in the direction of human geography. This is representative of the geographic thought literature. However, you should be aware of a quite monumental, three-volume study of the history of geomorphology: R.J. Chorley, A.J. Dunn and R.P. Beckinsale, The History of the Study of Landforms (Methuen).


The course is divided into three main sections.

The Three Traditions of Geography. In his AAG Presidential Address in 1973, Taaffe identified three substantive geographical traditions: the ‘man-land’ or environmental, the regional, and the spatial. Each of these will be examined in this section. The aim is to provide the student with not just a sense of what these traditions have consisted, but also how they have related one to another, how they have changed over time, how some have been more dominant in some periods than in others, and what they have signified for the relation between human and physical geography.

Questions of Method in Geography. One way of understanding the history of geography is in terms of the methodological debates that have erupted at various times and the way in which those debates have been resolved. By ‘method’ here we mean not just technique but also how we go about conceptualizing our objects of study. Major issues that we would like to have discussed here include: the degree to which methodological convergence is possible between human and physical geography and the limits to such convergence; what we mean by the concepts at the heart of the three traditions — concepts like ‘space’, ‘people’, ‘nature’, ‘people-environment relations’, ‘region’; and, possibly, the role of values in geographic research — can it ever be value-free? This course section will also bring us face-to-face with a number of more general issues of significance across a spectrum of disciplines, issues like inductive and deductive reasoning, falsification versus verification, the systems approach, the role of models, the nature of explanation etc.

The History and Geography of Geographic Thought. Geography has obviously changed over time in terms both of its methodological and its conceptual commitments. There are different ways in which we can approach this history. One might be a simple chronological recounting of events in order to establish what might have influenced what. An alternative would be more sociological in its emphasis, looking at the development of disciplines in terms of intra-disciplinary struggles for power or in terms of broader social developments. Geographic thought can also be situated geographically. We can think, for example, in terms of different geographically-based schools of thought — the French School, the Iowa School, denudation chronology in geomorphology, the German landscape school, the Berkeley School. In other words, in trying to understand geographic thought, why should we simply look at it historically?. This will also include a discussion of the problem of situating geography in the broader context of other spatial sciences like geology, anthropology, archaeology, atmospheric science, urban sociology/economics, regional science, and city and regional planning.


This is a seminar-based course. Student participation is therefore expected. Our initial procedure, subject to revision, will be to focus each session on readings assigned during the previous session. For each set of readings there will be a set of questions on which students should reflect as they are doing them. These questions will serve to focus seminar discussion though this does not by any means pre-empt the possibility of other topics and issues emerging as, hopefully, debate develops.


Each student will write five short essays, typically of no more than 5-6 double-spaced typewritten pages, on a topic to be assigned by the instructors. Each topic will take the form of an attempt on the instructors’ part to elicit critical and constructive thought on the students’ parts. In writing them, students will have to draw on class discussion and the assigned readings. In some instances students may have to do some supplementary reading in order to address the topic adequately or even undertake some research on a particular geographer or school of geographers. Essays will be due in one week after they are assigned. Each of the essays will be worth 12% of the final grade. Each will be evaluated independently by both course instructors.

There will be a take-home examination at the end of the quarter worth 40% of the final grade. Two weeks prior to the examination some sample questions will be distributed to give students an idea of what to expect. This examination will be distributed at the beginning of the last week of classes and will be due a week later during exam week. All final exam scripts will be evaluated by both course instructors.

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Updated: 19/09/2018