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geography, the science of place, i.e., the study of the surface of the earth, the location and distribution of its physical and cultural features, the areal patterns or places that they form, and the interrelation of these features as they affect humans.

Methods and Branches

Geography is a synoptic science that uses the same elements as the other sciences but in a different context. It integrates data spatially, making elaborate use of maps as its special tool. Geography may be studied by way of several interrelated approaches, i.e., systematically, regionally, descriptively, and analytically. The systematic approach organizes geographical knowledge into individual categories that are studied on a worldwide basis; the regional approach integrates the results of the systematic method and studies the interrelationships of the different categories while focusing on a particular area of the earth; the descriptive approach depicts where geographical features and populations are located; the analytical approach seeks to find out why those features are located where they are.

In the study of geography two main branches may be distinguished, physical geography and human (or cultural) geography, originally anthropogeography. The first, based on the physical sciences, studies the world's surface, the distribution, delineation, and nature of its land and water areas. Climate, landforms (see geomorphology), and soil are examined as to origin and are classified as to distribution. Drawing on the biological sciences, fauna and flora (biogeography) are brought into an areal pattern. Through the mathematical sciences the motion of the earth and its relationship to the sun (seasons), the moon (tides), and the planets are studied, as well as mapmaking and navigation.

Human geography places humans in their physical setting; it studies their relationship with that environment as well as their conscious activities and continuous progress in adapting themselves to it (and to other humans) and in transforming their environment to their needs. Human geography may in turn be subdivided into a number of fields, such as economic geography, political geography (with its 20th-century offshoot, geopolitics), social geography (including urban geography, another 20th-century ramification), environmental perception and management, geographical cartography, geographic information systems, and military geography. Historical geography (which reconstructs geographies of the past and attempts to trace the evolution of physical and cultural features) and urban and regional planning are sometimes considered branches of geography.

History of Geographic Study


Geography was first systematically studied by the ancient Greeks, who also developed a philosophy of geography; Thales of Miletus, Herodotus, Eratosthenes, Aristotle, Strabo, and Ptolemy made major contributions to geography. The Roman contribution to geography was in the exploration and mapping of previously unknown lands. Greek geographic learning was maintained and enhanced by the Arabs during the Middle Ages. Arab geographers, among whom Idrisi, Ibn Battutah, and Ibn Khaldun are prominent, traveled extensively for the purpose of increasing their knowledge of the world. The journeys of Marco Polo in the latter part of the Middle Ages began the revival of geographic interest outside the Muslim world.

With the Renaissance in Europe came the desire to explore unknown parts of the world that led to the voyages of exploration and to the great discoveries. However, it was mercantile interest rather than a genuine search for knowledge that spurred these endeavors. The 16th and 17th cent. reintroduced sound theoretical geography in the form of textbooks (the Geographia generalis of Bernhardus Varenius) and maps (Gerardus Mercator's world map). In the 18th cent. geography began to achieve recognition as a discipline and was taught for the first time at the university level.

Modern Geography

The modern period of geography began toward the end of the 18th cent. with the works of Alexander von Humboldt and Karl Ritter. Thenceforth two principal methods of approach to geography can be distinguished: the systematic, following Humboldt, and the regional, following Ritter. Of the national schools of geography that developed, the German and the French schools were the most influential. The German school, which dealt mainly with physical geography, developed a scientific and analytical style of writing. The French school became known for its descriptive regional monographs presented in a lucid and flowing manner; human and historical geography were its forte. Although emphasis has shifted several times between the approaches and viewpoints, their interdependence is recognized by all geographers.

Since the end of World War II, geography, like other disciplines, has experienced the explosion of knowledge brought on by the new tools of modern technology for the acquisition and manipulation of data; these include aerial photography, remote sensors (including infrared and satellite photography), and the computer (for quantitative analysis and mapping). The quantitative method of geographical research has gained much ground since the 1950s, Edward Ullman and William Garrison of the United States and Peter Haggett of Great Britain being leading exponents.

Important contributions to the advancement of geography and to the development of geographic concepts have been made by Ferdinand von Richthofen, Albrecht Penck, Friedrich Ratzel, Alfred Hettner, Karl Haushofer, and Walter Christaller in Germany; Paul Vidal de la Blache, Jean Brunhes, Conrad Malte-Brun, Elisée Reclus, and Emmanuel de Martonne in France; and William Morris Davis, Isaiah Bowman, Ellen Churchill Semple, Carl O. Sauer, Albert Brigham, and Richard Hartshorne in the United States. Today geography is studied by governmental agencies and in many of the world's universities. Research is stimulated by such noted geographic institutions as the Royal Geographical Society (1830, Great Britain), the American Geographical Society (1852, United States), and the Société de Geographie (1821, France).


