The History and Evolution of Realism in Geography


Geography is a subject that has been studied and developed for centuries, with the aim of understanding the natural and human world. In its early stages, geography was mainly focused on describing and mapping the physical features of the Earth. However, as time passed, it evolved to encompass deeper and complex aspects of the world, including its human inhabitants. This evolution is evident in the development and evolution of realism in geography.

Realism in geography can be defined as an approach that focuses on portraying the world as it is, without any bias or subjective interpretation. It is a philosophy that seeks to understand the world through objective observation and analysis, rather than through theoretical or abstract concepts. The history and evolution of realism in geography can be traced back to the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, and it has undergone significant changes over time.

The ancient Greek geographer, Strabo, is often considered the father of realism in geography. He believed in the importance of observing and recording physical features and human activities exactly as they were, without any embellishments or subjective interpretations. His writings on the geography of the Mediterranean region were based on extensive travels and personal observations, making them highly accurate and reliable.

During medieval times, realism in geography was heavily influenced by religious beliefs. The Christian Church placed great importance on mapping and understanding the known world, and this led to the production of highly accurate maps and geographical descriptions. However, these works were often influenced by religious beliefs and lacked objectivity.

The 15th and 16th centuries saw a renewed interest in realism in geography, in part due to the Age of Exploration. As European explorers ventured out to new lands, they recorded their observations and findings in great detail, allowing for more accurate maps and descriptions of the world. This period also saw the emergence of scientific methods and tools, such as the telescope and sextant, which further enhanced geographical observations and measurements.

In the 19th century, geography became a separate discipline with its own theories and methods. Realism in geography gained even more prominence during this period, with geographers like Carl Ritter and Alexander von Humboldt advocating for the use of empirical evidence and objective observations in geographical studies. Ritter, in particular, emphasized the importance of fieldwork and firsthand observation in understanding the physical and human characteristics of a place.

In the 20th century, realism in geography faced challenges from other philosophical approaches, such as positivism and behaviorism. These schools of thought emphasized the use of scientific methods and rejected the idea of subjective interpretations in geographical studies. However, realism continued to evolve and adapt, with geographers like Ellen Churchill Semple and Richard Hartshorne incorporating other theories, such as environmental determinism and possibilism, into the realist paradigm.

Today, realism in geography remains a prominent approach in geographical studies. With the rise of technology, geographers have access to a vast amount of data and information, which can aid in objective observations and analyses. However, the growing impact of postmodernism and constructivism has challenged the objectivity of realism in geography. These movements advocate for the inclusion of subjectivity and multiple perspectives in geographical studies, thereby critiquing the purely realist approach.

In conclusion, the history and evolution of realism in geography have been shaped by various factors such as religious beliefs, technological advancements, and competing philosophical schools of thought. Despite its limitations and challenges, realism remains a vital approach in geography, providing a strong foundation for understanding the natural and human world. As geography continues to develop and evolve, it is essential to acknowledge and incorporate the contributions of realism in shaping our understanding of the world.