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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas

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Ideas concerning the relation of the physical envi-
ronment to culture have their roots in at least three
broad areas of Western thought. Their lineage is an
cient, their scope broad, and an article of this length
can aspire only to general exposition, a prolegomenon
to a complex subject ranging widely in theology, phi-
losophy, the biological and the social sciences, and the
humanities (Glacken, 1967; Wright, 1966).

First there are those ideas about culture and envi-
ronment which are constituent parts of religion and
philosophy, especially questions concerning the cre-
ator, and the manner and the nature of the creation.
These include God's care for the world, His ordered
creative acts as evidenced by the distribution and
adaptability of life, and the creation of human society
dependent upon nature for its support. This is the
literature of natural and physico-theology devoted to
proving God's existence—and His goodness—in the
order and beauty of the creation.

Second, there are the ideas in which the world of
nature is the point of departure. It is to the earth that
man is bound; he is subject to the influences of winds,
waters, the seasons, and climatic change throughout
history. Distinct but often intricately intermeshed with
this set of ideas are those of a more subjective nature;
the influence of the external world, the effects of
aspects of nature on the mind and the emotions; com-
munion with nature; empathy between man and nature
in which the joys and sorrows of man find reflection
in it and natural phenomena assume human attributes
—notions ridiculed with obvious pleasure by Ruskin
who classified them under the rubric of the Pathetic
Fallacy (Modern Painters, Part IV, Ch. 12).

Third, there are the ideas in which man and his
activities are the center of interest. These may have
their sources in a religious or philosophical view of
man as God's vicar on earth, dominant over all nature
by His will, in scientific studies showing man's effects
on the balance of nature, nature being viewed as an
ecosystem, or on man as homo faber, a creator of a
technological apparatus with which he overcomes en-
vironmental limitations, for example by building a
bridge or installing a television circuit.


The first body of thought in all its variant forms can
be traced in such representative texts as Plato's
Timaeus, the Stoic presentation in Cicero's De natura
the first chapter of Genesis, the hexaemeral
literature, especially the Hexaemeron of Basil the
Great, in many passages of Saint Augustine, Saint
Thomas Aquinas, the Cambridge Platonists, John Ray,
Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, William Paley, and the
nineteenth-century controversial literature over evolu-
tion. Such philosophies make man a part of and yet
distinct from nature, his life cycle attesting to the
former, his uniqueness because of the manner of his


creation to the latter. It is further assumed that man
and nature do not work at cross purposes, an assump-
tion which has rapidly broken down during the last
one hundred years (Marsh's Man and Nature, 1864, is
an excellent landmark) with accumulating knowledge
of man's destructiveness of the natural environment.

The unity, order, and harmony of nature are assumed
because the creator is wise, reasonable, and no lover
of chaos. The idea of adaptability is the keystone of
this arch because it explicates and throws light on final
causes: adaptability of environment to man, as evi-
denced by the multifarious uses to which it is put, and
of man to environment as is clearly evidenced by
environmental limitations on human settlement or on
procuring food, clothing, shelter. Furthermore, the
extraordinarily wide distribution of the human race
compared with that of individual species of plants or
animals like the cactus or the polar bear, show the
intricacy of this adaptability, reflecting the God-given
superior endowments of man. Before the attacks made
upon the idea of design in the late seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries, and its replacement by nine-
teenth-century evolutionary theory (with a stern
Malthusian message from the social world), it was an
exalted, almost universally accepted, all-embracing
generalization, accounting for the distribution of all
forms of life, their relation to one another, and for
differences among peoples. It was truly holistic, and
it is noteworthy that with the general collapse of
teleological explanation at least in physical science, the
history of the last century has been one of attempts
to create with some variant of ecological theory a
holistic conception which, like the old, could embrace
the whole of nature from the attitudes of man to a
glaciated Swiss valley.

Although essentially earthbound, the generalization
could be reconciled with eschatology (the earth still
is the abode of man even though a temporary one)
on the one hand, and concepts of an order and harmony
in nature on the other. Nature is fundamentally kind;
J. G. von Herder in the eighteenth century and Carl
Ritter in the nineteenth likened it to a nursery or a
school for man. This conception offered opportunities
for ideas stressing the intimate organic relationships
between man and his surroundings which, even with
the collapse of religious teleology, could still thrive
in Friedrich Ratzel's Anthropogeographie which reflects
the new thought engendered by the Darwinian theory.
It could stress earth-boundedness; it could also find a
place for human inventiveness and skill. In seventeenth-
century design arguments of men like Leibniz and John
Ray, theoretical knowledge gained from the new sci-
ence leads to practical knowledge and control of the
natural environment. Deep probing into the secrets of
nature increases one's respect for and love of the
Creator and enables man, made in His image, to com-
plete the creation in myriad ways—by agriculture,
drainage, town and city building. It possessed a reli-
gious inspiration from the texts of the Psalms and of
Romans 1:20; it found in nature a home for man; it
had a place for technology, and for homilies on the
compatibility of religion and science.