See N. Ahmad, Muslim Contribution to Geography (rev. and enl. ed. 1965); J. O. Thomson, History of Ancient Geography (1965); J. O. Broeck, Compass of Geography (1966); G. H. Kimble, Geography in the Middle Ages (1938, repr. 1968); E. Fischer et al., A Question of Place (2d ed. 1969); R. Murphy, The Scope of Geography (1969); R. Hartshorne, Perspectives on the Nature of Geography (1987); J. H. Bird, The Changing Worlds of Geography (1989).

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the discipline concerned with the description and explanation of the changing spatial relationships of terrestrial phenomena in interrelation with humanity As such, geography is both a physical science and a social science, ranging from physical geography, on the one hand (including geomorphology and climatology), to human geography on the other. The coverage of the discipline means that it overlaps with sociology and social anthropology, and with other social sciences such as economics. In the past, geography has drawn on sociology more often than sociology has on geography. More recently, however, the exchange of ideas has been greater in both directions, with leading sociologists (e.g. GIDDENS) importing ‘time-space’ conceptions, central in geographical analysis, into a central place within sociological analysis (see also TIME-GEOGRAPHY, HAGERSTRAND, TIMESPACE DISTANCIATION). Other recent exchanges of ideas between geography and sociology have occurred in URBAN SOCIOLOGY, where the work of prominent geographers such as Castells (1978) and Harvey (1989) has exerted a strong influence on developments in sociology (see also URBAN SOCIAL MOVEMENTS).
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the system of natural and social sciences that studies natural and man-made territorial complexes and their components. The union of the natural and social geographic disciplines within the framework of a single scientific system is a result of the close interdependence among the subjects they study and their common scientific task—the comprehensive investigation of nature, the population, and the economy in the interests of using natural resources most efficiently, locating production rationally, and creating the most favorable environment for people to live in.

The system of geographic sciences that is known today took shape during the course of the development and differentiation of the old geography, which was not initially broken down into separate areas of study. It was an encyclopedic body of knowledge about nature, the population, and the economy of different territories. The process of differentiation led, on the one hand, to specialization in the study of particular features of the natural environment (such as relief, climate, or soil), the economy (such as industry or agriculture), and the population. On the other hand, it led to the need to investigate territorial combinations of these features—that is, natural and man-made complexes.

Within the system of geography, there are three major areas of study. The first consists of the natural or physicogeographic sciences, among which are physical geography (including general study of the earth, landscape study, and paleogeography), geomorphology, climatology, land hydrology, oceanography, glaciology, geocryology, the geography of soils, and biogeography. The second major area consists of the social geographic sciences—general and regional economic geography, the geography of branches of the economy (such as industrial geography, agricultural geography, and transportation geography), population geography, and political geography. The third major area is cartography, which is a technical science but is nevertheless included in the system of geographic sciences for historical reasons and because it shares basic goals and problems with the other geographic sciences. In addition to the above, there is also the geography of individual countries, which studies the nature, population, and economy of individual countries and regions, and the disciplines that are primarily applied sciences, such as medical and military geography. Many geographic disciplines at the same time belong to other sciences (biology, geology, economics, and so forth); there are no sharp boundaries among these sciences.

Although the different sciences belonging to geography have common aims, each has its own object of investigation, which is studied by various methods that are essential for a thorough knowledge of it, and each has its own theoretical and regional subdivisions and applied fields. Sometimes all the applied geographic sciences are consolidated and called applied geography; however, the latter is not an independent science.

The theoretical conclusions of each geographic discipline rely on the findings of territorial investigations, of expeditionary and permanent-station research, and of cartography. Along with typological analysis, regionalization is important as a special method of systematizing geographic material and setting up a system of geographic laws. The development of physical-geographic and economic regionalization is one of the most important tasks of current geography. Mathematical methods are widely used in climatology, oceanography, and hydrology, and they are gradually being introduced into the other geographic sciences. The data and methods of related disciplines of natural science, such as geology, geophysics, geochemistry, and biology, are especially useful to physical geography. Economic geography is closely linked with physical geography and the social sciences—political economy, demography, sociology, and the economics of industry, agriculture, and transportation.

The study of the various sources of energy and types of natural resources falls within the scope of geographic research. As the need for natural resources becomes more acute, geographic research acquires greater national economic importance. Geography develops the scientific bases for a comprehensive and rational use of natural conditions and resources, for the development of productive forces and planned siting of production, and for the protection, restoration, and transformation of nature.

The tasks and the content of geography have changed many times through the long course of its history. An empirical concept of the environment emerged when labor first appeared and became a subject of primary importance to primitive man.

The first geographic information is found in ancient written sources left by the peoples of the slaveholding East. The low level of development of productive forces and the weak links between different cultures between 4,000 and 1,000 B.C. led to a limited geographic perspective; nature was interpreted primarily as religious and mythological (as is indicated by the myths of the creation of the world, the great flood, and so forth).

