The Education of a Geographer*

Carl O. Sauer

Text converted in Spring 1998 by Jason Bell, Eric Perramond, Travis Phillips, and Hillary Thumann.


As professionals we claim only that we are privileged to devote ourselves to the field of geography. Neither we nor our academic predecessors discovered the field, nor have we ever been the only ones who have tilled it, nor is it likely to be properly attended should it be thought restricted to those who claim privilege and competence from appointment and title. The first professor of geography in the world was named in 1820; I am of the early second generation in the United States. We of the vested succession must always remember that we have never been more than a few of those who contribute to the growth of geographic knowledge. The interest is immemorial and universal; should we disappear, the field will remain and it will not become vacant. We may draw no invidious distinction between professional and amateur; both are needed as cherishing and contributing to geographical knowledge. The gloss here is: An association of minds is not determined by a committee on credentials.

The geographer partly is born, partly shaped by his early environment, and comes rather late into our professional care. This is the usual and proper condition. We are also recruiting officers, and we do need to recognize good material in the raw state. I suspect that we have more than ordinary difficulties as talent scouts. How common is a boyhood ambition to be a geographer? It is an unlikely interest to assert itself early or to be admitted to one's mates or one's self in school age. In college we know too well that a professed and actual liking for taking courses in geography (and success in getting good grades) is an indifferent indication of future promise. The student may be beguiled by his temporary contacts and surroundings, such as the attractive qualities of an instructor. When he is detached from such stimulus he may sink into inaction and after a time no more be heard of him. How can we discover aptitude, emergent interest, and the promise to continue in independent growth? This is our first concern. If we select well, half of our problem is solved.

Let me not appear to discount the value of the great school, but let us also not overrate it. Whoever shared in those golden early days at Chicago knows the stirring of the spirit in the group Salisbury assembled. Salisbury had great clarity of exposition and the ability to develop a theme by rigorous questions, but what I cherish most of him was that he respected curiosity and doubt on the part of the student. He liked the informed dissenter. Hettner, Philippson, Fleure will be remembered as masters of instruction; from their schools have come a considerable number of the best of our European colleagues. Their students were drawn from and continued to develop along quite different directions, and were not shaped over one last by their student training.

What one learned in class may be forgotten, but what is remembered is the stimulation by association of related yet varied personalities and interests. The invitation of the student period should be greater than the discipline. I should not like to think of any one as the product of a particular school, but as having been found and nurtured at the right time by good gardeners. And thus we get back to the young plants that may flourish in our care, or may do so without it.

We are not a precocious lot, nor should we wish to be. We are unlikely to start early and we need a long time to mature. Ours is a task of slow accumulation of knowledge, experience, and judgment; techniques and formal processes of analysis and of generalization are subordinate. We do not gain competence quickly, nor by the learning of one special skill. We are subject to shifts of focus as we learn more about whatever we are working at. The start on one theme may turn into a different one. It is either distressing or exciting, according to one's nature, to find that the trail one expects to lead toward a certain point may carry one into unexpected directions. It seems to be a quality of our particular kind that we require always more readiness to learn what is relevant than to perfect ourselves by specific training and method.

It is proper, therefore, that we have been reluctant to accept a general formal discipline, that in our more confident moods we imagine ourselves with the power to explore in many directions, and that we admit to our group different temperaments and diverse interests. It has always been characteristic that we have been made up of individuals of many backgrounds, with some denominator in common. That our departments and institutes have multiplied in later years has not altered our plural origins and will not do so, I hope.

It is, I think, in our nature to be a heterozygous population. Despite the line breeding now available by extensive series of courses in geography, running from the freshman year to the Ph.D., we still get much of our best blood from those who come from quite other academic stocks and backgrounds. These join us not because they have been inadequate in their previous commitments but because it took time for them to find their place over on our side. A revealing history of geographers and of geographic thought might be written about this theme of convergence of individuals out of different origins and conditions.

