Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers

Activity: Participating in or organising an eventParticipation in conference


The ‘bogey-lady of a slightly silly concept’: rethinking the legacy of Ellen Churchill Semple

2007 marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of the death of Ellen Churchill Semple. For almost three decades at the beginning of the twentieth century she exerted an important influence on the disciplinary development of Anglo-American geography. Although not “written out” of geography’s history in the same way as many of her female contemporaries, her contribution is often presented simply as a brief and misguided flirtation with environmental determinism. Semple was responsible, in part, for training a generation of American geographers, for providing the discipline with a novel methodological focus, and for encouraging and promoting the work of women scholars.

With particular reference to her 1911 volume Influences of geographic environment, I consider the ways in which her perspective on environmentalism shaped the practice of geography in the United States and Britain. I hope to explain why Semple’s book was read both as a timely manifesto for a scientific approach to geographical research, and also as a text which might damage the discipline’s legitimacy. In exploring what I would like to call Influences’ trajectory of diffusion, I argue that it is possible to chart a geography of its reception—to reveal a spatial particularity in its reading and reviewing. In so doing, I address more general questions relating to the epistemic and methodological bases of book geography, and describe the contribution that geography can make to explaining how knowledge and ideas, in the guise of the book, are communicated and received.

Period17 Apr 200721 Apr 2007
Event typeConference
LocationSan Francisco, United StatesShow on map