Ellen Churchill Semple.

Influences of Geographic Environment On the Basis of Ratzel's System of Anthropo-Geography online

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geographic factors - Its direct and indirect effects - Climate determines
the habitable area of the earth - Effect of climate upon relief and hence
upon man - Man's adaptability to climatic extremes - Temperature as
modified by oceans and winds - Rainfall - Temperature and zonal
location - Mutual reactions of contrasted zones - Isothermal lines in
anthropo-geography - Historical effects of compressed
isotherms - Historical effects of slight climatic differences - Their
influence upon distribution of immigration - Temperature and race
temperament - Complexity of this problem - Monotonous climatic
conditions - Effects of Arctic cold - Effect of monotonous heat - The
tropics as goals of migration - The problem of
acclimatization - Historical importance of the temperate zone - Contrast
of the seasons - Duration of the seasons - Effect of long winters and long
summers - Zones of culture - Temperate zone as cradle of civilization






[Sidenote: Man a product of the earth's surface.]

Man is a product of the earth's surface. This means not merely that he
is a child of the earth, dust of her dust; but that the earth has
mothered him, fed him, set him tasks, directed his thoughts, confronted
him with difficulties that have strengthened his body and sharpened his
wits, given him his problems of navigation or irrigation, and at the
same time whispered hints for their solution. She has entered into his
bone and tissue, into his mind and soul. On the mountains she has given
him leg muscles of iron to climb the slope; along the coast she has left
these weak and flabby, but given him instead vigorous development of
chest and arm to handle his paddle or oar. In the river valley she
attaches him to the fertile soil, circumscribes his ideas and ambitions
by a dull round of calm, exacting duties, narrows his outlook to the
cramped horizon of his farm. Up on the wind-swept plateaus, in the
boundless stretch of the grasslands and the waterless tracts of the
desert, where he roams with his flocks from pasture to pasture and oasis
to oasis, where life knows much hardship but escapes the grind of
drudgery, where the watching of grazing herd gives him leisure for
contemplation, and the wide-ranging life a big horizon, his ideas take
on a certain gigantic simplicity; religion becomes monotheism, God
becomes one, unrivalled like the sand of the desert and the grass of the
steppe, stretching on and on without break or change. Chewing over and
over the cud of his simple belief as the one food of his unfed mind, his
faith becomes fanaticism; his big spacial ideas, born of that ceaseless
regular wandering, outgrow the land that bred them and bear their
legitimate fruit in wide imperial conquests.

Man can no more be scientifically studied apart from the ground which he
tills, or the lands over which he travels, or the seas over which he
trades, than polar bear or desert cactus can be understood apart from
its habitat. Man's relations to his environment are infinitely more
numerous and complex than those of the most highly organized plant or
animal. So complex are they that they constitute a legitimate and
necessary object of special study. The investigation which they receive
in anthropology, ethnology, sociology and history is piecemeal and
partial, limited as to the race, cultural development, epoch, country or
variety of geographic conditions taken into account. Hence all these
sciences, together with history so far as history undertakes to explain
the causes of events, fail to reach a satisfactory solution of their
problems largely because the geographic factor which enters into them
all has not been thoroughly analyzed. Man has been so noisy about the
way he has "conquered Nature," and Nature has been so silent in her
persistent influence over man, that the geographic factor in the
equation of human development has been overlooked.

[Sidenote: Stability of geographic factors in history.]

In every problem of history there are two main factors, variously stated
as heredity and environment, man and his geographic conditions, the
internal forces of race and the external forces of habitat. Now the
geographic element in the long history of human development has been
operating strongly and operating persistently. Herein lies its
importance. It is a stable force. It never sleeps. This natural
environment, this physical basis of history, is for all intents and
purposes immutable in comparison with the other factor in the
problem - shifting, plastic, progressive, retrogressive man.

[Sidenote: Persistent effect of remoteness.]

