Notable Examples of Bildungsroman in Geography


Bildungsroman or coming-of-age novels is a literary genre that focuses on the moral, intellectual, and psychological growth of a protagonist from childhood to adulthood. This theme is not only confined to the realm of literature but can also be observed in the field of geography. As an interdisciplinary field, geography encompasses various natural and social sciences, exploring the interactions between people and their environment. With such a broad scope, there are notable examples of bildungsroman in geography, demonstrating the growth and development of geographers and their understanding of the world.

One of the most prominent examples of bildungsroman in geography is the work of Charles Darwin, specifically his travels on the HMS Beagle. At the age of 22, Darwin embarked on a five-year voyage as a naturalist, during which he visited various places, including the Galapagos Islands. Through his observations and geological studies, he developed the concept of evolution by natural selection, which revolutionized the field of geography and biology. This journey not only contributed to the birth of modern geography but also marked a significant milestone in Darwin’s personal growth as a scientist.

Another notable example is the developmental journey of geographer Carl Sauer. Sauer is known for his significant contributions to the field of cultural geography, particularly for his theory of cultural landscape. He began his career with a focus on flora and fauna, studying the geography of plants and animals. However, during his travels to Central America, Sauer shifted his research to cultural geography, observing the interactions between humans and their environment. This shift marked a pivotal point in Sauer’s intellectual growth as he moved beyond physical geography and expanded his understanding of the discipline.

The works of geographer David Harvey also demonstrate the concept of bildungsroman in geography. Harvey’s early studies were heavily influenced by Marxist theories, which focused on the social, political, and economic aspects of geography. However, his later works reflect his transition to the study of cultural and urban geography, specifically the concept of space and place. This journey showcases how Harvey’s intellectual development evolved throughout his career, from a purely economic perspective to a more holistic understanding of geography.

The concept of bildungsroman is not limited to individual geographers but can also be observed in the growth and development of geographical theories. As new discoveries and advancements are made, existing theories undergo transformations and developments to better explain the complexities of human-environment interactions. For example, the traditional view of environmental determinism, which suggests that the environment determines human behavior, has evolved into cultural ecology, which emphasizes the dynamic interactions between humans and their environment.

Moreover, the field of geography has also undergone a significant transformation from a descriptive to a more analytical approach. This shift is evident in the study of geographical information systems (GIS), which combines geographical data with computer technology to analyze and visualize spatial patterns. This development showcases the growth of geography as a discipline, moving beyond mere observations to a more scientific and analytical approach.

In conclusion, the concept of bildungsroman can be observed in various aspects of geography, from individual geographers to the development of theories and the discipline itself. The examples mentioned above demonstrate how the personal and intellectual growth of geographers has shaped the field of geography over time, leading to new perspectives and advancements. As geography continues to evolve and adapt to the changing world, we can expect to see more notable instances of bildungsroman in the discipline.