May a preselective bent toward geography be recognized before it asserts itself as deliberate election? The first, let me say most primitive and persistent trait, is liking maps and thinking by means of them. We are empty handed without them in lecture room, in study, in the field. Show me a geographer who does not need them constantly and want them about him, and I shall have my doubts as to whether he has made the right choice of life. We squeeze our budgets to get more maps, of all kinds. We collect them from filling stations to antique shops. We draw them, however badly, to illustrate our lectures and our studies. However little a member of your institution may know what you are doing as a geographer, if he requires map information he will call on you. If geographers chance to meet where maps are displayed (it scarcely matters what maps) they comment, commend, criticize. Maps break down our inhibitions, stimulate our glands, stir our imagination, loosen our tongues. The map speaks across the barriers of language; it is sometimes claimed as the language of geography. The conveying of ideas by means of maps is attributed to us as our common vocation and passion. Even in the most fundamentalist period of this Association those devoted to maps were admitted to the elect.

A map invites attention alike synoptically and analytically: What kind of a road is marked; through what kind of country does it run? Its symbols are translated into images and these are assembled in the mind's eye into meaningful associations of land and life. We use them as actual guides and we enjoy them in armchair travel. Who has not journeyed by map to Tibesti or Tibet, raised the peaks of Tenerife or Trinidad on the western horizon, or sought the Northwest Passage? Who has not been with Marco Polo to Cathay, with Captain Cook to the Sandwich Islands, and with Parkman over the Oregon Trail? Who reads fiction for plot, suspense, or psychologic conflict, or to be transported into tropical shores with Stevenson or Kenneth Roberts, to India with Kipling or Masters, to know Florida with Marjorie Rawlings or New England with Esther Forbes?

The geographer and the geographer-to-be are travellers [sic], vicarious when they must, actual when they may. They are not of the class of tourists who are directed by guide books over the routes of the grand tours to the starred attractions, nor do they lodge at grand hotels. When vacation bound they may pass by the places one is supposed to see and seek out byways and unnoted places where they gain the feeling of personal discovery. They enjoy striking out on foot, away from roads and are pleased to camp out at the end of the day. Even the urban geographer may have in him the need to climb unpopulated mountains.

The geographic bent rests on seeing and thinking about what is in the landscape, what has been technically called the content of the earth's surface. By this we do not limit ourselves to what is visually conspicuous, but we do try to register both on detail and composition of scene, finding in it questions, confirmations, items, or elements that are new and such as are missing. This alerting of the mind by observing what composes the scene may derive from a primitive survival trait when such attention meant the avoidance of peril, want, getting lost. In my days of field work in back areas of Mexico I learned to accept confidently the geographic and natural history competence of the native guides. They knew how to interpret the lay of the land, to keep a mental map, to note almost any change in the scene. They were usually able to identify the plants and were right as to systematic grouping and ecologic association.

Geography and natural history are indeed related by their manner of observation. Much of what both identify and compare lies outside of quantitative analysis. Species are not recognized by measurements but by the judgment of those well experienced in their significant differences. An innate aptitude to register on differences and similarities is joined to a ready curiosity and reflection on the meaning of likeness and unlikeness. There is, I am confident, such a thing as the "morphologic eye," a spontaneous and critical attention to form and pattern. Every good naturalist has it, and many of them are also very good at geographic identification and comparison.

The term "morphology" came into the study of land forms a hundred years ago; it is at the very heart of our being. We work at the recognition and understanding of elements of form and of their relation in function. Our forms and their arrangements are grossly macroscopic and infinitely numerous so that we have always to learn about selecting what things are relevant and eliminating the insignificant. Relevance raises the question of why the form is present and how it is related to other forms. Description is rarely adequate and even less often rewarding unless it is tied to explanation. It seems necessary therefore to admit to the geographic bent the fourth dimension of time, interest in how what is being studied came to be.

Some of us have this sense of significant form, some develop it (and in them I take it to have been latent), and some never get it. There are those who are quickly alerted when something new enters the field of observation or fades out from it. One of the rewards of being in the field with students is in discovering those who are quick and sharp at seeing. And then there are those who never see anything until it is pointed out to them. At this time screening of recruits may begin, if geography is a science of observation. The premise here is that we build from things seen and analyzed, however provisionally, to a comparison with data from elsewhere, from someone else, or inferred by necessity from a past that cannot be seen.