This teleological view of nature and man's place in
it was dominant until the era of critical questioning
and analysis of final causes, conspicuously by Spinoza
in his Ethics (Part I, Appendix), by Hume in his Dia-
logues Concerning Natural Religion
(1779), and by Kant
in his Critique of Judgment (1790). It foundered badly
even before the losing battles of the controversy over
evolution, both in the writings of Buffon in which unity
and harmony of the natural world, but not the tele-
ological explanation, are accepted, and in the writings
of Alexander von Humboldt, a good example being his
introduction to the Kosmos (1845-62). The Darwinian
theory of evolution offered another alternative in
which adaptation and interrelationships in nature were
not neglected. Phrases like “struggle for existence” and
“natural selection” obscure the fact that the idea of
the web of life (expressed in less pugnacious and
bloodthirsty language) replaced old notions of interre-
lationships by design, and provided a basis in evolu-
tionary theory for modern ideas of ecology, the biotic
community, the biocenose, and its fashionable and
contemporary theoretical expression, the ecosystem. If
we wish to take the long view, both the design argu-
ment and ecological theory were attempts to formulate
the conception of an order of nature as well as the
nature of human participation in it.

If this analysis is correct, there has been a historical
continuity from the idea of design—nature created by
God with love, reason, and foresight—to a concept of
harmony and balance in nature, for example, in the
writings of Buffon and von Humboldt, in which tele-
ology is eliminated or perhaps persists only in meta-
phorical language. Then the concept of balance and
harmony based on the idea of a web of life, itself the
result of evolutionary forces, ironically prepared the
way for the view widely held today of the fragility
of nature—nature as an ecosystem—in relation to
human power, in short, a nature at the mercy of man.
The reasons for preserving it are not based on religion
or anything transcendental but arise from values
created by society. What started with God has ended
with man. Basically this newer conception is a conse-
quence of the power of the human race to produce
cumulative modifications of the physical environ-
ment—from primordial practices like clearing and
starting fires to bombs and defoliants—and of the in-


terpretations which have been made of this power. We
shall return to this question in discussing the third idea,
the force of human agency.


Theories of geographic influence historically have
played an important role in the study of culture. They
appear in secular form, but they are amenable to the
first, the teleological, idea because of the vital role of
adaptation, and they may be combined with the third,
the idea of human agency, in studies of reciprocal
influences. The idea that cultural differences may be
caused by environment appears first in elaborate form
in the Airs, Waters, Places of the Hippocratic Corpus
(the ideas probably date from the fifth century B.C.).
Judging by this essay, speculation about the influence
of environment was stimulated by the cultural diversity
of the eastern Mediterranean and regions accessible to
it—the Greeks, the non-Greeks of Asia Minor, the
Scythians, the Egyptians, and their varying environ-
ments. The thought progression in Airs, Waters, Places
and other texts of the Hippocratic Corpus such as
Ancient Medicine seems to have been (1) denial of the
divine cause of disease, (2) the effect of natural condi-
tions, of the atmosphere, of waters, and of places on
the causes of disease, (3) their effects on the mind, and
finally, (4) extrapolating these effects to whole peoples,
thus formulating early generalizations about the rela-
tion between environment and national character. The
essay does not deal with environmental questions alone,
although these influenced later thinkers, climate often
being especially singled out; cultural differences are
also ascribed to occupation, government, and custom.
Many classical writers commented, seldom with any
depth, on these matters: some mentioned the role of
the environment in creating areas of isolation where
peoples, deprived of cultural contact, preserved their
old ways; others remarked on cosmopolitan—often
wicked—areas like harbors on the seacoast where peo-
ple could mix and learn one another's vices. Some
thinkers, among them Herodotus, Polybius, and Strabo,
pointed also to the force of custom in the molding of