The very first attempts, still purely speculative, to explain geographic phenomena scientifically (the alternation of land and sea, earthquakes, the Nile’s floods, and so forth) were made by the philosophers of the Ionian school in the sixth century B.C. (Thales, Anaximander). At the same time, the development of navigation and trade in ancient Greece necessitated descriptions of the land and seashores. Hecataeus of Miletus drew up a description of all the countries that were known in Greece at the time. Thus, in the sixth century B.C. the outlines of two independent geographic tendencies had already been drawn: physical geography, or the general study of the earth, which existed within the framework of Ionian science and was directly linked with natural philosophical concepts, and the study of individual countries, which was descriptive and empirical in nature. During the classical age (fifth and fourth centuries B.C.), Aristotle was the major representative of the first tendency. (His Meteorology contains the concepts of the interpenetration of the earth’s mantles and the cycle of air and water.) The second tendency was represented by Herodotus. By this time the ideas of the earth’s roundness and of the five temperature zones had already appeared. During the Hellenistic period (third and second centuries B.C.) scientists of the Alexandria school (Dicaearchus, Eratosthenes, Hipparchus) developed mathematical geography, determining the dimensions of the globe and the position of points on its surface and making cartographic projections. Eratosthenes attempted to unite all the schools of thought in a single work entitled Geography. (He was also the first to determine with adequate precision that the earth is round.)

Ancient geography reached its conclusion in the first and second centuries A.D. in the works of Strabo and Ptolemy. The first represented the school of geographers that studied individual countries. Strabo’s Geography, which is of a descriptive character, is largely concerned with nomenclature and topographical, ethnographic, and political-historical subjects; in it features of the future chorographic concept, based exclusively on the development of phenomena in space, are apparent. Ptolemy’s Geography is a list of places that indicates their geographic coordination, prefaced by a presentation of methods of constructing cartographic projections of the earth (that is, material for drawing maps of the earth), which he saw as a task of geography. After Aristotle and Eratosthenes, the area of physical geography did not develop much further in ancient science. Its last prominent representative was Posidonius (first century B.C.)

The geographic concepts in Europe during the early Middle Ages developed from Biblical dogma and certain conclusions of ancient science purged of everything “pagan” (including the idea that the earth is round). According to the Christian Topography of Cosmas Indicopleustes (sixth century), the earth is a flat rectangle washed by the ocean, the sun is concealed behind the mountains at night, and all the large rivers began in heaven and flowed under the ocean. At this time science was at a relatively higher level in the feudal countries of the East. The Chinese, Arabs, Persians, and peoples of Middle Asia produced many documents on different countries (although they were primarily concerned with nomenclature and political history). Mathematical geography and cartography developed significantly. In the middle of the 13th century the spatial perspectives of the Europeans began to broaden, but this had little influence on their geographic views.

In the 15th century the Italian humanists translated the works of certain ancient geographers, and it was under their influence (in particular Ptolemy) that concepts of geography developed in the age preceding the great geographic discoveries. Geographic thought gradually freed itself of church dogmas. The idea that the earth is round reemerged, as did also Ptolemy’s concept that the western shores of Europe were close to the eastern frontier of Asia. These ideas appealed to the aspiration to reach India and China by sea. (The socioeconomic preconditions for doing so had fully matured by the end of the 15th century.) After the great geographic discoveries, geography advanced and became one of the most important fields of knowledge. It met the need presented by early capitalism for detailed information on various countries, trade routes, markets, and natural resources, and served primarily a reference function. Ptolemy’s Geography (with supplements) and various cosmographies were published many times in the European states. The scientific level of these publications is not high; new information is frequently interspersed with old and a great deal of attention is devoted to all kinds of curiosities and fabrications. Maps were very popular, and at the end of the 16th century, atlases were too. Detailed descriptions of individual countries began to appear, with their primary emphasis on economics and politics. (Among them was L. Guicciardini’s Description of the Netherlands, published in 1567, which is an excellent example of the work of that period.) Through geographic discoveries it was established that there is one worldwide ocean, it was refuted that the tropical zone is uninhabitable, and the sea currents and zones of constant winds were discovered, although the nature of the continents was hardly studied. In the 16th and 17th centuries the sciences of mechanics and astronomy made great progress. But physics had still not created adequate premises for explaining geographic phenomena. A general study of the earth was undertaken and applied primarily to the interests of navigation (the earth as a planet, geographic coordinates, sea currents, tides, and winds).

The major geographic work summarizing the scientific results of the period of the great geographic discoveries was the General Geography by B. Varenius (1650). In it, Varenius reviewed the primary characteristics of the earth’s solid surface, the hydrosphere, and the atmosphere. According to him geography was the science of the “land-water sphere,” which he thought should be studied both as a whole and in parts.

The second half of the 17th century and the first half of the 18th century saw a great deal of progress in the cartography of the earth. An interest in the natural conditions of various countries also grew, and there was an increased desire to explain the processes of nature on the earth (G. Leibniz in Germany, G. Buffon in France, and M. V. Lomonosov in Russia). Nature became the object of monographic regional investigation (for example, S. P. Krasheninnikov’s Description of the Land of Kamchatka, 1756). But virtually no original generalizations about the earth appeared, and in the popular cosmographies and textbooks on geography, nature was given a very small place.

