Historical Geography

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Geography, Historical


studies the physical, economic, and political geography of the past of a given country or territory. The materials of historical geography give concrete expression to data on the development of production in particular regions at various stages of the development of society.

Historical geography deals with the geography of internal and external boundaries and the distribution of cities, villages, and fortresses. It also studies historical events—that is, the routes of military campaigns, battles, popular uprisings, geographical discoveries and navigation, and the major trade routes—and specifies the geographical characteristics of historical events. The treatment of the problems of historical geography is subordinate to the general tasks of historical science. Its sources are written and archaeological monuments and information on toponymy and linguistics, as well as the data indispensable for the reconstruction of the physical geographic landscape of the past. The materials of historical geography formed the foundation for the development of historical cartography.

The most complex task of historical geography is the study of the economic geography of a given area—that is, the determination of the level of development and the distribution of productive forces and the analysis of the changes in the basic elements of economic geography during periods of change in the social and economic structure, for the purpose of obtaining comparable pictures of the dynamics of the development of society.

In prerevolutionary Russian and foreign historiography the object of historical geography was conceived as the determination of past political boundaries and the location of ancient cities and settlements, the determination of the sites of historical events, and the description of the ethnic boundaries of a given area. This concept was the consequence of the view of historical geography as a science engaged primarily in the study of political events and wars.

The initial development of historical geography was associated with the Renaissance and the great geographic discoveries of the 15th and 16th centuries. The atlas of the ancient world compiled by the Flemish geographer A. Ortelius in the second half of the 16th century was particularly important. During the 17th through 18th centuries the development of historical geography was promoted by the Dutch scholar P. Clüver and the French scholar J. B. D’Anville. The subject matter of historical geography expanded beginning in the second half of the 19th century as a result of the inclusion of problems of the socioeconomic geography of the past (for example, Darby’s works on the historical geography of Great Britain). In Russia, V. N. Tatishchev, N. I. Boltin, N. P. Barsov, S. M. Seredonin, and A. A. Spitsyn studied historical geography during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Soviet historians have done a number of major studies in historical geography: M. N. Tikhomirov’s Russia in the Sixteenth Century (1962), A. N. Nasonov’s The Russian Land and the Formation of the Territory of the Ancient Russian State (1951), and V. K. Iatsunskii’s Historical Geography: The History of Its Emergence and Development From the 14th to the 18th Century (1955).

Problems of historical geography in the USSR are studied by the Sector for Historical Geography of the Institute of the History of the USSR of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR.


Ocherki istorii istoricheskoi nauki v SSSR, vols. 1-4. Moscow, 1955-66. (Chapters on the history of historical geography in Russia.)
Iatsunskii, V. K. “Predmet i zadachi istoricheskoi geografii.” Istorik-marksist, 1941, no. 5.
Iatsunskii, V. K.“Istoriko-geograficheskie momenty v rabotakh V. I. Lenina.” In the collection Istoricheskie zapiski, vol. 27. Moscow, 1948.


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