In the Middle Ages, milestones in the history of these
environmental theories are the De natura locorum of
Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas' On Kingship,
To the King of Cyprus.
Both are of interest mainly for
showing continuity with classical sources; environ-
mental influences are secondary causes operating on
an earth which is the handiwork of God and under
His continuous governance. The Methodus (1566) and
The Republic (1576) of Jean Bodin (especially the for-
mer) are valuable sources for such ideas and their
influence in the Renaissance. Bodin is important as a
comprehensive expositor of classical ideas and medie-
val echoes rather than as an innovator; he, however,
applied his principles to contemporary life, for like
Plato, Thomas Aquinas, and later Montesquieu, Bodin
thought that knowledge about the environment is vital
for rulers seeking wisdom in governing. In Bodin the
thought is complicated by large doses of astrological

Speculations continued unabated from the publica-
tion of Bodin's Methodus to Montesquieu's esprit des
(1748). In Books XIV-XVIII Montesquieu restates
the case for the influence of climate, soils, and physical
configuration, relying in part on John Arbuthnot's An
Essay Concerning the Effects of Air on Human Bodies

(1733) and on classical traditions, based mainly on
Hippocrates. In pithy and often witty sentences,
Montesquieu ranged widely to show the force of these
influences on national character, religion, the position
of women, slavery, diet, and even on the opera.
Montesquieu's forceful arguments made strong friends
and strong enemies, and for good reason: he posed very
clearly and trenchantly the questions based on envi-
ronmental versus social causation. Does climate influ-
ence religion? Are society's ills to be blamed on climate
or on the deadweight of custom, and on oppressive
governments and religions? It was in answer to
Montesquieu that Voltaire, in one of his milder dissents,
said “climate has some influence, government a hun-
dred times more; religion and government combined,
more still” (“Climate,” usually printed in the Philo-
sophical Dictionary
). Montesquieu indeed became a
source for what was already a body of thought in its
own right, but he was equally important for the criti-
cism his ideas evoked, not only from Voltaire, but from
Hume in his essay “Of National Characters” (1748),
both emphasizing the force of moral causes. These
books read alone, however, overemphasize the deter-
ministic character of Montesquieu's thinking; his treat-
ment of population in Book XXIII, one of the best in
his work, brings out clearly the social and religious
influences on human compared to animal populations.

Herder's Outlines of a Philosophy of the History of
(1784-91) sets off in new directions; one could
maintain that modern cultural geography started with
him. He considered the whole earth and all mankind,
past and present. Whereas Montesquieu, like his pred-
ecessors, was more interested in correlations, Herder
stressed organic ties and blood relationships between
man and the earth. Herder's view of man and nature
was typical in more than one way of many ideas of
romantic thinkers. He used the design argument to
show that the earth is a fit environment for mankind
whose unity he assumed and whose cultural differences
he explained by the “situation and wants of the place,


the circumstances and occasions of the times and the
native or generated character of the people” (Book XII,
Ch. 6). But Herder also noted that man takes an active
part in reshaping and transforming the earth, for as
a student of Europe's past Herder had also read ac-
counts of the clearing of the woods of the New World
(Glacken, 1967).

Carl Ritter is conventionally regarded along with
von Humboldt as a founder of modern geography, but
if one comes to Ritter after Herder there are few
surprises. In his Comparative Geography (1852), Ritter
presented the all-embracing design argument in the
tradition of Leibniz, Ray, and Herder. Ritter greatly
admired science and the scientific method, as they
increased knowledge and helped in the explication of
final causes. Like Herder, Ritter strove to show the
deep ties between man and nature. Both illustrated
very well how the idea of design could embrace con-
cepts of environmental influence, of man as a modifier
of nature.

The humanistic writings of Alexander von Humboldt
are of far greater interest than those of Ritter; he was
at home in the thought of the Enlightenment, the
pre-romantics, and the romantics, and many of his
ideas were based on personal observation made in his
travels; e.g., his (and Aimé de Bonpland's) Essai sur
la géographie des plantes
(1805), which is a miniature
human geography: man's modifications of heath vege-
tation; comments on the absence of pastoral nomadism
in the New World; contrasts in mountain settlement
between the Alps and the Andes; human beings as
world disseminators of plants; the influence of plants
on man's imagination and sensitivity.

Von Humboldt also saw the fundamental importance
of the history of ideas. In the Kosmos, he made mag-
nificent surveys of the history of the subjective con-
templation of nature, stimulated by descriptions of
nature in literature, by landscape painting, and by
exhibitions of exotic plants; and then of the objective
understanding of nature attained through meditation,
reason, enlarged horizons resulting from exploration,
and invention. Von Humboldt is loath to divorce the
humanistic appreciation of nature through poetry,
travel, and landscape painting from the objective sci-
entific investigation of nature's laws. The two, aesthetic
appreciation and scientific understanding of nature, are
not antagonistic; they reinforce one another. He was
encouraged that a modern literature concerned with
the psychological interactions between men's minds
and the external aspects of nature, the power of natural
surroundings to evoke moods and feelings, was coming
into being, stressing, as Buckle did later in the intro-
duction to his History of Civilization in England (Vol.
I, 1857), the differential character of environments in
their ability to overawe men.