M. V. Lomonosov and his predecessors I. K. Kirilov and V. N. Tatishchev made a major contribution to the founding of economic geography.

The next frontier in the history of geography dates to the 1760’s, when large natural science expeditions began to be organized (for example, the academy expeditions in Russia). Certain naturalists (the Russian scientist P. S. Pallas and the German scientists G. Forster and, later, A. Humboldt) set out to study the interrelations among phenomena. At the same time, there was an increasing gap between the geographic investigations of natural-scientist travelers, which were based on strict scientific analysis of facts, and the geographic manuals and textbooks that gave information about states (political structure, cities, religion, and so forth) that was not always reliable. The first attempts to construct a geographic description on the basis of a natural territorial division were well known (orographical, hydrographical, and in Russia, zonal: northern, middle, and southern). The end of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th saw no major generalizations in the field of physical geography. The lectures on physical geography by the German philosopher I. Kant, which were published in 1801-02, introduced little new material into the knowledge of geographic laws, but they presented the ideological basis for viewing geography as a chorographic, or spatial, science.

In the first half of the 19th century the outstanding achievements of natural science resulted in the rejection of natural-philosophic conjecture, an explanation of the basic processes of nature, and the reduction of these processes to natural causes. A new attempt was made to synthesize scientific data about nature by A. Humboldt (The Cosmos, 1845-62). He posed the problem of investigating the general laws and internal relations of earthly phenomena (primarily those between living and nonliving things). But his synthesis could not yet be complete; it was limited primarily to phytoclimatic relationships. At the same time K. Ritter, the German geographer, developed a completely different view of geography. He was not interested in nature objectively but only in its influence on the human being, which he interpreted in an unscientific manner. His main work on the study of the earth, Geography in Relation to Nature and Human History (vols. 1-19, 1822-59) is a kind of inventory of the things that fill “earthly spaces.” According to Humboldt and Ritter, geography is essentially two sciences: the first is a natural science discipline and the second, the geography of individual countries, is a humanities discipline. In the works of these scientists the dual nature of geography, which had prevailed during the classical age, was again emphasized. Applied economic geography received its first expression in the form of so-called finance and administration statistics, as well as in the desire to see the geography of countries as a means of explaining historical processes. The statistics systematized, on a state basis, information about population, economy, administrative-political layout of territory, finances, trade, and military potential.

In Russia in the first half of the 19th century a clear demarcation was made between economic geography (statistics) and physical geography developed by such physicists as E. Kh. Lents and considered a part of physics. It seemed that the rapid differentiation of natural science that had begun (geology appeared as early as the 18th century, and later climatology, phytogeography, and oceanography began to take shape) had deprived geography of its own subject of investigation. In fact, however, this process was an essential condition for the later transition to geographic synthesis on a new level.

After Humboldt, the first elements of synthesis are encountered in the outstanding Russian naturalist-explorers of the 1840’s to 1860’s, namely A. F. Middendorf, E. A. Eversman, I. G. Borshchov, and N. A. Severtsov (the last made an attempt to isolate “types of terrain,” the prototype of the geographic complex in its current interpretation). Even in prereform Russia statistics was increasingly departing from the traditional study and becoming more geographic in emphasis owing to the broad and progressive public interest in comparing the economies of different territories and in economic regionalization.

During the period of transition from the age of free competition to that of monopoly capitalism (beginning in the 1870’s) the capitalist economy’s need for various types of natural resources increased sharply, stimulating the development of specialized geographic research (hydrological, soil, and so forth) and promoting the further differentiation of geographic disciplines. On the other hand, the gap continued between general geography, with its emphasis on natural science (for example, The Earth by E. Reclus of France, 1868-69) and regional geography, in which man was central (Universal Geography, also by Reclus, 1876-94). Some geographers such as P. P. Semenov, D. N. Anuchin, and H. Wagner, recognized that geography was no longer a single science. Nevertheless, the opinion that geography was a natural science predominated (O. Peschel, A. Kirchhoff, and F. Richthofen in Germany, P. P. Semenov in Russia, and R. Hinman in the USA). In 1887, G. Gerland attempted to substantiate the notion that geography is an independent natural earth science, but he reduced it to geophysics. In the 1880’s, however, foreign geography was already retreating from the concept of natural science. The German geographer F. Ratzel was a founder of the anthropogeographic school, whose ideological bases are social Darwinism and geographic determinism. The further development of this school of thought led many geographers into reactionary sociological ideas and pseudoscientific geopolitics. Representatives of another, chorographic school based on Kant’s philosophy tried to substantiate the independence of geography on the basis of a peculiar spatial approach. The chorographic view of geography was furthest developed at the beginning of the 20th century by the German geographer A. Hettner, according to whom geography encompasses both natural and social phenomena. However, it does not view these phenomena on the basis of their own properties but rather as “the objects that fill earthly space.” Hettner thought that geography should not study the development of objects and phenomena in time, develop generalizations, and establish laws but that it should only be concerned with the characteristics of specific places—that is, in the last analysis, it is the old school of the geography of particular countries.

