It is a widely held belief that geography is the study of the environment. Throughout the history of humanity, the functions of geography may have changed. Understanding the purposes that geography served at different stages in human history can be a key to understanding the systems created by men work and how societies were developing. All in all, in its current state, is one of the branches of science that contribute to finding a solution to the world’s environmental issues.
In modern academic praxis, the researchers use the term ‘pre-geography’ to denote a sphere of human knowledge about sea and land routes. The term ‘pre-geography’ applies to the ancient Greek and Roman period in the history of geography since both share the same vision of it. It was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that geography became officially recognized as a formal branch of science, a field of study, and an academic discipline. In the heart of geography lies the idea of writing about nature, namely, describing terrains, weather, and natural phenomena. In this respect, it is worthy of note that the first geographical writings were mainly topographical. It is in a nature of a man to seek to impart knowledge to the next generations, to be perceptive and protective of the land they occupy. Hence, in ancient Greece and Rome, geography served the utilitarian, that is to say, practical purpose of making commercial exchange possible. To make trade possible, explorers had embarked on journeys to look for safe, fast, and convenient land and sea routes. The researchers at that time were curious about flora and fauna, climatic conditions, tradition and customs of different peoples. Thus, first great geographic discoveries were made. However, in the ancient times, people were unable to explain most of the natural phenomena they observed. In other words, our ancestors feared of the forces of nature mainly because they were incapable of understanding and explaining them. By and large, fear is one of the foundations of the so-called primeval consciousness. Fear and curiosity had been pushing the boundaries of human knowledge further since the times of the Ancient Greece and Rome. Scholars nowadays list Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and Herodotus’ The Histories as the first geographical writings. Each of the works mentioned above is a wide-ranging account of the world as our ancestors knew it.
As the ancient people had been accumulating the knowledge about the surface of the Earth, they developed a keen interest in astronomy and measurement. Humanity’s skills to observe, perceive things had been gradually developing and improving. Thus, people came to notice some connection between what they see on the earth’s surface and what they can observe in the sky. Observations of connections of that type laid the foundations for further development of science and, basically, the study of the universe. However, at that time, the explorers were unable to understand what their findings represented.
The formation of the Universe and the origin of life are the ultimate questions that have been haunting humanity ever since the era of geographic discoveries has begun. Theological tradition, that is to say, the religious doctrine, a mythopoeic constituent, is an integral part of the Greek and Roman worldviews. In this respect, it is worthy of note that in the times of the Ancient Greece and Rome, mythological mindset and science were interdependent and affected one another.
Since the eleventh century A.D. and thenceforward the mankind have come to realize that the wealth of the world lay not just in the tilled earth, but also in the gems hewn from rock, and precious metals mined in the mountainous regions of the world. The Islamic people have introduced the world to thick deposits of gold and spices in Africa. Exploration of Africa marked the beginning of a new stage in the history of geographic discoveries. Islamic society has perfected Ptolemaic cartographic system. In addition to that, Arab explorers made some significant contribution to navigation.
The Arab conquest of Africa in particular and the southward expansion in general have paved the way for further exploration of the Atlantis. Scientific implications of the expedition to Africa suggest that the expedition itself has had a plenty of positive aspects. Socio-economic and cultural implications the conquest of and raids on Africa were beyond the contemplation of people who lived at the time when the expeditions were actually taking place. It is a rather sad thing to admit but the truth is that expeditions to Africa started a new tragic page in the history of humanity, namely, slavery. Discovery of the vast territories in Africa has initiated a completion amongst that time’s most powerful states. Slaves were brought from Africa to Europe, and the peoples of Europe at that time were not prepared to learn that they were not the only humans to inhabit the Earth, let alone taking pride in diversity that the civilized world was introduced to. It probably goes without saying that the indigenous peoples of Africa were denied justice, for ever since the settlers and conquerors had gotten there, they began to rob the indigenous African peoples of the wealth that land that was rightfully theirs.
It was not until quite recently that the researchers have found that Africa is a cradle of civilization. All in all, with the discovery of Africa, have come realization of the diversity of species, beauty of exotic terrains, and the vastness and greatness of the world. Finally, Arab explorers were the ones to notice the connection between climatic conditions, the peculiarities of flora and fauna, as well as the phenotypic features (appearance) characteristic of people inhabiting some specific part of the world. Ancient Greek and Roman scholars have laid the foundations that Arab scholars have employed in their own researches. Arab geographers continued to develop cartography, to study climate and natural phenomena. Even more importantly, however, Arabic geography has paved the way for further, more profound exploration of the earth’s surface by land and by sea. Lastly, Arab medieval geographers believed that climate affected the national character of an ethnic group living in some specific territory.