Geography as explanatory description of the earth fixes its attention on a diversity of earth features and compares them as to their distribution. In some manner it is always a reading of the face of the earth. We professionals exist not because we have discovered a line of inquiry or even own a special technique but because men have always needed, gathered, and classified geographic knowledge. The names we apply professionally to the items or forms that we identify and perhaps even to the processes we pursue are commonly and properly derived from many vernaculars; we organize them into a vocabulary of wider and clearer intelligibility. Often the languages of primitive peoples and the dialects of our own cultures provide us with more meaningful terms than does literary speech. A familiar illustration is in the meaning of land, vegetation, and cultural forms for which we borrow from local speech and extend their application to other areas.

In addition to such naming of geographical categories, both physical and cultural, out of popular speech, we add retrospective knowledge of past conditions from the study of geographical proper names. (Marginal note: The topical and local geographical vocabulary of languages is a substratum of learning that still awaits exploitation, both for the identification of kinds of our phenomena and for comparative cultural insights. A bow, therefore, to colleague Burrill and another to the newly-founded American Name Society.)

In this sermon, as one may do in a sermon, I return to the opening text that geographic content, relations, processes--in sum, geographic awareness--are of reason and necessity wider than what we, the professors of geography, work at. Beyond and around what we study today lies an area of interest of identifications and concepts which we do not intend to appropriate only to ourselves. The subject is and will be greater than the sum of our disciplinary efforts. We do claim a superior obligation to contribute in all the ways we are able, asserting no prior rights or competence that derive only from our profession. The Association of American Geographers was begun and was carried through its earlier years by that notable group of founders who met together because of their affection for the subject, though their professional jobs were elsewhere, in geology, biology, history. Those were very good days, followed by a time of restrictive association when those who held jobs in geography were chosen over those who brought ideas and observations. Happily this time seems to be past and we again are broadening the compass of our fellowship.

If we shrink the limits of geography, the greater field will still exist; it will be only our awareness that is diminished. Though the individual limits his own efforts, he may not ask the same limitation of others, nor deny his approval of efforts that go into another direction. A geographer is any competent amateur -in the literal sense- of whatever is geographic; may we never wish to be less than that.

A particular method for inspecting data is known to all scholars as the geographic method, based on charting the limits or range of phenomena, features, or traits that have a localized distribution on the earth. The mapping of distributions was begun by natural historians, or natural philosophers as they were called in the eighteenth century, who were interested in the limits of species and thus in the spread or dispersal of organisms to the extremity of their ranges. This cartographic description is always topical and analytic: What qualities of environment, dispersal routes, elapsed time, and interdependence or competition established the boundaries beyond which a particular animal or plant does not occur? A century and a quarter ago Berghaus extended such topical mapping to include not only biotic and physiographic data, but cultural ones, as of peoples, economies, and languages. Ratzel examined the distribution of culture traits, as of primitive technology, and was largely responsible for the attention given since then by ethnologists to the spread or diffusion of specific leamings or skills.

An arduous and rewarding art of detection is offered by these distributional studies: They are geographically descriptive because they are concerned with terrestrial extension; they are geographically analytic because they demand proper identification of the items under scrutiny and of comparison with other distributions; they are geographically dynamic because they seek clues from distributions for explanation of presence or absence, of origins and limits. Distribution is the key to process. The intellectual satisfactions of such inquiries are inexhaustible. Their pursuit will continue to be carried on by workers in many disciplines, from which we may gain knowledge but in which we also must participate more than we do.

It is neither necessary nor desirable that we consider the totality of region as the common basis of geographic study. Individual interest and competence begins and may remain with specific elements of nature and of culture and with the meaning of their spatial relations. If we say that our job is only to synthesize, we are likely to become dependent in all things on others for the validity of what we assemble and interpret.

Though the analytic distributional method thus called geographic is employed with skill and penetration by others than ourselves, it is also the one most rewarding to our purposes. We must individually try and hope for competence in learning more or most about the distribution of some thing or group of things. I do not accept the idea that anyone can do the geography of a region, or comparative geography, when he knows less about anything he assembles than others do, as I do not accept the notion that every geographer must be concerned with regional synthesis. The ineptly named holistic doctrine leaves me unmoved; it has produced compilations where we have needed inquiries. This is no counsel of despair but rather I wish to say that geography, like history, resists any overall organization of interests, directions, or skills, yet does not lose thereby an acknowledged position of its own kind of knowledge and of valid process of discovery and organization. In a time of exceedingly great increase of knowledge and techniques we remain in measure undelimited and, I may add, unreduced to a specific discipline. This, I think, is our nature and our destiny, this our present weakness and potential strength.