The attempt to limit the scope of geography to a study of regional features and phenomena within the framework of particular localities was very typical of the beginning of the 20th century. The French geographic school founded by P. Vidal de la Blache considered its task to be describing the “harmonious unity” of the natural environment and human life within the individual localities. Works written by figures of this school are distinguished by excellent regional descriptions, but at the same time they emphasize empiricism and a purely depictive approach to nature, with no thorough analysis of socioeconomic conditions. By the second decade of this century the French school had already adopted a onesided approach toward humanities (human geography).

In Russia at the end of the 19th century, relying on the information he had discovered about soil and about the progressive ideas of Russian biogeography, V. V. Dokuchaev made inroads in comprehensive physical-geographic research, linking its tasks closely with the solving of national economic problems. A. I. Voeikov made a large contribution to the knowledge of geographic interrelationships. He also did outstanding investigations in the area of the human influence on nature. (The American scientist J. P. Marsh had drawn attention to this problem in the 1860’s.)

In 1898, Dokuchaev expressed the idea that a new science concerned with the relationships and interrelationships among all elements of living and nonliving nature must be counterposed to “geography that floats off in all directions.” His doctrine of natural zones served as an introduction to this new science. Dokuchaev founded a school of naturalist and practical geographers who were guided by his ideas of the geographic complex in their theoretical and applied research. When this idea was made specific at the beginning of the 20th century, it led to the formulation of the concept of the landscape as the natural territorial unity that constitutes the primary object of geographic research (G. N. Vysotskii, G. F. Morozov, L. S. Berg, A. A. Borzov, and R. I. Abo-lin). In 1913, L. S. Berg demonstrated that each natural zone consists of landscapes of a definite type. A. N. Krasnov, P. I. Brounov, and A. A. Kruber were working on general studies of the earth, but, like their non-Russian colleagues, they were unable to raise this branch of geography to the level of an independent scientific theory; at this time it remained merely an instructional subject.

The first map showing the natural regionalization of all land area is attributed to the English geographer A. J. Herbertson (1905). It was constructed primarily to show latitudinal and longitudinal climatic changes, orography, and plant life. In Germany in 1913, S. Passarge advanced an idea about the natural landscape and in subsequent years developed it; he proposed a classification of landscapes and a diagram of their morphological breakdown, but he underestimated the role of interrelationships among the components of the landscape and the necessity of a genetic approach to the study of natural phenomena.

The state of non-Soviet geographic thought in the period between the two world wars was typified by the chorographic concept (after A. Hettner, the American scientist R. Hartshorne came forward in 1939 as a particularly zealous defender of it) and by an ever-increasing withdrawal from nature in favor of “cultural-geographic” phenomena. The cultural landscape school (the German scientist O. Schlüter and the American scientist C. Sauer) concentrated on the study of external results of human activity on earth (populated areas, residences, roads, and so forth). In this school, some geographers were concerned with the human origin of many features of the environment, but in their study of the results of human economic activity they did not consider the objective laws of a society’s development. Therefore, some of the economic-geographic excursions were insufficiently scientific. At the same time, non-Soviet geography exhibited an increased interest in applied geographic research. Field investigations of land were undertaken in certain regions of the USA for agricultural and regional-planning purposes; homogeneous unit areas were delineated on the basis of aerial photographs by mapping individual natural features (such as soil and grade of slope) and economic types of land and then mechanically superimposing them.

Soviet geography. The Great October Socialist Revolution opened broad horizons for the development of geography. In the Soviet Union in 1918 the attention of geographers was already directed toward the study of natural productive forces. In the 1920’s and 1930’s the Academy of Sciences of the USSR organized large, comprehensive expeditions that were very important for studying the productive forces of Soviet Russia. The expeditions of N. I. Vavilov played an important role in the investigation of the plant resources of the USSR and foreign countries.

Along with the theoretical development of climatology, hydrology, geomorphology, glaciology, soil science, geobotany, geocryology, and paleogeography, there was a rapidly growing interest in complex physical-geographic and economic-geographic problems, including regionalization. This, in turn, was related to investigation of the rules of territorial physical-geographic differentiation (L. I. Prasolov, S. S. Neustruev, and B. A. Keller). The first field landscape photographs and the beginning of the development of landscape maps date to the 1920’s and 1930’s (B. B. Polynov, I. V. Larin, and R. I. Abolin). V. I. Vernadskii’s teachings about the biosphere (1926) had great theoretical significance for physical geography.

In the 1930’s the theoretical development of Soviet physical geography moved in two directions: a general study of the earth and landscape study. The former was represented by A. A. Grigor’ev, who introduced the concepts of the geographic mantle and the physical-geographic process and who insisted on the use of precise quantitative methods in physical geography. L. S. Berg’s works constituted the basis for the teaching of landscape, which was further developed by M. A. Pervukhin, L. G. Ramenskii, and S. V. Kalesnik.

