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Fantasus October 12th, 2017 12:11 AM

Historians: look not much at peoples, look at their environment
 
I hope this is not seen as too much a repetition of my earlier posts on Historum.
Would that give better insight and understanding of much of history?
I for my part think so. That for understanding different histories for different peoples (though with reservation it is less clear for history of individuals), to look at maps, globus, study ancient environments and environmental change could give much.
To give an example: The ratio land to sea is very unevenly distributed on planet earth. With the exception of Antarctica, located largely outside human history and human settlement, there is generally speaking a higher and higher proportion of land to sea the more we look to the north, until we reach the Arctic Sea.
So, no surprise, the first humans moving between the European/Asian/African("old world) landmasses to the one side, and the Americas moved at the very North. From the East Siberia - or from the chain of Islands to the South (Aleuts) the Americas were settled, the shortest way possible. Later the Northern peoples from Scandinavia (Scotland, Ireland?)
made voyages into the Atlantic and step by step (Faeroes, Iceland, Greenland, Labrador, all in not so great distance to the next) came to the northern parts of the North American continent.
Later, from the most western end of the european (/Asian) mainland, a more
proper colonisation took place. But I think it is rather easy to find a lot more examples, all over the planet and all over human history.

Frank81 October 12th, 2017 02:52 AM

Geography can never been downplayed, it is part of everything that happens in history. But to what degree? Geography must be balanced with human factors.

Lets put a example: the colonization you point from western Eurasia. October 12th 1492 Columbus and his Spanish crew crossed the Atlantic and landed in the New World. A critical factor was the development of a mixed Mediterranenan and Atlantic naval tradition in the Iberian Peninsula. Here the geographical factor is obvious. But why in Iberia and not Morocco, which enjoy the same geographical position? Geography can't explain everything, probably not even most part of things. Here human factors are a must.

Fantasus October 12th, 2017 03:06 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Frank81 (Post 2839259)
Geography can never been downplayed, it is part of everything that happens in history. But to what degree? Geography must be balanced with human factors.

Lets put a example: the colonization you point from western Eurasia. October 12th 1492 Columbus and his Spanish crew crossed the Atlantic and landed in the New World. A critical factor was the development of a mixed Mediterranenan and Atlantic naval tradition in the Iberian Peninsula. Here the geographical factor is obvious. But why in Iberia and not Morocco, which enjoy the same geographical position? Geography can't explain everything, probably not even most part of things. Here human factors are a must.

We should not ignore human factors. That said I have an idea of why Spain and not Morocco.
1: Spain are located on the northern, european, Meditterranean side. The Northern Meditterranean shores are far more "inserted", and I bet longer, than the southern shores. And in general Europe has so many peinsulas and offshore islands, where Africa has little of it. A longer shore would be much more favorable for navigation and for trade at sea.
2: The same could be said about the Iberian peninsula relative to Morocco. The former is a peninsula, the later can hardly be seen as one.
OK: that was just an idea, and I don´t know enough to say for sure.

Tuthmosis III October 12th, 2017 04:34 AM

It sure is a complicated interaction, as you both point out. I did a blog entry on this years ago: “Thoughts on geographical determinism”. I still like my ‘nature sets the stage - man moves the props’ analogy, even though that too is a simplification.

Tulius October 12th, 2017 04:53 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Fantasus (Post 2839263)
We should not ignore human factors. That said I have an idea of why Spain and not Morocco.
1: Spain are located on the northern, european, Meditterranean side. The Northern Meditterranean shores are far more "inserted", and I bet longer, than the southern shores. And in general Europe has so many peinsulas and offshore islands, where Africa has little of it. A longer shore would be much more favorable for navigation and for trade at sea.
2: The same could be said about the Iberian peninsula relative to Morocco. The former is a peninsula, the later can hardly be seen as one.
OK: that was just an idea, and I don´t know enough to say for sure.

Off topic, and in some way implied in Frank’s words, Morocco, in its Atlantic coastline has an intense maritime tradition, even if it is not a peninsula. In the Iberian Peninsula, especially in the Atlantic coast, that Moroccan sea tradition was mostly known by their pirates and their attack to the coasts. One of the most known bases for these pirates in the Atlantic was Salé. And yet, with all its coast, it was not the Moroccans that begun to explore the West Coast of Africa, to reach India, even if in geographic terms they were closer, and it was not the Moroccans that sailed to the West to reach America. Like we already talked in other thread, Geography can be forgotten in History, it is a discipline that it is in its area of cross-disciplinarily.

