Pivot of history

18th October 1996 at 01:00
HUMAN GEOGRAPHY. AN ESSENTIAL ANTHOLOGY Edited by John Agnew, David N Livingstone and Alasdair Rogers Blackwell Pounds 60 (flexi-cover Pounds 16.99).

This is an outstanding book. It consists of 41 articles and extracts from previously published papers set in context which, in the compilers' view, describe and begin to explain the evolution of human geography over the past 150 years.

The book is for all who are seriously interested in the way their subject has developed and in the origins of ideas and approaches now so familiar as to be taken for granted. Teachers and students of undergraduate ideas and methods courses will find this invaluable. A-level syllabus designers, examiners and teachers and text-book writers at all levels, including primary, should compare what they do with the evolutionary picture of human geography set forth in this book. Incidentally, there is some good primary school lesson material on pages 559 to 567.

The book is written in clear English. Even post-modernism is discussed intelligibly as the rejection of limiting and possibly value-loaded mental constructs. Reading lists follow chapters and are sensibly selective. Regrettably, there is no index.

The book begins with a statement of intent and a realistic review of problems involved in constructing an anthology on this scale. The need to look at geography historically in order to understand its present constructs and dilemmas is argued and the nature of human geography today is explored. Sections are then devoted to the three geographical traditions identified by the compilers: studies of landscapes and the socio-cultural imprints upon them; place studies and studies of human spatial organisations.

An anthology of this length and weight is daunting, so where to begin? Chapter 33, Mackinder's "The Geographical Pivot of History" (1904) is as thought-provoking today as when it was written. Start there and you will probably find yourself reading the whole book.

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