The works of Iu. M Shokal’skii, N. N. Zubov, and others on the study of oceans and seas were an important component of physical-geographic research.

The initial methodological foundations for economic geography were developed in the classical works of K. Marx and F. Engels. Of paramount importance for the theory of Soviet economic geography were V. I. Lenin’s works The Development of Capitalism in Russia (1899), New Data on the Laws of the Development of Capitalism in Farming (1915), and Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916) and his Draft Plan of Scientific-Technical Work (1918); the experience of setting up the GOELRO (State Commission for the Electrification of Russia); and the participation of economic geographers such as I. G. Aleksandrov and L. L. Nikitin in the work of the Gosplan (State Planning Commission) on economic regionalization of the country. But the Marxist-Leninist theory of economic geography in the USSR did not develop all at once. At first there was an ideological struggle between the so-called sectoral-statistical school, which still preserved the traditions of bourgeois thought, and the Marxist (regional) school. The sharp methodological debate that occurred in the USSR in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s ended with the victory of the Marxist school, but it also proved that counterposing the sectoral school to the regional is incorrect, because cross sections of both schools can be either bourgeois or Marxist. N. N. Baranskii led the struggle against bourgeois views as well as leftist trends that attempted to divorce economic geography from physical geography.

The practical experience and theoretical debates of the following decades confirmed the objectively established division of geography into two groups of sciences (natural and social) and showed the unsoundness of attempts to resurrect the so-called single geography. The fact that specific geographic disciplines have their own tasks does not, however, preclude the existence of comprehensive intersectoral geographic problems, such as that of the heat and water balance of the earth’s surface and its transformation and that of scientific substantiation of large-scale regional economic plans involving the complex development of natural resources. Important theoretical conclusions reached in the sectoral geographic disciplines promote the development of a synthetic approach to the study of both natural and man-made territorial complexes and to knowledge of the interrelations between them.

Successes in the studies of the radiation and heat balance (M. I. Budyko), the circulation of air masses (B. P. Alisov, E. S. Rubinshtein, and S. P. Khromov), and the moisture circulation in the atmosphere (O. A. Drozdov) are significant not only for climatology but also for the general theory of physical geography, particularly for developing the teaching of geographic zonality. Studies of the planetary moisture cycle (G. P. Kalinin and M. I. L’vovich), heat exchange in the atmosphere-land-ocean system (V. V. Shuleikin), and the long-term variability of heat conditions, moisture, and ice formations (B. L. Dzerdzeevskii, M. V. Tronov, and ?. V. Shnitnikov) transcend the framework of specific geographic sciences (hydrology, climatology, oceanography, and glaci-ology) and make a substantial contribution to the knowledge of the structure and dynamics of the geographic mantle. The solution to this important physical-geographic problem is also linked to a great extent with the synthetic investigations of land relief (I. P. Gerasimov, K. K. Markov, Iu. A. Meshcheriakov, I. S. Shchukin, and B. A. Fedorovich) and to the study of the ocean floor and the coastal zone of the seas and oceans (V. P. Zenkovich, O. K. Leont’ev, and G. B. Udintsev). In research on the genesis and classification of soils and their mapping (I. P. Gerasimov, V. A. Kovda, and N. N. Rozov), their water conditions (A. A. Rode), and geochemistry (M. A. Glazovskaia), the geographic school of soil science and the close relationship of that science with the other geographic disciplines are clearly manifested. The question of the biological productivity of land and the ocean also belongs to geography; solving it assumes an analysis of the complex interrelationships between biological communities and their geographic environment and relies to a significant extent on progress in the knowledge of the geographic rules of the plant life (E. M. Lavrenko, V. B. Sochava, and V. N. Sukachev) and the animal population of the land (A. G. Voronov and A. N. Formozov) as well as knowledge of ocean life (V. G. Bogorov and L. A. Zenkevich).

The complex nature of the problems facing current geography inevitably lead to the formation of new border (including applied) disciplines that lie somewhere between geography and related sciences, such as biogeocoenology (V. N. Sukachev), landscape geochemistry (B. B. Polynov, A. I. Perel’man, and M. A. Glazovskaia), and medical geography (E. N. Pavlovskii and A. A. Shoshin), necessitating the application of the latest mathematical and other methods to solve various geographic problems.

The synthetic approach to investigating natural phenomena on the earth finds its fullest expression in physical geography proper, as the science of natural geographic complexes, or geosystems. One of the branches of this science is general physical geography, which investigates the general laws of construction and development of the geographic mantle as a whole, including the cycles of matter and its related energy that are typical of the mantle, the zonal and azonal structure, and sequential and rhythmic changes (A. A. Grigor’ev, S. V. Kalesnik, and K. K. Markov). Another branch—landscape study—is concerned with studying the territorial differentiation of the geographic mantle and the rules of the construction, development, and location of geographic complexes of different orders (zones, landscapes, facies, and so forth). Work is being done primarily in the fields of morphology, dynamics, systematization of landscapes and landscape regionalization (D. L. Armand, N. A. Gvozdetskii, K. I. Gerenchuk, A. G. Isachenko, S. V. Kalesnik, F. N. Mil’kov, N. I. Mikhailov, V. S. Preobra-zhenskii, N. A. Solntsev, and V. B. Sochava), and applied landscape study (agricultural, engineering, medical, and so forth).

