Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 80.djvu/591

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587
A PHILOSOPHY OF GEOGRAPHY

A PHILOSOPHY OF GEOGRAPHY
By Professor WALTER EDWARD McCOURT

WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY

IN the minds of many persons to-day it might seem necessary to apologize for holding to a "philosophy of geography" that study often remembered from school days with either utter dislike or disinterest; for in early years it was a bugbear to carry about the "big geography" in between the covers of which were gathered the colored maps of the various countries, with descriptions of those countries and their boundaries, products, exports, imports, rivers—a real Baedeker of the earth. Even later most of us were hurried along, not given time to catch our breath or have our wonders satisfied; and to-day, perhaps, there are still some who wonder at the college professor's giving serious thought to a subject of which they learned all there was to be learned during the years of schooling.

But such remembrances are probably becoming fewer, for in the minds of many thinkers to-day there is no doubt that the science of geography is one which furnishes much food for thought and much opportunity for research. Not only in the works of many of the older thinkers and philosophers, but also in the pages of various current periodicals and in some of the excellent modern histories, may one see something of the attitude which endeavors to view many human activities in their relation to the geographic stage. From making the study of geography dwindle into a mere recital of fact—with what hours of dullness or dryness!—it may be of interest or profit to somewhat fully give to geography a place beyond that of a mere catalogue of distribution, and to enrich its apparent field by glancing at some of its interesting causes and tremendous effects.

As was suggested, the mental image called forth by the word geography would doubtless be to many a mass of disconnected details, dealing chiefly with the idea of localization and definition and the remembrance of things in themselves uninteresting. An island was a mass of land entirely surrounded by water. An isthmus was a neck connecting two large areas of land. Why the island existed, or how it came about were "hideous secrets." Why two bodies were connected by a constriction may have been a mystery, and one was never led to solve it. "What was the capital of Missouri?" "For what product was Iowa famous?" "What crop comes from the northern plains?" "Name ten large cities of America." No one thought of enlightening the, perhaps.