There is good reason for distinguishing between
environmental theories current before and after
Darwin. The Darwinian theory, inspired in part by
Malthus, in pointing to the enormous reproductive
power of living things compared with the food avail-
able for their sustenance, called dramatic attention to
the survival value of adaptation of organisms to the
environment. Nature, the physical environment,
acquired a new and dynamic force. In her Modern
(1911, p. 11), Marion Newbigin wrote that
evolution was a great unifying principle: Darwin had
shown that there is a delicately adjusted balance be-
tween organisms and their surroundings. Throughout
earth history, slight changes in physical conditions and
the effort of organisms to readjust to the disturbed
balance have been factors in evolution. Thus in part
at least the characters of organisms can be explained
by the nature of their surroundings. In this respect
human societies and settlements, she argued, behave
like organisms. Cultural differences can therefore be
explained, at least partially, by minor differences in
physical conditions. This unifying and coordinating
principle, she thought, has enabled geography to com-
prehend vast accumulations of facts, and for the first
time raised it to the level of a science. The new princi-
ple also reinforced older ideas of environmental influ-
ence; it led in geography to concepts of the struggle
for “living space,” the roots of twentieth-century geo-
politics, as it did in sociology to a literature now called
Social Darwinism.

Friedrich Ratzel's criticism of Darwin is most in-
structive in this connection: Darwin erred in his con-
ception of the struggle for existence in nature, for
“nature” concealed the fact that the earth was not
uniform, but consisted of all kinds of environments,
some far more favorable to life, to progress, and to
survival than others (Ratzel [1899], Vol. I).

Ratzel in fact introduced a new era in environmental
thinking; we may single out one of his key ideas, the
importance of movement or of migrations in history.
Two great forces are at work here: the mobility of man
and the stability of the earth. Migration is especially
characteristic of the earlier stages of human culture;
it is limited and in fact controlled by the physical
configuration of the earth which provides distribution
routes by land or sea, thus exercising a decisive influ-
ence over where men go, on the density of population,
and ultimately on the world distribution of man. As
mankind develops, however, into a life less migratory,
more sedentary, the process of becoming rooted in the
soil (Einwurzelung) begins, and the higher the devel-
opment the greater and deeper is this binding rela-
tionship. A people and its land are indivisible; one
cannot be understood without the other. Ratzel thus
set himself firmly against any philosophy of history that


sees progress in terms of a gradual divorce from the
controls of nature characteristic of the earlier stages
of human development. It is only fair to add that Ratzel
was not a systematic environmentalist; he saw clearly
that the powerful forces of human agency were at work
in his own times and in the past, but this body of
thought did not achieve the organization and coher-
ence in his thinking that ideas in the environmental
tradition did.

To a considerable degree Ratzel's influence in the
English-speaking world owed much to Ellen Semple,
his American student, who consciously avoided many
of his more speculative and mystical ideas like the
organic theory of the state; her Influences of Geo-
graphic Environment
(1911), an independent work
based on the principles of Ratzel's Anthropogeographie,
reveals on almost every page the influence of evolu-
tionary theories as unifying principles in explaining the
relation of culture to environment.

The period from Ratzel's day to the present resists
summarizing; during that time materials pertinent to
our theme have accumulated in greater volume and
wider scope than in all previous periods combined. We
may, however, hazard certain broad generalizations.
There has been a loss of faith in environmentalistic
explanation, but this should be qualified by saying that
even among the most deterministic thinkers there had
always been loopholes for nonenvironmental influences
(Claval, 1964; Hartshorne, 1959; Taylor, 1957). The
partisans of environmentalism simply did not select the
human factors for special study. The shifts in interest
and the trend away from environmentalism have been
sensitively described by Carl Sauer, himself a leader
in a new conception of cultural geography (Sauer,
1931). The disenchantment with environmental the-
ories led to greater emphasis on man—his culture and
his power to modify nature. The best known example
of this shift is the work of the French geographers,
Paul Vidal de la Blache, Jean Brunhes, and Lucian
Febvre, whose Geographical Introduction to History
(1925) is a skillful exposition of their philosophy. The
rejection of environmental determinism, the insistence
on the permissiveness of the environment—it offered
possibilities and opportunities, not commands, hence
the association of this school with the word “possi-
bilism”—were not bold and revolutionary manifestos
but evidences that academic discussions of culture and
environment could no longer ignore what was obvious
to an intelligent and open-eyed observer. It was absurd
to emphasize man's adaptation to the environment
when overwhelming evidence from all over the world
showed that the human transformation of the environ-
ment, now being seen in better historical perspective,
was one of the great processes in human history, that
changes were accelerating at an unheard-of rate. Dis
tinct ways of life (genres de vie) developed in various
parts of the earth due to such factors as environment,
traditional occupations, and historical circumstances.