Regional physical-geographic monographs on the USSR and other countries are of great scientific and practical importance. Among them are the 15-volume series Natural Conditions and Natural Resources of the USSR, from the Institute of Geography of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR (AN SSSR) and the works of writers such as B. F. Dobrynin, E. M. Murzaev, E. N. Lukashova, M. P. Petrov, A. M. Riabchikov, and T. V. Vlasova on the physical geography of other countries.

The sociogeographic sciences are based on the regularities of the socioeconomic sciences, with which they are closely related. For example, industrial geography and the geography of individual industries are closely linked to industrial economics and the economics of individual industries. The use of economic-geographic analysis has acquired great importance for the practical work of territorial planning. Along with development of the general theory of economic geography, particularly questions of the formation of integrated economic regions (dealt with by N. N. Baranskii, P. M. Alampiev, V. F. Vasiutin, L. Ia. Ziman, N. N. Kolosovskii, A. M. Kolotievskii, O. A. Konstantinov, V. V. Pokshi-shevskii, Iu. G. Saushkin, B. N. Semevskii, and la. G. Feigin), Soviet geographers have carried on scientific research on the regional and sectoral levels.

Regional studies in economic geography have been made available through the publication of an extensive series of regional descriptive monographs by the Institute of Geography of the AN SSSR (I. V. Komar, G. S. Nevel’shtein, M. I. Pomus, S. N. Riazantsev, and others). Outstanding among the sectoral investigations are the monographs on industrial geography (M. B. Vol’f, A. E. Probst, P. N. Stepanov, and A. T. Khrushchev), agricultural geography (A. N. Rakitnikov), and transportation geography (M. I. Galitskii and I. V. Nikol’skii). The problems of population geography and the geography of cities have been researched by R. M. Kabo, S. A. Kovalev, N. I. Lialikov, V. V. Pok-shishevskii, and V. G. Davidovich.

The growing scale of consumption of natural resources and the urgency of raising the economic efficiency of their use have given impetus to research in the field of economic evaluation of natural conditions and resources (I. V. Komar, A. A. Mints, and others). This field is becoming a special branch of science that lies at the junction of economic geography and the physical-geographic disciplines.

One of the new trends in the development of Soviet economic geography is expressed in the attempt to apply mathematical methods (including modeling) to the study of man-made territorial complexes, settlements, interregional relationships, and so forth.

Investigations of foreign countries have an important place in Soviet economic geography (I. A. Vitver, A. S. Dobrov, G. D. Kulagin, S. B. Lavrov, I. M. Maergoiz, and K. M. Popov). The study of the resources of developing countries has been especially important (V. V. Vol’skii, Iu. D. Dmi-trevskii, and M. S. Rozin).

I. A. Vitver, D. M. Lebedev, I. P. Magidovich, N. P. Nikitin, and V. K. Iatsunskii have done a great amount of work on the history of geography and historical geography.

In its development, geography has always been closely connected with cartography. On the boundary line between the geographic sciences and cartography, corresponding branches of topical cartography have taken shape—such as geomorphological, soil, landscape, and economic cartography. The current general trend of development in the geographic sciences to establish a complex consisting of the specific branches of geography has also been reflected in cartography. This reflection is apparent in the compilation of a number of major atlases during the 1960’s (the Physico-Geographic Atlas of the World, 1964, the Atlas of Antarctica, 1966, and numerous atlases of the Union and autonomous republics, krais, and oblasts) and in the production of sets of maps. In theoretical and methodological research on cartography the primary questions are becoming those of general complex cartography (K. A. Salishchev) and the principles and methods of mapping nature (I. P. Zarutskaia, A. G. Isachenko, and V. B. Sochava), population, and economy (N. N. Baranskii and A. I. Preobrazhenskii).

Modern geography is increasingly becoming an experimental-transformational, or constructive, science. It plays an important part in the solution of the very broad general scientific problem of the interrelationship between nature and society. The scientific-technical revolution, which has sharply intensified the human influence on natural and production processes, demands that this influence be placed under strict scientific control. Above all, this means the ability to predict the behavior of geosystems and, in the last analysis, the capability of controlling them at all levels, beginning with the local (large cities and their suburbs) and regional (for example, Western Siberia) and ending with the worldwide—that is, the geographic mantle as a whole. These goals necessitate the further development of the theory of natural and man-made territorial complexes and their interaction by means of the latest achievements and methods of mathematics, physics, the other natural and social sciences, the structural systems approach, and modeling, in addition to cartographic and other traditional geographic methods.

