National Geographic : 1905 Feb
GEOGRAPHY AND CULTURE* IT has been often remarked how much the various wars of the past ten years have educated the people in geography. Southeastern Europe,South Africa, the West Indies, the China coast, Japan, Korea, and Siberia have in their turn been "discovered" by mil lions of people who had previously en tertained very hazy notions as to their existence on the face of the earth. Yet, rather singularly, there are more com plaints today concerning the ignorance of geography among all classes, high and low, than ever before. The universities, colleges, and schools are under more criticism than hitherto for their alleged failure to give to geog raphy, broadly considered, its proper place in their courses of study. A year or two ago Mr Bryce delivered an ad dress before a geographical society in England in which he emphasized the importance of geography in any scheme of education or culture. Lord Salis bury, not long before he died, surprised his countrymen by saying that many of their misconceptions concerning inter national questions originated in the misleading scales of the maps of differ ent countries and continents. It needs but a moment's reflection, indeed, to be convinced that while people in general have lately increased their stock of geographical knowledge, owing to these sensational wars and the closer jostling of the nations, we have only begun to realize how ignorant we are concerning the earth we live upon. The great extent of the average per son's real ignorance of geography is almost invariably shown whenever he begins to probe into some question of history or international politics. Very soon he discovers, rather to his surprise, that the whole matter may rest upon some simple fact of geography. A classic illustration is the discovery of America, which was the immediate result of the closing of the old Mediterranean trade routes to the Orient by the conquering Turks. Most people have a general idea that Columbus was seeking a new way to the Indies when he made his historic voyage, yet they never get far enough along to understand clearly why he was seeking that route. They do not know anything about the ancient routes through Asia Minor and around the Black Sea and what the Turks did to them. History cannot be intelligently understood, of course, without a clear knowledge of the geography of history. Huxley believed this so strongly that he never read a book of history or travels or international politics without an atlas by his side for constant reference. Yet most of the histories that are published even in our time are singularly deficient in good maps, and, strange to say, the great Cambridge series of modern his tory, planned by the late Lord Acton, contains not a single map in the first four volumes already printed. Certain facts of geography account for very much of what goes on in our own time. The Boer war cannot be thor oughly understood unless one knows the peculiar relation that South Africa bears to India and Australia from the British point of view. The war between Rus sia and Japan is an insoluble mystery until one observes the position of Korea and the Sea of Japan with reference to the Russian outlet upon the Pacific. Why is Russia today such a despotism ? Even that question should be answered in the light of the geography of the Russia of Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great. What makes Ireland so poor? The climate, due to the island's geographical position with reference to the trade winds of the Atlantic, cannot be ignored in seeking an explanation of Ireland's position the past sixty years. * From the Springfield Republican, December 18, 1904.