Second, holistic concepts of environment, based on
some form of ecological theory, a trend already appar-
ent in Ratzel's Anthropogeographie, reflect the growing
importance of biogeography and ecological principles
upon which it is based. The concept of natural regions
among the French geographers, for example, is based
on biogeography and ecological theory as they were
understood around the turn of the century (Febvre,

Despite the widespread rejection of environ-
mentalism, the writings of Ellsworth Huntington,
Arnold Toynbee, and other contemporary writers in
their reexaminations of concepts have kept alive these
persistent and vexing questions concerning the nature
of environmental influences. Huntington was con-
cerned basically with two broad fields: (1) the relation
of the distribution of civilization (as he defined it) to
the geographic distribution of climatic areas favorable
(again by his definition) to high energy, creativity,
productivity, and the like; and (2) the role of climatic
change in the history of civilization (Huntington, 1945).
Huntington's work was not done in isolation but in
the mainstream of wide-ranging research which had
been conducted vigorously since the latter part of the
nineteenth century on the relation of environment
—particularly climate—to health and disease, diet,
creativity, labor efficiency, mental diseases, genius and
intelligence, race, social and political organization,
national character, the suitability of the tropics to
white settlement, and climatic factors including cli-
matic change in the rise and fall of civilizations
(Glacken, 1956, on climatic change).

Huntington was not an environmental monist, nor
did he deny the operation of many other factors. It
was the climatic factor that enchanted him. His influ-
ence extended far beyond his own discipline; like
Montesquieu, Buckle, Spengler, and Toynbee, not the
least of his merits was the exegetical literature his many
books produced.

More recently, Arnold Toynbee, examining the
question whether certain environments present condi-
tions favorable to the genesis of civilizations, has dis-
missed the environment as a causative factor; he has
also rejected race. His discussions, however (1961), of
“the challenge of the environment” (the stimulus of
hard countries, of new ground, of blows, pressures)
have provoked charges of environmentalism, for ex-
ample, by O. H. K. Spate in an article on Toynbee
and Huntington (Geographical Journal, 118 [1952],

In the years following World War II, British and
American geographers, especially, have shown consid-


erable interest in analyzing the semantics of environ-
mental theory, and the meaning of such words as “en-
vironment,” “possibilism,” and “determinism.” This
discussion has grown out of the vagueness in usage,
the accretions of time, often inconsistent with one
another, and out of the fear that a cultural was sup-
planting an environmental determinism. Fear also of
being accused of environmental determinism meant
that important and legitimate areas of inquiry were
ignored or at best neglected (Lewthwaite, 1966; Spate,


A distinction should be made between two concepts
of man as a modifier of nature, for they have had a
separate, though often interlocking history: (1) man as
a planner of environmental change, as in constructing
a dam—evidence of this inventive, purposive behavior
and its effects (often called “control over nature”) has
generally come from the history of applied science and
technology; and (2) the idea of the indirect and the
unconscious modifier, which has come mainly from the
literature of natural history. That man is an uncon-
scious disturber of nature, an indirect transformer be-
cause of his ignorance of the causal chain of interfer-
ences, was observed long before the development of
modern ecology. According to a note in William
Derham's Physico-Theology (1798 ed.), colonists in
America tried to exterminate crows because the birds
harmed the corn, with the result that worms, cater-
pillars, and beetles increased. When the war on crows
stopped, they were relieved of the plague of insects
(Glacken, 1967).

The idea that men are bringers of order into the
natural world appears deeply imbedded in human
thought. Mircea Eliade, for example, in Cosmos and
History. The Myth of the Eternal Return
(trans. W.
Trask, 1959), has called attention to the act of
“cosmicizing” the environment: areas outside of man's
ken, remote from his settlement, are areas of chaos.
With settlement, with possession, a sacred and creative
act, the bringing of order, takes place. “The unculti-
vated zone is first 'cosmicized,' then inhabited.”

