Classifying Geographical History


  • *The author thanks the editor and four anonymous referees for their helpful suggestions for improving this article. An earlier version of this article was presented to the Thirteenth International Conference of Historical Geographers held at the University of Hamburg (Germany) in August 2006. That presentation was kindly funded in part by the British Academy.


Although the term “historical geography” has been the subject of a sustained and critical debate, that of “geographical history” has not. Usage of the latter term has been variable and the epistemological status of geographical history has been ambiguous. An examination of the usage of the term “geographical history” during the past 100 years or so reveals both that it has been employed little but confusingly and that there have recently been calls for its wider adoption. Two key themes are identified in the literature: first, that of geographical history as the study of changing geographical distributions; and second, geographical history as the study of geographical (in the sense of physical environmental) influences in history. In theory it is possible to distinguish geography from history and historical geography from geographical history, but in practice it is often difficult to do so. Nonetheless, examining usage of the term matters as a contribution to the history of ideas, and identifying its common usages allows scholars to communicate with mutual understanding.