Geography abroad. The formation of the world socialist system after World War II opened broad opportunities for geographers in the socialist countries. Geography in these countries began to solve complex problems directly related to the tasks of socialist building (physical-geographic and economic regionalization, production assessment of natural resources, compilation of comprehensive national atlases, and so forth). In the foreign socialist countries there appeared valuable investigations written from a Marxist point of view on timely economic-geographic problems.

In the developing countries, particularly India, Brazil, and Mexico, national schools of geography have begun to develop, and the activity of geographers is frequently linked to accomplishing the tasks of economic development.

In the advanced capitalist countries the rapid growth of cities, discrepancies in the economic development of different regions, the threat of depletion of many natural resources, and pollution of the environment with waste products force state agencies and monopolies to intervene in the spontaneous processes of economic development and land use. In the USA, Canada, Great Britain, the Federal Republic of Germany, Japan, and several other countries, state institutions and private firms are enlisting geographers to participate in scientific substantiation of city-planning projects, regional planning, market studies, and so forth. Geographic research is more and more often applied, but this trend frequently comes into conflict with the theoretical backwardness of the science.

In many countries, especially the USA, the chorographic concept continues to prevail. Its ideologists (R. Hartshorne, P. James, D. Whittlesey, and others) deny that geography has its own subject of investigation. They consider the division of physical and economic geography unacceptable and dangerous and do not admit the possibility of theoretical generalizations and predictions based on a recognition of the uniqueness of each particular territory. The unity of geography is allegedly based on the regional method, but the objective reality of the region is rejected; it is interpreted as some kind of hypothetical, subjective concept, an “intellectual concept” whose sole criteria are convenience and expediency. These views are also shared by many geographers in Great Britain, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Switzerland, and other countries. “Regional synthesis,” which should theoretically join nature and man, is in fact at best limited to certain socioeconomic elements. Many feel that the concept of the natural region has already become obsolete and is of no value to geography (for example, E. Ackerman in the United States and E. Juillard and G. Chabot in France), and they even try to substantiate theoretically the obsolescence and irrelevance of physical geography in general. In this way, the alleged unity of geography is achieved by rejecting its physical-geographic part.

The representatives of so-called theoretical geography (such as E. Ullman and W. Bunge) have reached the conclusion that the distribution of various phenomena (for example, glaciers and farming methods) can be represented in the form of complex mathematical models, and they see the basis for the unity of geography in this. In attempting to solve questions of the location of production by means of mathematical models, they are distracted from the method of production and nature of production relationships; thus, their theories are turned into an abstract scheme divorced from real socioeconomic conditions.

Some West German, Austrian, and Swiss geographers consider the subject of geography to be the earth’s mantle or the geosphere (H. Bobek, E. Winckler, and G. Carol) or the landscape (E. Winckler, E. Obst, and C. Troll). In both cases, units encompassing both nature and man, with his culture, are assumed. Nevertheless, in practice the landscape is often investigated only as an object of natural science (C. Troll, I. Schmithüsen, and K. Paffen). Two primary lines of research have developed in Western European landscape study: landscape ecology—the study of internal interrelationships, primarily at the level of elementary geosystems corresponding to facies and natural landmarks—and landscape regionalization.

During the 1960’s landscape-ecological research developed in the German Democratic Republic (E. Neef, G. Haase, and G. Richter). Landscape study is being successfully developed in Poland (J. Kondracki), Czechoslovakia, Rumania, and Hungary.

In a number of capitalist countries, complex research on the natural environment is being conducted for purely practical purposes. In Australia, for example, since 1946 studies of undeveloped land that are similar to landscape photography have been conducted. Some projects by soil scientists and geobotanists (for example, in the USA) classifying lands also approach landscape research to a degree. The foresters of Canada and many other countries are guided by the principles of ecosystems and biological communities, which coincide to a large extent with the primary principles of landscape study. In this way, the most important categories of current geography (the geosystem and the landscape) are being studied in the West primarily through the applied disciplines and are concerned with real objects that are subject to geographic investigation.

Important institutions. In the USSR geographic research, the training of geographic specialists, and the publication of geographic monographs, journals, and collections are carried out by the Institute of Geography of the AN SSSR; the Institute of the Geography of Siberia and the Far East of the Siberian Division of the AN SSSR; the geography departments of Moscow, Leningrad, and other universities; other institutes of the AN SSSR; the geographic institutes, departments, and sections of the republic academies of science; the geographic faculties and pedagogical institutes; and the Geographic Society of the USSR and its branches and divisions.

In the socialist countries outside of the USSR, institutes of geography have been established in the academies of sciences. In the capitalist countries the primary centers of geographic research are usually the universities. In many countries there are geographic societies. The geographers of most countries in the world are members of the International Geographical Union, which calls international geographic conferences every four years.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


(science and technology)
The study of all aspects of the earth's surface, comprising its natural and political divisions, the differentiation of areas, and, sometimes people in relationship to the environment.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


1. the study of the natural features of the earth's surface, including topography, climate, soil, vegetation, etc., and man's response to them
2. the natural features of a region
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005