Nature and science essays in the history of geographical knowledge

Pickstone In the beginning, medical history was written by doctors. Most 19th-century medical history was meant to illuminate scientific or professional issues, to encourage the profession, or sometimes to celebrate the traditions of particular localities. These writings are not all to be dismissed as special pleading or for undue reliance on present-day perspectives. This brief essay, however, is mostly about authors who were professionals in history, whether or not they were qualified in medicine.

Nature and science essays in the history of geographical knowledge

The goals and functions of these have recently received considerable attention, both because of the influence that such histories have had on the legitimacy and self-image of the disciplines and also because of the adaptability that they have shown when faced with the conceptual and methodological changes that they have undergone.

With regard to these disciplines, there are, moreover, alternative approaches whose advantages and disadvantages are also the subject of debate: Certain old sciences, such as geography, constitute areas of special interest in this respect, since on the one hand there are diverse generations of disciplinary histories, connected with the most important theoretical issues and the contentious relations with other sciences; and on the other hand profound changes have recently taken place which have led to far-reaching transformations in historiography.

Within the frame of reference of the present simposium, it might be of interest to present some of these developments and, in particular, to offer a general overview of the origins and goals of the research program in the history of geography which, in what is today the Department of Human Geography of the University of Barcelona, has been in progress for almost two decades.

The goals and the evolution of this project have led to a growing integration of our research with that which is being undertaken by other historians of science, while at the same time providing a stimulus for, and a new perspective on, the work on current issues in human geography which is being carried out in the Department.

Nature and science essays in the history of geographical knowledge

The histories of the disciplines and their functions The history of science is full of great works that have marked a turning point in the development of a branch of knowledge, and in which the proposals for a new theoretical frame of reference or a new systematization of the known facts were preceded by an extensive historical introduction consisting in the evolution of the topic up to that moment.

From the 18th Century on, with the growing specialization in science that gave rise to new disciplines, and with the acceleration of the changes in theories and scientific method, the number of works of this kind has grown considerably.

Particularly in the 19th Century, there were many scientists who were conscious of the profoundly innovative character of their work, and who did not hesitate to draw self-justifying historical pictures which promoted appreciation of the significance of their own contributions.

Cuvier, Humboldt, Ritter, Lyell, Darwin, Comte, and many others who made decisive contributions, were not only aware of being genuine creators and the force behind new scientific developments, they also took active part in contemporary controversies and felt the need, to a greater or lesser extent, to convince the general public of the innovative character of their work.

Nature and science essays in the history of geographical knowledge

This led them to write, or rewrite, the history of the discipline, to reveal the obstacles that had been put in the way of the development of that science, whose final manifestation was now assured - and to point out those forerunners who had prepared the way.

The case of Lyell is particularly significant.

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In the long historical introduction to his Principles of Geology 1Lyell created the myths which allowed him to set himself in a privileged position in the Pantheon of Geology. He did this both by claiming to be the true creator of the basic principles of that science, and also by pointing out the barriers which had hitherto impeded its development: In spite of these obstacles, the way towards a positive and uniformitarian geology had in fact been discovered gradually, but in talking about this Lyell hands out praise, blame and silence in a way that exaggerates the originality of his own contribution.

His introduction presents the history of geology as an oversimplified dichotomy between biblical catastrophism and uniformitarianism with its classical roots. Moreover, and not surprisingly given the epoch, he offers a selective, partial vision of the past, decontextualising it from its social and intellectual climate.

His conception of history and geology are different: It is a catastrophist history in which Lyell's final contribution achieves its true significance as an authentic, definitive revolution.

The example of Lyell, like that of other great authors, lays bare the distortions and errors that can be found in the history of science when one accepts the ideas of one justifications of scientist concerning the evolution of the subject.

Biassed ideas that distort the true evolution and which undoubtedly serve as excuses and self-justifications: An appreciation of the distortions that are found in the historical conceptions of great scientists, and of the personal and corporate factors that can affect these, allows us also to question the validity of the way that the members of a scientific community collectively present their discipline.

We might well suspect that, as in the case of the histories of individuals, these histories of communities will have, due to conscious or unconscious bias, distortions and slants, whose precise content and purpose we would do well to reveal.

In recent years a great deal of attention has been paid to the histories of disciplines within the field of the history of science. What has undoubtedly contributed to this is the incorporation and diffusion of relativist focuses in the study of the disciplines. The traditional view considered the sciences as predetermined archetypes, which the progressive unfolding of reason alone allowed us to see in their true form by stripping them of the mixing and confusion with other branches of knowledge which existed in the pre-scientific phase.