History tends to repeat itself largely owing to this steady, unchanging
geographic element. If the ancient Roman consul in far-away Britain
often assumed an independence of action and initiative unknown in the
provincial governors of Gaul, and if, centuries later, Roman Catholicism
in England maintained a similar independence towards the Holy See, both
facts have their cause in the remoteness of Britain from the center of
political or ecclesiastical power in Rome. If the independence of the
Roman consul in Britain was duplicated later by the attitude of the
Thirteen Colonies toward England, and again within the young Republic by
the headstrong self-reliance, impatient of government authority, which
characterized the early Trans-Allegheny commonwealths in their
aggressive Indian policy, and led them to make war and conclude treaties
for the cession of land like sovereign states; and if this attitude of
independence in the over-mountain men reappeared in a spirit of
political defection looking toward secession from the Union and a new
combination with their British neighbor on the Great Lakes or the
Spanish beyond the Mississippi, these are all the identical effects of
geographical remoteness made yet more remote by barriers of mountain and
sea. This is the long reach which weakens the arm of authority, no
matter what the race or country or epoch.

[Sidenote: Effect of proximity.]

As with geographical remoteness, so it is with geographical proximity.
The history of the Greek peninsula and the Greek people, because of
their location at the threshold of the Orient, has contained a
constantly recurring Asiatic element. This comes out most often as a
note of warning; like the _motif_ of Ortrud in the opera of
"Lohengrin," it mingles ominously in every chorus of Hellenic
enterprise or paean of Hellenic victory, and finally swells into a
national dirge at the Turkish conquest of the peninsula. It comes out
in the legendary history of the Argonautic Expedition and the Trojan
War; in the arrival of Phoenician Cadmus and Phrygian Pelops in
Grecian lands; in the appearance of Tyrian ships on the coast of the
Peloponnesus, where they gather the purple-yielding murex and kidnap
Greek women. It appears more conspicuously in the Asiatic sources of
Greek culture; more dramatically in the Persian Wars, in the retreat
of Xenophon's Ten Thousand, in Alexander's conquest of Asia, and
Hellenic domination of Asiatic trade through Syria to the
Mediterranean. Again in the thirteenth century the lure of the
Levantine trade led Venice and Genoa to appropriate certain islands
and promontories of Greece as commercial bases nearer to Asia. In 1396
begins the absorption of Greece into the Asiatic empire of the Turks,
the long dark eclipse of sunny Hellas, till it issues from the shadow
in 1832 with the achievement of Greek independence.

[Sidenote: Persistent effect of natural barriers.]

If the factor is not one of geographical location, but a natural
barrier, such as a mountain system or a desert, its effect is just as
persistent. The upheaved mass of the Carpathians served to divide the
westward moving tide of the Slavs into two streams, diverting one into
the maritime plain of northern Germany and Poland, the other into the
channel of the Danube Valley which guided them to the Adriatic and the
foot of the Alps. This same range checked the westward advance of the
mounted Tartar hordes. The Alps long retarded Roman expansion into
central Europe, just as they delayed and obstructed the southward
advance of the northern barbarians. Only through the partial breaches in
the wall known as passes did the Alps admit small, divided bodies of the
invaders, like the Cimbri and Teutons, who arrived, therefore, with
weakened power and at intervals, so that the Roman forces had time to
gather their strength between successive attacks, and thus prolonged the
life of the declining empire. So in the Middle Ages, the Alpine barrier
facilitated the resistance of Italy to the German emperors, trying to
enforce their claim upon this ancient seat of the Holy Roman Empire.

