Acta Geographica Sinica ›› 2014, Vol. 69 ›› Issue (9): 1369-1384.doi: 10.11821/dlxb201409010

• Orginal Article • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Paradigms in historiography of geography: Science history and knowledge history

Jun SUN1,2(), Yujun PAN1,3(), Youde WU4, Weiren HE1   

  1. 1. College of Tourism and Geographical Sciences, Yunnan Normal University, Kunming 650500, China
    2. College of Social development, Yunnan Normal University, Kunming 650500, China
    3. Key Laboratory of Educational Information for Nationalities (Yunnan Normal University), Ministry of Education, Kunming 650500, China
    4. Yunnan Chinese Language and Culture College, Yunnan Normal University, Kunming 650500, China;
  • Received:2013-11-23 Revised:2014-04-21 Online:2014-09-17 Published:2014-09-17


In this article, from a historiographical perspective, we examined the ways that geographers and historians used to construct their geographical histories. We start with an overview of ideas that argue for a 'scientific' history in geography. Then, we discuss how some geographers construct their 'scientific history' in a 'strong program' pattern, while the others contrast a 'knowledge history' which does not give a damn to the comparative dimension with early modern geography. In conclusion, our aim is tantamount to proposing a bidirectional perspective to understand our histories and future. At the same time, we propose the dualism between Anglophone and non-Anglophone Geography what is unnecessary or pseudo rather than real. Until recently, the history of geography was drafted in narrow, uncritical terms usually invoked to legitimize the activities and perspectives of different geographical constituencies in a modernistic view, sealed off from external economic, social, political or cultural forces. For example, currently popular All Possible Worlds, developed an "essentialist" historiography which postulates what geography is as a science "in essence", and constructs geography's history in an essentialist light. The "top to down" narrative pattern in this history makes: only the Anglophone geographical tradition is legitimate; the nature of history is constructed, abstracted; traditions beyond Anglophone are always absent (e.g. Chinese geography), or sometime, explained in an anachronism way; and natural geography and human geography are divided into two different intellective enterprises. The shaping of geography as a discipline has resulted from a combination of productive and successful communication and missed opportunities, of presence and absence, of fluid travels of ideas and projects, but also of closures, impediments, good lessons that got lost. So, a history of geography should be concerned with the past for its own sake, rather than the ways in which it can be understood in the light of the present-day practice of the subject. We suggest that history should be constructed from the root, knowledge, and then explain why it is important and how it changes. The history like this is what we called knowledge history, a history in a "bottom to top" narrative path which implies geography in various places and times is so dissimilar and the aim of writing is an annotation. By comparing the "top to down" and "bottom to top" narrative paths, we suggest both the construction and explanation are necessary for a history. It will be purely admirable if a history presents a history "from the physical and biological, through the social and economic, to the humanistic".

Key words: historiography of geography, science history, knowledge history, concept of science, concept of science history, nature of history, narrative paths