We continue properly to be, as I have said that we have been always, a diverse assemblage of individuals, hardly to be described in terms of dominance of any one kind of aptitude or temperament, mental faculty, or emotional drive, and yet we know that we are drawn together by elective affinity. It is about as difficult to describe a geographer as it is to define geography, and in both cases I am content and hopeful. With all shortcomings as to what we have accomplished, there is satisfaction in knowing that we have not really prescribed limitations of inquiry, method, or thought upon our associates. From time to time there are attempts to the contrary, but we shake them off after a while and go about doing what we most want to do. There are institutional and curricular pressures, but these are not intellectual directives. One of the wisest of university administrators has said that any department is largely a budgetary convenience.

It seems appropriate therefore to underscore the unspecialized quality of geography. The Individual worker must try to gain whatever he can of special insights and skills in whatever most absorbs his attention. Our overall interests, however, do not prescribe the individual direction. We have a privileged status which we must not abandon. Alone or in groups we try to explore the differentiation and interrelation of the aspects of the earth. We welcome whatever work is competent from whatever source, and claim no proprietary rights. In the history of life the less specialized forms have tended to survive and flourish, whereas the functionally self-limiting types have become fossils. Perhaps there is meaning in this analogy for ourselves, that many different kinds of minds and bents do find congenial and rewarding association, and develop individual skills and knowledge. We thrive on cross-fertilization and diversity.


In the training period we have our different ways of selecting and conditioning the prospects. The comments here offered are those of one weather-beaten coach who has watched many a spring practice through midseason performance.

In the first place I doubt that undergraduate majors in geography are to be recommended for those who will continue as graduate students. The bigger the major program gets and the more prerequisites get hung onto it, the less is likely to remain of a properly balanced liberal education, and the less leeway exists for the student to delve into areas of knowledge that he needs for his individual education. We too have been swept along by -the current specializing academic trend that is narrowing the higher educational process almost everywhere on our side of the Atlantic and is pushing academic departments into applied and technical orientations.

Putting labels on beginners herds them into premature profession. Registrars and other administrators like such facilities of identification and advancement; we are caught because departments depend on budgets, enrolments [sic], and other kinds of numbers that have little relevance to the ends, of learning. A good undergraduate diet for us would be a sharply limited number of geography courses (limited especially as to the number of regional ones), one enriched in the staples of liberal arts, and especially in natural and cultural history. A big departmental curriculum is probably a sign of bloating, not of fecundity.

What benefit of training and insight comes out of regional courses? After many years I am no closer to an answer. I think we give far too many such courses, that they may be given for indifferent reasons, and that too often they contribute little to learning or to skills. More and more the concern with regional classifications and regional boundaries leaves me cold. I find that I like my courses on Latin America better since I have given up any system of geographic regions.

Who can, or wants to remember, a lot of regional subdivisions anyway? In our own operation we decided long ago that we should give a regional course only if the instructor had prior and major preoccupation with such an area, and especially if it was based on continuing field studies, topical rather than inclusive in content.

A good regional course is largely an individual creation out of long application, involving physical discomforts and pleasures, muscular, cutaneous, and gastric, and it has been nursed on much meditation. It demands some ability and interest in physical geography and an understanding of other ways of life and how they came about. A really intimate association with other cultures is needed and slow to be acquired. To me it is a study in historical geography. Such a course may indeed, open new vistas to the young student and leave a lasting impress on his education. Such a course, however, grows slowly and is not built on, any generally applicable, nor on a symmetrical or encyclopaedic [sic] organization of subject matter. If it is truly instructive, it can hardly be reproduced or revised by someone else, nor serve as model for the construction of parallel courses for other regions. Thus the area study programs, much promoted and subsidized in the last years, have of necessity relied on pre-planned organization, on methodologic unity, and on derived data rather than on experienced observation. Similarly we have a lot of regional courses that are organized assemblages of industriously collected facts, taken at second hand. A writes such a book, B uses it as a text, and thus regional courses proliferate.

