PROGRESS IN GEOGRAPHY ›› 2013, Vol. 32 ›› Issue (12): 1845-1860.doi: 10.11820/dlkxjz.2013.12.013

• Discussion of Theory and Methodology • Previous Articles    

Change of historiographical methodologies in geography:From positivism to intellectual history

SUN Jun1,2, PAN Yujun2,3, WU Youde4, MENG Xuemei1   

  1. 1. College of Social development, Yunnan Normal University, Kunming 650500, China;
    2. College of Tourism and Geographical Sciences, Yunnan Normal University, Kunming 650500, China;
    3. Key Laboratory of Educational Information for Nationalities, Ministry of Education, Yunnan Normal University, Kunming 650500, China;
    4. Yunnan Chinese Language and Culture College, Yunnan Normal University, Kunming 650500, China
  • Received:2013-03-01 Revised:2013-10-01 Online:2013-12-25 Published:2013-12-25
  • Contact: 潘玉君(1965-),男,黑龙江齐齐哈尔人,教授,博导,主要从事区域发展、理论地理学等研究。

Abstract: This historiographical article examines the ways by which geographers wrote about the history of geography in the past and provides suggestions for the future. We refer to the actual history of geography as "HG1" and the writings of historians about the history as "HG2". The essence of historiography of geography is to examine how HG1 record, explain HG2 in its places and times rather than it "should be" today. There are three types of historiographical methods in HG2: (1) positivism historiography, such as The Nature of Geography, All possible words: A history of geographical ideas, an "essentialist" historiography which postulates what geography is as a science "in essence", and construct geography's history base on this approach; (2) constructivism historiography, such as the contributions by Trevor J. Barnes, who insisted that geography is constructed by society; (3) historical contextualism historiography, emphasized by British historian of geography, Robert J. Mayhew, who drew on the ideas from so-called "Cambridge school" scholars, such as Michael Oakeshott and Quentin Skinner, etc., and the aim is to think how to write the histories of geographies, rather than history of geography. Both Robert J. Mayhew and Charles W. J. Withers insisted that geography was so different in different places and different times, implying that we should avoid an inevitable or progressive "essentialist" historiography which postulates what geography is as a science "in essence". Of course, historical contextualism historiography has been related to the works in China such as From dynastic geography to historical geography: A change in perspective towards the geographical past of China (in English) and From chaos to order: Palaeoid geographical thought in China (in Chinese), published by Xiaofeng Tang. Tang thinks that the history of Chinese geography should be concerned with the past for its own sake, which means in this context the ways by which Chinese geography was understood at the time, rather than the ways by which it can be understood in the light of the present-day practice of the discipline. So, Tang constructed the history of dynastic geography and explained it from the perspectives of Chinese ancient culture, words and concepts. The thought has been inherited by his student, Sheng Pan, in his doctoral thesis, Ideas, system and interest in the geography of the Sung dynasties (Peking University, 2008). Based on the discussions, we suggest that an effective way for the progress of historiography is to make a choice among these methods, and we think positivism historiographical method is a good choice for modern history; historical contextualism historiographical method is beneficial to ancient and early modern history, especially to non-western or non-Anglophone places like China.

Key words: histories of geographies, historiographical methodologies, intellectual methodology, positivistic methodology