It was by river-worn valleys leading to passes in the ridge that
Etruscan trader, Roman legion, barbarian horde, and German army crossed
the Alpine ranges. To-day well-made highways and railroads converge upon
these valley paths and summit portals, and going is easier; but the Alps
still collect their toll, now in added tons of coal consumed by engines
and in higher freight rates, instead of the ancient imposts of physical
exhaustion paid by pack animal and heavily accoutred soldier. Formerly
these mountains barred the weak and timid; to-day they bar the poor, and
forbid transit to all merchandise of large bulk and small value which
can not pay the heavy transportation charges. Similarly, the wide
barrier of the Rockies, prior to the opening of the first overland
railroad, excluded all but strong-limbed and strong-hearted pioneers
from the fertile valleys of California and Oregon, just as it excludes
coal and iron even from the Colorado mines, and checks the free
movement of laborers to the fields and factories of California, thereby
tightening the grip of the labor unions upon Pacific coast industries.

[Sidenote: Persistent effect of nature-made highways.]

As the surface of the earth presents obstacles, so it offers channels
for the easy movement of humanity, grooves whose direction determines
the destination of aimless, unplanned migrations, and whose termini
become, therefore, regions of historical importance. Along these
nature-made highways history repeats itself. The maritime plain of
Palestine has been an established route of commerce and war from the
time of Sennacherib to Napoleon.[1] The Danube Valley has admitted to
central Europe a long list of barbarian invaders, covering the period
from Attila the Hun to the Turkish besiegers of Vienna in 1683. The
history of the Danube Valley has been one of warring throngs, of
shifting political frontiers, and unassimilated races; but as the river
is a great natural highway, every neighboring state wants to front upon
it and strives to secure it as a boundary.

The movements of peoples constantly recur to these old grooves. The
unmarked path of the voyageur's canoe, bringing out pelts from Lake
Superior to the fur market at Montreal, is followed to-day by whaleback
steamers with their cargoes of Manitoba wheat. To-day the Mohawk
depression through the northern Appalachians diverts some of Canada's
trade from the Great Lakes to the Hudson, just as in the seventeenth
century it enabled the Dutch at New Amsterdam and later the English at
Albany to tap the fur trade of Canada's frozen forests. Formerly a line
of stream and portage, it carries now the Erie Canal and New York
Central Railroad.[2] Similarly the narrow level belt of land extending
from the mouth of the Hudson to the eastern elbow of the lower Delaware,
defining the outer margin of the rough hill country of northern New
Jersey and the inner margin of the smooth coastal plain, has been from
savage days such a natural thoroughfare. Here ran the trail of the
Lenni-Lenapi Indians; a little later, the old Dutch road between New
Amsterdam and the Delaware trading-posts; yet later the King's Highway
from New York to Philadelphia. In 1838 it became the route of the
Delaware and Raritan Canal, and more recently of the Pennsylvania
Railroad between New York and Philadelphia.[3]

The early Aryans, in their gradual dispersion over northwestern India,
reached the Arabian Sea chiefly by a route running southward from the
Indus-Ganges divide, between the eastern border of the Rajputana Desert
and the western foot of the Aravalli Hills. The streams flowing down
from this range across the thirsty plains unite to form the Luni River,
which draws a dead-line to the advance of the desert. Here a smooth and
well-watered path brought the early Aryans of India to a fertile coast
along the Gulf of Cambay.[4] In the palmy days of the Mongol Empire
during the seventeenth century, and doubtless much earlier, it became an
established trade route between the sea and the rich cities of the upper
Ganges.[5] Recently it determined the line of the Rajputana Railroad
from the Gulf of Cambay to Delhi.[6] Barygaza, the ancient seaboard
terminus of this route, appears in Pliny's time as the most famous
emporium of western India, the resort of Greek and Arab merchants.[7] It
reappears later in history with its name metamorphosed to Baroche or
Broach, where in 1616 the British established a factory for trade,[8]
but is finally superseded, under Portuguese and English rule, by nearby
Surat. Thus natural conditions fix the channels in which the stream of
humanity most easily moves, determine within certain limits the
direction of its flow, the velocity and volume of its current. Every new
flood tends to fit itself approximately into the old banks, seeks first
these lines of least resistance, and only when it finds them blocked or
pre-empted does it turn to more difficult paths.

