Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers

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Bringing geography to the book: charting the reception of Influences of geographic environment

In 1911, Ellen Churchill Semple (1861–1932) published Influences of geographic environment, a treatise on environmental determinism. The book’s publication coincided with the establishment of geography in the United States as an independent academic discipline. As a consequence, Semple’s book exerted an important influence on the practice and perspective of a generation of geographers, helping to shaping the development and articulation of academic geography during the early decades of the twentieth century.

Influences was not, however, received with uniform approbation. By those geographers who considered it a monument to Semple’s scholarship and erudition, it was seen as a timely manifesto for a scientific and anthropological approach to geographical research. For others geographer, however, Influences was conceptually flawed—a text which might damage the academic legitimacy and disciplinary credibility of geography.

Accepted by some, repudiated by others, Influences was, in almost equal measure, lauded and criticized. This paper examines these different reactions, and shows that, in seeking to explain why Influences was encountered differently, by different people, at different times, and in different places, it is possible to trace a geography of reception—to reveal a spatial particularity in the reading and reviewing of Semple’s book. In exploring Influences’ trajectory of diffusion, I intend, then, to outline the contribution that geography, or a geographical sensibility, can make to understanding the way knowledge and ideas, in the guise of the printed text, are conceived, transmitted, and received.

Period7 Mar 200611 Mar 2006
Event typeConference
LocationChicago, United StatesShow on map