If we prune out a lot of the regional work now spread through our curricula we shall also urge ourselves to move the topical courses out of their present obscure corners. Topical courses have the advantage that they are analytic, and their elements may be scrutinized at any scale of inspection and by more or less adequate techniques. In the education of the student and his postgraduate development the topical inquiry is attainable and rewarding.

I am becoming more and more doubtful that regional studies are for the beginner in research. The more I see of regional theses, with their descriptions and classifications, and dot maps, that are possibly useful but are mainly secondary collections of presumed facts, the more do I wish that this time and energy had been focussed on some topic which is a problem. What problems are stated and at least partly resolved in an average regional thesis? The incipient regional geographer is either sadly at a loss to determine what he wishes to describe, or else follows a routine grouping of data which depresses his job to pedestrian performance. One end of geographical knowledge is comparative regional understanding; I don't agree in the least that it must be the only end, to which topical studies are only considered as building stones. I'll commit myself further and say that if most younger students stayed on the trail of themes rather than of regions, our contributions to knowledge would be more numerous and of a higher order.

Once most geographers in America did physiographic or geomorphologic studies as a matter of course. They still do so in other parts of the world and, as we have seen here, in Canada. We have lost in insight by their abandonment. Any kind of a geographer profits by knowing how processes of weathering, transport, and deposition fashion any part of the face of the earth he studies. We have abandoned also a strong, and perhaps the most available, incentive to field observation and for training the eye to recognize features diagnostic for explanatory description. The morphology of land forms links form to process; it requires selective observation and critical judgment as to what has happened to the surface studied. I would not have missed what I learned from Salisbury and Leverett and others in recognizing glacial land forms, setting up multiple hypotheses, and coming to a conclusion as to the meaning of the evidence. When we dropped land forms as our business, we lost a major stimulus to get into the field, to see and think, to state and solve problems. We replaced a lively and promising science with pedestrian schemes of description, perhaps designed even so as to circumvent curiosity. And, we are denying the young student one of the best and most generally present means of training the eye to see and the mind to develop generalization. It is hardly accidental that so many of those who have contributed most to human geography also, at least in their earlier years, made original contributions to physical geography.

The field of biogeography requires more knowledge of biology than can be demanded of most of us. It is, however, so important to us and so inadequately Cultivated from almost any side that we should encourage the crossing of geography with natural history wherever the student is competent. In particular, we need to know much more of the impact of human cultures on plant cover, of man's disturbances of soil and surface, of his relation to the spread or shrinkage of individual species, of human agency in the dispersal and modification of plants. To these questions a few of us are, and more should be, addressing ourselves. This advice means, of course, again that I do not see our future in a retraction within limits that set us apart from other disciplines. Especially do we need more workers who like and are able to live on frontiers, such as those of biology. Nor does this mean that we are trying to wrest territory from others. Plant distributions and the intervention of man in the rest of the organic world we know to be major themes of geography. Brunhes made that lesson clear to all. We cannot fail to be concerned with man as a steadily increasing dominant of the living world, and therefore we need more familiarity with natural history, including its modes of field study and bow it sets up its problems. Homer Shantz is our finest example of significant contribution in this manner; what he has brought to meetings of this Association in specific insight and general wisdom will long be remembered. In Europe the tradition is old and general. In Germany, for example, geography has been biogeographically enriched from the days of Humboldt, through Gradmann, Waibel, Troll, to Wilhelmy. These and others have been better geographers, whether they turned to land forms or human cultures, because they were able to make sense out of Standort or localization of biotic data. Waibel, fondly remembered by a number here, transferred the sense of problem he developed in biogeography into economic and population geography.

Underlying what I am trying to say is the conviction that geography is first of all knowledge gained by observation, that one orders by reflection and reinspection the things one has been looking at, and that from what one has experienced by intimate sight comes comparison and synthesis. In other words, the principal training of the geographer should come, wherever possible, by doing field work. The important question here is not whether he gets practice in mapping techniques but whether he learns to recognize forms that express function and process, to see problems implicit in location and areal extension, to think about joint or disjunct occurrence. The class of forms, be they of land, vegetation, or culture, is optional; the important thing is to get this awareness: of form started u to recognize kind pi and variation position and extent, presence and absence, function and derivation short, to cultivate the sense of morphology.