[Sidenote: Regions of historical similarity.]

Geographical environment, through the persistence of its influence,
acquires peculiar significance. Its effect is not restricted to a given
historical event or epoch, but, except when temporarily met by some
strong counteracting force, tends to make itself felt under varying
guise in all succeeding history. It is the permanent element in the
shifting fate of races. Islands show certain fundamental points of
agreement which can be distinguished in the economic, ethnic and
historical development of England, Japan, Melanesian Fiji, Polynesian
New Zealand, and pre-historic Crete. The great belt of deserts and
steppes extending across the Old World gives us a vast territory of rare
historical uniformity. From time immemorial they have borne and bred
tribes of wandering herdsmen; they have sent out the invading hordes
who, in successive waves of conquest, have overwhelmed the neighboring
river lowlands of Eurasia and Africa. They have given birth in turn to
Scythians, Indo-Aryans, Avars, Huns, Saracens, Tartars and Turks, as to
the Tuareg tribes of the Sahara, the Sudanese and Bantu folk of the
African grasslands. But whether these various peoples have been Negroes,
Hamites, Semites, Indo-Europeans or Mongolians, they have always been
pastoral nomads. The description given by Herodotus of the ancient
Scythians is applicable in its main features to the Kirghis and Kalmuck
who inhabit the Caspian plains to-day. The environment of this dry
grassland operates now to produce the same mode of life and social
organization as it did 2,400 years ago; stamps the cavalry tribes of
Cossacks as it did the mounted Huns, energizes its sons by its dry
bracing air, toughens them by its harsh conditions of life, organizes
them into a mobilized army, always moving with its pastoral
commissariat. Then when population presses too hard upon the meager
sources of subsistence, when a summer drought burns the pastures and
dries up the water-holes, it sends them forth on a mission of conquest,
to seek abundance in the better watered lands of their agricultural
neighbors. Again and again the productive valleys of the Hoangho, Indus,
Ganges, Tigris and Euphrates, Nile, Volga, Dnieper and Danube have been
brought into subjection by the imperious nomads of arid Asia, just as
the "hoe-people" of the Niger and upper Nile have so often been
conquered by the herdsmen of the African grasslands. Thus, regardless of
race or epoch - Hyksos or Kaffir - history tends to repeat itself in these
rainless tracts, and involves the better watered districts along their
borders when the vast tribal movements extend into these peripheral



[Sidenote: Climatic influences.]

Climatic influences are persistent, often obdurate in their control.
Arid regions permit agriculture and sedentary life only through
irrigation. The economic prosperity of Egypt to-day depends as
completely upon the distribution of the Nile waters as in the days of
the Pharaohs. The mantle of the ancient Egyptian priest has fallen upon
the modern British engineer. Arctic explorers have succeeded only by
imitating the life of the Eskimos, adopting their clothes, food, fuel,
dwellings, and mode of travel. Intense cold has checked both native and
Russian development over that major portion of Siberia lying north of
the mean annual isotherm of degree C. (32 degrees F.); and it has had a
like effect in the corresponding part of Canada. (Compare maps pages 8
and 9.) It allows these sub-arctic lands scant resources and a
population of less than two to the square mile. Even with the intrusion
of white colonial peoples, it perpetuates the savage economy of the
native hunting tribes, and makes the fur trader their modern exploiter,
whether he be the Cossack tribute-gatherer of the lower Lena River, or
the factor of the Hudson Bay Company. The assimilation tends to be
ethnic as well as economic, because the severity of the climate excludes
the white woman. The debilitating effects of heat and humidity, aided by
tropical diseases, soon reduce intruding peoples to the dead level of
economic inefficiency characteristic of the native races. These, as the
fittest, survive and tend to absorb the new-comers, pointing to
hybridization as the simplest solution of the problem of tropical

[Sidenote: The relation of geography to history.]

