Material Cultures and the Creation of Knowledge

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Miss Semple’s Influences: a study in the historical geography of authorship, publishing, and reading

In 1911, American geographer Ellen Churchill Semple published Influences of geographical environment, a treatise on environmental determinism. The book’s publication coincided with the emergence, in the United States, of geography as a distinct academic discipline. As a consequence, Semple’s text exerted an important influence on the development and articulation of American geography during the early decades of the twentieth century. Influences did not, however, meet with universal approbation: it was welcomed by some, repudiated by others. It is to this disparity of reception that this paper turns.

In recent years, work in the history of science and in the history of geography has considered the ways in which knowledge is conceived, transmitted, and received. Taken together, such research has demonstrated the important influence of local social, political, religious, and intellectual contexts upon the inception, communication, and reception of knowledge. Drawing on this work, this paper seeks to identify the factors that conspired to shape Semple’s distinctive perspective on environmental determinism, and to account for the different geographies of reception which Influences reveals. In so doing, I engage with broader issues of knowledge reception, geographies of book production, and cultures of reading and reviewing. In exploring the geography of Semple’s text, I hope to make clear that situation, both spatial and temporal, mattered both to the production of her deterministic philosophy, and to various ways in which it was encountered, read about, applied, and disputed.

Period22 Jul 200524 Jul 2005
Event typeConference
LocationEdinburgh, United KingdomShow on map