In classical times, the conception of man as a con-
troller of other kinds of life, as an intermediary gov-
erning and curbing the powers of plants and animals,
is clearly formulated. Without human control weeds,
brambles, and thickets might cover the earth; wild and
voracious animals, their numbers unchecked, do as they
will. How can man impose his will on the animals,
the docile and the ferocious alike? Philo the Jew (ca.
50 B.C.-A.D. 45) was obviously impressed by this power;
man is like a governor or a ship's pilot in guiding other
forms of life. In Judeo-Christian theology, the unique
ness of man, created by God in his image, gives him
power over the whole creation. It is indisputable that
the unique position of man in the creation—he was
the only creature in whom God took a strong personal
interest and made in his own image—has emphasized
in Christian thought the environment as a utility
created for man. Man has also been considered a
finisher of nature; God created the earth, and the
results were good but there was still opportunity for
man to develop his skills, accommodating the earth
to his needs and preferences.

In the Middle Ages, there were many observed in-
stances of unfavorable environmental changes as a
result of the exercise of customary rights of grazing
and forest clearance, but these cases were local in
nature and produced no synthesis. The most profound
contributions to this idea came in modern times. Buffon
made a remarkable interpretation of the effects of
human agency. He was impressed by the landscapes
of Europe transformed by man in contrast to the thinly
populated areas of the largely virgin New World. He
postulated (1778) seven epochs in the history of the
earth, the last being characterized by the active par-
ticipation of man in bringing it to its present state.
Man is thus an intruder in a natural order already
established in the previous six epochs. Though often
a destroyer, he is generally portrayed as an embellisher
of nature. Buffon had no taste for the state of nature,
and it was not difficult for him to choose between a
beautiful cultivated landscape in the French country-
side and a dense uninhabited forest of the New World.

The idea of the intruder was also basic to the work
of the American George P. Marsh, Man and Nature
(1864); but man appeared to him predominantly as a
destroyer of his natural environment. Marsh's ideas of
the power of human intrusions in the natural order
opposed the view that man is a weak geological agent
compared to other geological forces changing the
earth—volcanoes, earthquakes, streams—and objected
to the environmentalists who insisted upon the influ-
ence of environment on man as an organizing principle
in the study of man's relation to nature. Marsh's Man
and Nature
assumed a primordial balance in nature,
which without man's interference tends to self-
restoration—even with great natural catastrophes up-
setting the balance—with plants and animals, partici-
pating in the healing process, for unlike man they do
not initiate irreversible processes. Thus human history
may be viewed as a continuous series of intrusions—
often irreversible—into the natural order, first by
means of plant and animal domestication, then by
clearing the woods, and by interfering with the waters,
as in stream diversion, or with the sands as in dune
fixation (Marsh, 1965; Lowenthal, 1958).


Though Marsh seems to have arrived at his idea of
a balance in nature independently of Darwin, it is
similar to the web of life concept; but Darwin is basi-
cally concerned with the web of life as a product of
evolution, Marsh as a basis from which to measure the
influences of man. The web of life, the biocenose, the
biotic community, the ecosystem—all terms relating
to the same kinds of concept—have broadened and
deepened the opportunities for studying the relation
of nature and culture, particularly changes in the natu-
ral order. New perspectives were opened up: (1) in
these circumstances, balance and harmony implied
fragility, delicacy, and susceptibility so that man, far
from being overwhelmed by the environment, could
initiate irreversible processes that would destroy the
environment for human use and thus make man the
victim of a new environment brought into being by
him; (2) since he was an intruder in an order tending
toward harmony and balance, science and ethics, as
well as concern for his own well-being, called upon
him to be a steward of nature whose power in the
creation of changes entailed responsibilities; and (3) it
called attention not only to the directive force of man
on the evolution of animals, plants, and man himself,
but also to the continuously intensifying imprint of
human values on the landscape. With accumulating
knowledge of the long history of environmental
changes by human agency, students increasingly have
described them in ecological terms. By the first decade
of the twentieth century—scarcely seventy years after
Sir Charles Lyell had described man as a weak geolog-
ical agent—several geologists were calling man the
dominant geological force of the planet. Terms like
the “psychozoic era,” “anthropozoic era,” and “the
mental era” were used to characterize this new geo-
logical period, anticipating the thesis of Edouard Le
Roy, W. I. Vernadsky, and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
a generation later that the world was no longer a
biosphere but a noösphere (Glacken, 1956). Carl
Ortwin Sauer's writings (selections in Land and Life;
Agricultural Origins and Dispersals,
1963) made im-
portant contributions to the study of modifications of
nature by man; he consistently emphasized their antiq-
uity, the significance of fire, the wider implications of
domestication, the role of human agency in dissemi-
nating plants and animals, and man as a highly selective
appraiser of resources. Finally, Chardin, in many of
his writings, notably The Phenomenon of Man, em-
ployed the word noösphere to describe the “human-
ized” earth as a planet now under the directive force
of mind; to him, the human race, in the time perspec-
tive of earth history, is still relatively new and inex-
perienced, and Chardin can thus reserve judgment on
the enormous volume of pessimistic literature and
observation which has accumulated since the days of
Marsh, attaining new momentum with the Midwest
dust storms of 1934, and the broadening scope of
post-World War II developments.