The more the comparative method is applied to the study of
history - and this includes a comparison not only of different
countries, but also of successive epochs in the same country - the more
apparent becomes the influence of the soil in which humanity is
rooted, the more permanent and necessary is that influence seen to be.
Geography's claim to make scientific investigation of the physical
conditions of historical events is then vindicated. "Which was there
first, geography or history?" asks Kant. And then comes his answer:
"Geography lies at the basis of history." The two are inseparable.
History takes for its field of investigation human events in various
periods of time; anthropo-geography studies existence in various
regions of terrestrial space. But all historical development takes
place on the earth's surface, and therefore is more or less molded by
its geographic setting. Geography, to reach accurate conclusions, must
compare the operation of its factors in different historical periods
and at different stages of cultural development. It therefore regards
history in no small part as a succession of geographical factors
embodied in events. Back of Massachusetts' passionate abolition
movement, it sees the granite soil and boulder-strewn fields of New
England; back of the South's long fight for the maintenance of
slavery, it sees the rich plantations of tidewater Virginia and the
teeming fertility of the Mississippi bottom lands. This is the
significance of Herder's saying that "history is geography set into
motion." What is to-day a fact of geography becomes to-morrow a factor
of history. The two sciences cannot be held apart without doing
violence to both, without dismembering what is a natural, vital whole.
All historical problems ought to be studied geographically and all
geographic problems must be studied historically. Every map has its
date. Those in the Statistical Atlas of the United States showing the
distribution of population from 1790 to 1890 embody a mass of history
as well as of geography. A map of France or the Russian Empire has a
long historical perspective; and on the other hand, without that map
no change of ethnic or political boundary, no modification in routes
of communication, no system of frontier defences or of colonization,
no scheme of territorial aggrandizement can be understood.

[Sidenote: Multiplicity of geographic factors.]

The study of physical environment as a factor in history was
unfortunately brought into disrepute by extravagant and ill-founded
generalization, before it became the object of investigation according
to modern scientific methods. And even to-day principles advanced in the
name of anthropo-geography are often superficial, inaccurate, based upon
a body of data too limited as to space and time, or couched in terms of
unqualified statement which exposes them to criticism or refutation.
Investigators in this field, moreover, are prone to get a squint in
their eye that makes them see one geographic factor to the exclusion of
the rest; whereas it belongs to the very nature of physical environment
to combine a whole group of influences, working all at the same time
under the law of the resolution of forces. In this plexus of influences,
some operate in one direction and some in another; now one loses its
beneficent effect like a medicine long used or a garment outgrown;
another waxes in power, reinforced by a new geographic factor which has
been released from dormancy by the expansion of the known world, or the
progress of invention and of human development.

[Sidenote: Evolution of geographic relations.]

These complex geographic influences cannot be analyzed and their
strength estimated except from the standpoint of evolution. That is one
reason these half-baked geographic principles rest heavy on our mental
digestion. They have been formulated without reference to the
all-important fact that the geographical relations of man, like his
social and political organization, are subject to the law of
development. Just as the embryo state found in the primitive Saxon tribe
has passed through many phases in attaining the political character of
the present British Empire, so every stage in this maturing growth has
been accompanied or even preceded by a steady evolution of the
geographic relations of the English people.

Owing to the evolution of geographic relations, the physical environment
favorable to one stage of development may be adverse to another, and
_vice versa_. For instance, a small, isolated and protected habitat,
like that of Egypt, Phoenicia, Crete and Greece, encourages the birth
and precocious growth of civilization; but later it may cramp progress,
and lend the stamp of arrested development to a people who were once the
model for all their little world. Open and wind-swept Russia, lacking
these small, warm nurseries where Nature could cuddle her children, has
bred upon its boundless plains a massive, untutored, homogeneous folk,
fed upon the crumbs of culture that have fallen from the richer tables

Online LibraryEllen Churchill SempleInfluences of Geographic Environment On the Basis of Ratzel's System of Anthropo-Geography → online text (page 2 of 60)