As the era of the dominance of Church had begun with the beginning of the Middle age, the period of the stagnation of science began. For a significant amount of time, for a couple of centuries no less, scholars forgot about geography and astronomy. However, there were some who chose to rebel against the dominance of Church. Judeo-Christian ethics played unprecedentedly crucial role in distinguishing the world of men from the world of nature. Theocentric mindset compelled people to believe that the world has sprung from the chaos. Apart from that, faith and religion have also made people believe that theirs is the superior role and consequently, things that are and all that lives was created by God for the good of people. Apart from that, The Old Testament tells about how and when the process of human alienation from nature has begun. The four points mentioned above are, basically, the tendencies that have determined the pace at and direction in which science in general and geography in particular were developing in the next few centuries.
By the end of the fifteenth century, the situation has changed dramatically. About fifteenth century AD, European westward expansion has begun. Portugal and Spain competed for the right to explore the territories lying across the Atlantis. Throughout the fifteenth century AD, many travelers and explorers embarked on the journeys full of dangers, surprises, and emergencies. The ambition of most travelers at the time was finding sea and land routes to India. India’s silk, spices, and unique culture amazed the rest of the world.
In a way, the discovery of North and South Americas was an accident. It is a widely held view that the indigenous peoples of North and South America were called Indians because the lands that the travelers had discovered were mistakenly taken for India. Spanish and Portuguese travelers set out on an expedition to the lands now known as Central and South Americas. Settlers to North America have come primarily from France, England, and Scandinavian countries.
The era of great geographic discoveries lasted from the fifteenth up until the nineteenth century, and it has changed the image of the world. In other words, the discovery of Asia, Africa, the North and South America, Australia, and Antarctica has had plenty of socio-cultural, political, and economic implications. As far as the social, economic, and cultural implications of the great geographic discoveries are concerned, it is worthy of note that plenty of new contacts were established between peoples. New lands were conquered. Thus, different groups had to learn how to co-exist harmoniously and peacefully. Travelling to distant lands was a dangerous and risky enterprise. With regard to this, it is important to understand what has forced people to leave their lives behind and to move to newly discovered territories. Building a new and a happier life, prosperous and free, making a fortune, were the ambition of all those who made decision to embark on the journey to the faraway lands.
The late eighteenth and the nineteenth century have become a period at which science and technology made a great leap forward. Commoditization of knowledge, natural resources, and labor marked the beginning of a new scientific, cultural, and economic era. From the perspective of politics, one might want to consider the following. Revolutionary movements have begun to spread all across the world. The citizens of some of the world’s most powerful countries made a choice in favor of retaining monarchy. In other countries, such as France, for example, people rebelled against the oppression and injustice. Monarchy was substituted by more liberal forms of governing.
No unambiguous approach exists to clearly answer the question how the European countries in particular could have benefited from geography in the Late Modern period. As science and technology were developing at a more and more rapid pace, slowly but steadily, the descriptive and utilitarian nature of geography has changed. Humanity has been growing more and more alienated from nature. To these days human interference with nature is negatively associated with urbanization and globalization. Urbanization and globalization, in their turn, were, in a way, an aftermath of increase in the world’s population. Even more importantly, however, the forms of managing the households and the economy changed as well. Each of the events mentioned above caused the focus of geography to shift. Geography was finally recognized as an academic discipline connecting different branches of science and spheres of human knowledge. The purpose of geography today is to elaborate more efficient ways of using natural resources. Apart from that, effective management of the economy, environmental protection, and study of climate change are some of the key focus areas of geography as a scientific discipline.
To conclude, it is essential to restate the following points. Geography is a sphere of human knowledge, a branch of science, and an academic discipline helping people to understand nature. Assuming that the foregoing statement is correct, the importance of studying geography is self-explanatory: people who have developed a keen interest in geography are curious about the world around them; what is more important, people who know geography have the propensity to understand nature. Geography served different purposes at different stages of human history. In the times of the ancient Greece and Rome, scholars ascribed geography purely descriptive character. In Islamic culture, Arab geographers paid closer attention to the study of climate and natural phenomena. The era of great geographic discoveries compelled the contemporaries to look at the world from a different perspective through revealing its vastness and magnificence. In the past century, the focus of geography changed. Nowadays, protection of the environment, study of climate change and searching for more effective ways to manage the world’s economy are among the key objectives of geography.