Many contemporary ideas have grown out of the
unparalleled destruction of the last hundred years—of
primitive peoples and wildlife, out of deforestation and
soil erosion, and as a result of the creation of industrial
landscapes, we have witnessed the deterioration of
urban environments. Accompanying these changes has
been a growing understanding of them because of the
gradual refinement of ecological ideas and the ecosys-
tem concept as it is understood today. The changes
do not appear as unrelated and discrete events. One
must, however, distinguish between understanding and
its dissemination, for ecologic theory still had an ex-
tremely limited influence on the world until the 1960's.
Among thinkers friendly to the ecological point of
view, viz., that the power of human agency has been
so great and all-pervading, there has been a reversal
of roles; the ecosystem concept is used very frequently
to dramatize the fragility of nature, a natural environ-
ment at the mercy of human needs expressed in eco-
nomic systems, cultural factors, religious belief, values,
or lack of them. It is a moving experience to compare
Marsh's Man and Nature with the symposium volume,
dedicated to him, Man's Role in Changing the Face
of the Earth
which appeared in 1956.

Under these circumstances it is not surprising that
there should be interest also in environmental questions
other than those of an economic, utilitarian, or purely
scientific nature, that there should be interest in envi-
ronmental perception, nature imagery, in scenery, in
preservation, whether it is an old quarter in a city or
an old oak. The desire to preserve unique forms,
whether wilderness, redwoods, or erratic blocks left by
glaciers, would seem to be a recognition of variety and
historical depth as indispensable elements of civili-
zation. Moreover, the interest in wilderness, Roderick
Nash's Wilderness and the American Mind (1967), for
example, has reopened questions about the meaning
of nature to man which hitherto had been prominent
only in anthologies on romanticism. The present-day
concern for aesthetics of landscape (e.g., Paul Shepard's
Man in the Landscape, 1967) may be compared with
the same kinds of questions raised by the romantics
and by men like John Ruskin and William Morris, by
the creation of industrial landscapes like the Coketown
which Dickens described in the fifth chapter of Hard
(Burton, 1968; Lowenthal, 1961).

There is every indication that the literature con-
cerned with the relation of culture to environment will
appear in ever-increasing volume. The more thoughtful
and more profound of these writings will be concerned,


as they have been in the past, with the meaning and
value not only of human but of all life, with the envi-
ronments that support them, and with deeper under-
standings of the dazzling variety in attitudes toward
nature still held throughout the world today.