The field excursion and field class need not be concerned with a predetermined organization of observation, such as is contained in a synoptic map legend. Leads aplenty-physical, organic, or cultural-will turn up in the course of walking, seeing, and exchange of observation. A successful field experience may well result in a different topic for each participant. To some, such see-what-you-can find field work is irritating and disorderly since one may not know beforehand all that one will find. The more energy goes into recording predetermined categories the less likelihood is there of exploration. I like to think of any young field group as on a journey of discovery, not as a surveying party.

Such excursions and field courses are the best apprenticeship. The student and leader are in running exchange of questions and promptings supplied from the changing scene, engaging in a peripatetic form of Socratic dialogue about qualities of and in the landscape. The mode of locomotion should be slow, the slower the better, and be often interrupted by leisurely halts to sit on vantage points and stop at question marks. Being afoot, sleeping out, sitting about camp in the evening, seeing the land in all its seasons are proper ways to intensify the experience, of developing impression into larger appreciation and judgment. I know no prescription of method; avoid whatever increases routine and fatigue and decreases alertness.

It is one of our oldest traditions to start by observing the near scenes; it is equally in the great tradition that the journeyman goes forth alone to far and strange places to become a participant observer of an unknown land and life. An interesting test of American geography is being tried and with unexpected response in the new grants which have been set up for the purpose of getting young persons out into distant and poorly-known ends of the earth, as leisurely observers. One of the finest experiences of youth is to go where none of your kind has been, to see and learn to make some sense out of what has not been known to any of us. The nestling of classroom, drafting table, and library needs all encouragement we may give to develop the power of ranging and solitary flight.

The training of the geographer should give attention finally to the history of geographic thought, to the ideas that have prompted and focussed geographic inquiry, and to the circumambient intellectual climates within which geography has lived at different times and places. We, as little as any group, can be content with current literature, or with what is available to us in English. Complacency as to our own language means the exclusion of a great, probably the greater, part of what has been well learned and well thought about. Can anyone say that he chooses to remain ignorant in his own work, because it requires exertion to- find out what has been done in other times or written in another language? A scholar does not limit himself to what is most convenient, least of all to such arbitrary reduction of knowledge. A monolingual Ph.D. is a contradiction of terms, one who has not been stirred by the history of ideas, their persistence, alteration, or fading, and who condemns himself to live in needless poverty.

Mainly I have been leaving the trail unmarked by any arrows of methodology. We live in a day when method is being sought, thought, and professed, especiallyby those who call themselves social scientists. We still stand uncommitted though we are being advised that we too should observe a properly defined methodology. A little of this is a tonic, but it becomes easily habit forming and diverts the addict from productive work I should rather recommend that we can learn more from the study of dominant ideas and problems as they have arisen in geographic work, from the objectives and changes of interest as shown in the lives of those who have contributed most. What I think geography should be illustrates only my own preferences. What geography is, is determined by what geographers have worked at everywhere and at all times. Method is means; the choice is with the workman for his particular task; the critic may object to incompetence but not to what the author has sought. Let us ask "what is geography" by looking for and appreciating whatever has been done well and with new insight.


I hope to get through this presentation without any dictum as to what is geography. We begin by selecting the kinds of things proper to be described for the inquiry in hand. The theme in each case provides the screen for the data and guards against excessive and irrelevant scattering of attention. he conventional areal study may be an encyclopaedia but it is not a synthesis. Are we not under a form of inductive fallacy if we collect lots of data on lots of subjects thinking these will somehow acquire meaning? Such humility is, it would seem, hope unduly deferred from the plodding collector to some one else who may at some future time make use of the pieces of wood that have been hewn and stacked. I know of no general or inclusive descriptive system for regional study that has the promise of a real taxonomy.

