Articles | Volume 68, issue 1
Standard article
30 May 2013
Standard article |  | 30 May 2013

Writing the history of geography: what we have learnt – and where to go next

U. Wardenga

Abstract. When writing the history of geography the subject is, customarily, one's own national geography. Moreover, until the 1960s, the discipline's history was generally told by recollecting the life and works of eminent scholars. Since then, the subject has been internationalised, owing a great deal to the IGU's commission on ''History of Geographical Thought''. It has also been broadened and aligned with the emerging sociology of science and later the ''cultural turn''; so biographical narratives lost ground in favour of thematic studies. Nevertheless, most kept to their own national geography tradition as a frame of reference – whose development they now analysed in non-scientific contexts as well. Due to the expansion of its scope, writing the history of geography lost its exclusivity and became part of our everyday practice. Loosely following Jörn Rüsen (1982), we can distinguish three types of narration that have been employed in writing the history of geography: traditional, exemplary and critical narratives. In different ways, all three reacted to changes within geography. Changes were often perceived as crises and thus brought about attempts to stabilise identity claims through history. Currently we see a new research setting emerging that strives to overcome methodological nationalisms by means of comparative studies and analysing transfer processes. Reflecting upon one's own position is key to this concept. It results in a historiography that studies transnational patterns of the discipline's development. In doing so, it does not only find dense international networks of historical exchange relationships but also sees the researchers themselves as agents in the deconstruction of national stereotypes.