Ian Burton, “The Quality of the Environment: A Review,”
Geographical Review, 58 (1968), 472-81, provides current
discussions of environmental quality, imagery, perception,
attitudes to nature, and is well documented. Paul Claval,
Essai sur l'évolution de la géographie humaine, Annales
littéraires de l'université de Besançon, Vol. 67 (Paris, 1964),
is a history of human geography, including contemporary
world developments with references in English, French, and
German. T. W. Freeman, A Hundred Years of Geography
(Chicago, 1962), includes discussion of geographers, method-
ology, and environmental theories. Clarence J. Glacken,
“Changing Ideas of the Habitable World,” Man's Role in
Changing the Face of the Earth,
ed. William L. Thomas,
Jr. (Chicago, 1956), pp. 70-92, discusses the history of the
idea of man as a modifier of nature, and has many references.
Materials discussed in this article up to the early nineteenth
century are based on idem, Traces on the Rhodian Shore.
Nature and Culture in Western Thought from Ancient Times
to the End of the Eighteenth Century
(Berkeley and Los
Angeles, 1967), which provides references to the sources
and important secondary works; see p. 423 for eighteenth-
century ecology. Richard Hartshorne, Perspective on the
Nature of Geography
(Chicago, 1959), has revisions and
amplifications of his Nature of Geography (1939). Ellsworth
Huntington, Mainsprings of Civilization (New York, 1945),
is a summary of Huntington's life work, with a full bibli-
ography including references to Huntington's earlier writ-
ings; see especially Part III, “Physical Environment and
Human Activity.” Gordon R. Lewthwaite, “Environ-
mentalism and Determinism: A Search for Clarification,”
Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 56
(1966), 1-23, is a valuable discussion of environmental con-
cepts, especially for the 1950's and early 1960's with full
citations chiefly to sources in English. David Lowenthal,
“Geography, Experience, and Imagination: Towards a Geo-
graphical Epistemology,” Annals of the Association of
American Geographers,
51 (1961), 241-60, is an essay “in
the theory of geographical knowledge,” on the relation of
man's perception of environments and his interpretations
of them, with valuable notes; idem, George Perkins Marsh.
Versatile Vermonter
(New York, 1958), is indispensable for
understanding a key figure in the history of attitudes to
environment. George P. Marsh, Man and Nature, ed. David
Lowenthal (Cambridge, Mass., 1965), is an excellent edition
(with an introduction) of Marsh's work, first published in
1864. Friedrich Ratzel, Anthropogeographie. Erster Teil, 2nd
ed. (Stuttgart, 1899); idem, Zweiter Teil, 3rd ed., 2 vols.
(Stuttgart, 1922), is a basic work on modern human geogra-
phy, Vol. I of which has an interesting historical introduc-
tion; for criticism of Darwin, see I, xxiv-xxvi; and for a
discussion of people's roots in the soil, see I, 195. Carl O.
Sauer, “Cultural Geography,” Encyclopedia of the Social
15 vols. (New York, 1931), VI, 621-24, discusses
the decline of modern environmentalism and its replace-
ment by newer concepts in cultural geography. Ellen C.
Semple, Influences of Geographic Environment, on the Basis
of Ratzel's System of Anthropo-geography
(New York, 1911),
was in its time probably the most influential single work
on this subject in English. O. H. K. Spate, “Environ-
mentalism,” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sci-
17 vols. (New York, 1968), V, 93-97, is particularly
informative, with excellent bibliography on contemporary
discussions of environment and ideas of determinism, possi-
bilism, and probabilism, with semantics of these words and
comments on quantification. Johannes Steinmetzler, Die
Anthropogeographie Friedrich Ratzels und ihre ideen-
geschichtlichen Wurzeln,
Bonner Geographische Abhand-
lungen, Heft 19 (Bonn, 1956), provides Ratzel's basis ideas
in anthropogeography including his relationship to Herder
and Ritter, and a valuable bibliography of German second-
ary works. Griffith Taylor, ed., Geography in the Twentieth
3rd ed. (New York, 1957), is an excellent source
for nineteenth- and twentieth-century concepts of environ-
ment, determinism, possibilism, as well as for French and
German developments. William L. Thomas, Jr., ed., Man's
Role in Changing the Face of the Earth
(Chicago, 1956),
consists of fifty-two articles with discussions based on an
International Symposium of the same name, and is dedi-
cated to George P. Marsh. Arnold J. Toynbee, A Study of
2nd ed., Vol. I, (London, 1935), discusses environ-
ment and the genesis of civilizations and challenge and
response; ibid., Vol. XII, Reconsiderations (London, New
York, and Toronto, 1961), answers the critics of his treatment
of environment, 146-48, 254-58, 314-27. Harriet Wanklyn,
Friedrich Ratzel. A Biographical Memoir and Bibliography
(Cambridge, 1961), is a short but well-balanced appraisal
of Ratzel with a bibliography of his works. John Kirtland
Wright, Human Nature in Geography... (Cambridge,
Mass., 1966), is an admirable selection from Wright's essays
on environment and culture. D. O. Zöckler, Geschichte der
Beziehungen zwischen Theologie und Naturwissenschaft mit
besondrer Rücksicht auf Schöpfungsgeschichte. Erste
Abtheilung: Von den Anfängen der christlichen Kirche bis
auf Newton und Leibnitz. Zweite Abtheilung: Von Newton
und Leibnitz bis zur Gegenwart,
2 vols. (Gütersloh, 1877-79),
is a fundamental work on natural and physicotheology by
one sympathetic to the design argument.


[See also Causation; Conservation; Continuity; Creation;
Design Argument; Environment; Evolutionism; God;
Mountains; Progress; Uniformitarianism.]