In contrast, we recognize that the character of the scientific disciplines is determined by, and contingent on, history; they take shape in changing social and intellectual contexts, and have boundaries that are not predetermined at all but depend both on the conditions of their constitution and also on the developing relationship with other disciplines that are also contingent on history.

The same histories of the disciplines play an important role in the constant structuring and restructuring of the areas of knowledge, offering scientists an image of themselves, of the community to which they belong, and of the purpose of their work.

The history of the discipline provides us with a means of making and spreading the myths and the ideologies that give cohesion to the scientific community: If every discipline has its own history, at times in contradiction with its neighbors or overlapping with them, it is also true that within one single discipline the history is not always the same.

The theoretical changes that take place, in particular the revolutionary changes, i. There are, therefore, histories of the disciplines aimed at different audiences: In these cases, one attempts to justify the identity, the validity and, on occasions, the scientific nature of the discipline, all of which is essential to achieve recognition within an academic structure competing for limited resources.

More frequently, histories are aimed within the discipline itself, either to socialize the neophytes, by indoctrinating them, through the historical presentation of the past, in the principles and methods of the discipline; or else to defend the viewpoints of scientists in discussions with colleagues or in disagreements over the theory and methods of the discipline 4.

Through the history of the discipline one can observe the position that a scientist adopts in controversies and in the changes that affect his science, both in what he cites and the judgments he makes concerning events and people in the past, and also in what he omits or glosses over, and, obviously, in the material he chooses to include.

The topic of parents or forerunners is of great interest: It is thus that the history of a discipline serves, as an author has written in reference to the development of psychology in Germany: What is clear from all of this is the enormous interest to be found in the study of the different histories of disciplines within the same scientific, and the comparison between those that have been carried out in separate but related disciplines, those which sometimes draw on a common past and which have goals of study that are very close or even overlap.

In a similar way, there is a great interest to establish if there are histories, produced either from within or outside, where the preoccupation with justification and legitimacy is absent. The histories of geography From the Renaissance onwards, the geographical works of antiquity have served both as a scientific model and also as a corpus of data which could be used for modern purposes.

John V. Pickstone

All of this generated great interest in the old texts, in the careful editing of them -which involved the collaboration of geographers, historians and philologists- and in the study of them, as in the case of other sciences. In spite of the advances made since the Renaissance, a grasp of historical knowledge continued, until the 18th century, to be an extremely important prop in the development of modern geography.

We have dealt elsewhere with the usefulness of the ancient sources and of the works of the 16th and 17th centuries in the solution of geographical problems of the 18th, and there is no need to reiterate this.

If all this is granted, it is, however, also true that from the 16th century onwards, with the great discoveries, there arose an increasing awareness of the insufficiencies and the limits of the works of the classical geographers.

These works began to be supplemented and superseded by new observations from all parts of the planet. There is thus a parallel growing process of obsolescence of the ancient texts, and their role changed so that they were invoked as classical models to be imitated, both because of the diversity of the integrated data and the systematization as precedents that lend value and prestige to science.In general, up to the 19th century, the history of geography stood both as a history of the advances in our knowledge of the earth, that is to say as a history of geographical studies and explorations, and also as a history of maps (7).

African and African-American Contributions to Science and Technology by Hunter Havelin Adams, III Philosphers have long noted that science is deeply embedded in human nature, but the truth of the matter is that there is a rich history of African scientific knowledge, discovery, and invention that predates the dawn of.

People observed and built up knowledge about the behavior of animals and the usefulness of plants as food and medicine, The History of Recent Science and Technology; plus selected essays on timely topics in natural science. is an adjunct assistant professor at the Center for the Book at the University of Iowa and the author of Sociable Knowledge: Natural History and the Nation in Early Modern Britain (University of .

Classification of religions, the attempt to systematize and bring order to a vast range of knowledge about religious beliefs, practices, and institutions.

It has been the goal of students of religion for many centuries but especially so with the increased knowledge of the world’s religions and the. MacKenzie, J, , “Geography and imperialism: British Provincial geographical societies”, in Nature and Science: Essays in the History of Geographical Knowledge Eds Driver, F, Geography's Empire: Histories of Geographical Knowledge F Driver Environment and Planning D: Society and Space.

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