But let us not forget that history is the discipline/science/area of knowledge that studies the man, across time. It is a social and human science. It doesn’t exist without the human component.

Fantasus October 12th, 2017 05:08 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Tulius (Post 2839289)
Off topic, and in some way implied in Frank’s words, Morocco, in its Atlantic coastline has an intense maritime tradition, even if it is not a peninsula. In the Iberian Peninsula, especially in the Atlantic coast, that Moroccan sea tradition was mostly known by their pirates and their attack to the coasts. One of the most known bases for these pirates in the Atlantic was Salé. And yet, with all its coast, it was not the Moroccans that begun to explore the West Coast of Africa, to reach India, even if in geographic terms they were closer, and it was not the Moroccans that sailed to the West to reach America. Like we already talked in other thread, Geography can be forgotten in History, it is a discipline that it is in its area of cross-disciplinarily.

But let us not forget that history is the discipline/science/area of knowledge that studies the man, across time. It is a social and human science. It doesn’t exist without the human component.

I can and will not deny it is a human science.
On the other hand: If we look to history more at a "collective" level: peoples, cultures etcetera, and especially over longer periods, I think a geographical approach can be used with succes. Even at the individual level, sometimes.
Tell me if I am wrong that Genua had strong traditions at sea and then we see a famous captain (Columbus). Or that the same was the case for many other explorers, captains, conquerors.

Tuthmosis III October 12th, 2017 07:43 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Fantasus (Post 2839295)
Tell me if I am wrong that Genua had strong traditions at sea and then we see a famous captain (Columbus). Or that the same was the case for many other explorers, captains, conquerors.

I don't think it's in doubt that geography is important. It takes one glance at a map to know why Switzerland was never a naval power. But more explanation is needed to know why 18th-c Prussia, while having a coastline, was not (more pressing threats on land). Or why Ming China prioritized other concerns over the naval power it did have in the mid-15th-c... or why Genoa's strong traditions at sea were eventually eclipsed by those of Venice...
As you said, the longer the time scale, the more helpful geography becomes in the explanation. But the strangest events and developments can influence political decisions on smaller scales, and have a great deal of impact on "the course of history". Like Frank81 said, it's about balance.

Fantasus October 12th, 2017 09:59 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Tuthmosis III (Post 2839365)
I don't think it's in doubt that geography is important. It takes one glance at a map to know why Switzerland was never a naval power. But more explanation is needed to know why 18th-c Prussia, while having a coastline, was not (more pressing threats on land). Or why Ming China prioritized other concerns over the naval power it did have in the mid-15th-c... or why Genoa's strong traditions at sea were eventually eclipsed by those of Venice...
As you said, the longer the time scale, the more helpful geography becomes in the explanation. But the strangest events and developments can influence political decisions on smaller scales, and have a great deal of impact on "the course of history". Like Frank81 said, it's about balance.

For Prussia I would think it has much to do with location. Its coastline was largely Baltic, and the Baltic Sea was - almost - to be seen as a great "lake", since there are only narrow passages to the world ocean (like the Black Sea, and the Meditterranean). All Western European countries that became great colonial powers were located at the Atlantic - or North Sea. They were at the western oceanic "edge": England/Britain, Spain, Portugal,France, the Netherlands. The other colonial powers were not as influential, like the Belgians (since they only became independent lately), Germany (not that favourable location, except for Baltic), Italy ("locked" in the Meditterranean), Denmark-Norway (not a very populous part of Europe) and Sweden (more a Baltic nation).

Bullit November 11th, 2017 12:05 PM

Iberia was placed in far better position then Morocco. Without going into the fact that Iberia is better watered than Morocco and has greater agricultural potential the fact is that Iberia was connected to rest of Europe. Thus ideas and people moved easily into the Iberian region enriching it whereas Morocco is almost isolated. To South the huge Sahara disconnects it and only a thin strip going along east into Algeria connects it with the wider Muslim world.

This was a factor in hindering and arresting the development of Morocco a opposed to Iberia. What people call "human factor" in fact is the aggregate loading of probability that geography confers on a region - after that the probability plays out over time creating the events we see.

Entreri November 11th, 2017 07:43 PM

I find that appeal kind of odd. Not only were early historians examining the geography and climates peoples lived in extensively, with the Annales School historical geography gained a lot of ground in the mid-20th century. Furthermore, GIS-based historical geography has become quite popular in recent years. In addition, historians coming out of regional studies (Middle Eastern Studies, Sinology etc.) are also very aware of geography's importance.


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