There is at present enthusiasm for field mapping and their techniques. The geographer, we are told, should get into the field and map and map. But map what and to what purpose? Is not this possibly another horn of the dilemma? Topically, as for land forms and plant assemblages, mapping is feasible and may be rewarding, if it is morphologic, not merely morphographic. Lately we are getting a spate of land-use surveys, urban and rural. Having been one of those responsible for starting these up (dualistic, if you wish, but 'holistic' never), I have become increasingly doubtful about them as means of discovery. Setting up the legend should be fine mental exercise; executing it by mapping soon runs into diminishing returns, except for revision of legend. Revision of scheme in some measure invalidates what has been mapped before; it is therefore resisted as delaying the job. The legend is apt to become master of the observer, depressing and limiting his observations to predetermined routine. Routine may bring the euphoria of daily accomplishment as filling in blank areas; the more energy goes into recording, the less is left for the interplay of observation and reflection. Don't commit your field season to a mapping stint unless you know it is demanded by a real and present problem. Time-consuming precision of location, limit, and area is rarely needed; sketch maps of type situations, cartograms at reduced scales serve most of our purposes. Field time is your most precious time--how precious you will know only when its days are past.

The "unit area" scheme of mapping may be a useful cataloguing device like the decimal systems of librarians, though I doubt it, but as a means of research I should place it below almost any other expenditure of energy.

These misgivings about mapping programs and their techniques rest on a growing conviction that we must not strain to make geography quantitative. Quantification is the dominant trend in our social sciences, which are imitating the more exact and experimental sciences; it happens to be fostered at the moment by the liking of those who dispense funds for long-term programs and institutional organizations. I think we may leave most enumerations to census takers and others whose business it is to assemble numerical series. To my mind we are concerned with processes that are largely non-recurrent and involve time spans mainly beyond the short runs available to enumeration.


Beyond all that can be communicated by instruction and mastered by techniques lies a realm of individual perception and interpretation, the art of geography. Really good regional geography is finely representational art, and creative art is not circumscribed by pattern or method. We are unduly embarrassed to let ourselves appear in public without the identifying insignia of our cadre. Vidal de la Blache freed French geographers from such qualms, and French geography has been notable for vivid and meaningful regional portrayal. We may have more latent artistic talent than we know, but we don't encourage it and so it becomes suppressed. Many a letter is written from the field that enlivens and enlightens the study, but no trace thereof gets into the finished report. Why can't a geographer working in the Great Plains convey to the reader the feel of horizon, sky, air, and land that Willard Johnson did? Or what Shaler and Ellen Semple did for Kentucky and its people? Why make our regional studies such wooden things which no one may read for the insight and pleasure they give?

Esthetic appreciation leads to philosophic speculation, and why not? Are not the compositions of nature, the lines of colors of terrain and of mantling vegetation, proper to consider? How almost inevitably right are the rural scenes wherever simple folk have designed and placed their habitations! The structures of man express function in adaptation to site, with the identifying stamp and preference of each particular culture. There is an esthetics of the assemblage of forms, an esthetic morphology of landscape, latterly often violated by industrial civilization. Is not this question of the harmonious landscape also something proper to think upon?

We need not say that it is not for us to cross the threshold of value judgments. We are largely committed to the study of human behavior; it is proper and reasonable that we are troubled as to how man has acted for good or evil. Social science as practiced today has, not replaced moral philosophy. As we study how men have used the resources available to them, we do distinguish between good and bad husbandry, between economical or conservative and wasteful or destructive use. We are distressed by the progressive impoverishment. of parts of the world. We do not like soil erosion, forest devastation, stream pollution. We do not like them because they bring ugliness as well as poverty. We may cast up accounts of loss of productivity but we think also that misconduct is more than a matter of profit and loss. We are aware that what we do will determine for good or evil the life of those who will come after us. And therefore we geographers, least of all, can fail to think on the place of man in nature, of the whole of ecology. Man's intervention in and disturbance of the organic and inorganic world has become so accelerated that we may be tempted to escape from the present into a future in which technology has mastery over all matter, and thus promises forgiveness and redemption. But will it? Is that our fated way; is that the sort of world we want? The moralist lives apart from the quotations of the market place and his thoughts are of other values.

There is nothing wrong with academic geography that a strong coming generation cannot take care of. We can have the needed succession if we free it as much as we may to do what each can do best and wants most to do. It is not for us to prescribe by definition what they shall work at or by what method they shall do so. Academic freedom must always be won anew.

* Presidential address given by the Honorary President of the Association of American Geographers at its 52nd annual meeting, Montreal, Canada, April 4, 1956.