Famous Geographers

Paul Vidal de la Blache - introduced the contemporary culture landscape, sometimes called the regional studies approach; “Among the connections that tie people to a certain environment, one of the most tenacious is food supply; clothing and weapons are more subject to modification than the dietary regime, which experience has shown to be best suited to human needs in a given climate.”

Ibn Batuda - best known as an extensive traveler or explorer, whose account documents his travels and side-excursions over a period of almost thirty years, covering some 73,000 miles (117,000 km). This journeying covered almost the entirety of the known Islamic world, extending also to present-day India, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia and China, a distance readily surpassing that of his prior, near-contemporary and traveler Marco Polo.

Ernest W. Burgess - a sociologist at the University of Chicago, developed the concentric-zone model in 1925 with five zones; a city grows outward from a central area in a series of concentric rings, like the growth rings of a tree.

Walter Christaller - German geographer who in the early 1930s first formulated central-place theory as a series of models designed to explain the spatial distribution of urban centers. Crucial to his theory is the fact that different goods and services vary both in threshold and in range.

William Morris Davis - an American geographer, geologist and meteorologist, often called the "father of American geography". His most influential scientific contribution was the cycle of erosion, first defined around 1884, which was a model of how rivers create landforms. Though the cycle is considered overly simplistic today, it was a crucial early contribution to geomorphology. It suggests that (larger) rivers have three main sections: upper course, middle course, and lower course- each of which has distinct landforms and other properties associated with it.

Edrisi (Idrisi) - Arab geographer, a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed, who in the 1100s collected all known geographical information and assembled at the time the most accurate representation of the world. His “inhabited earth” is divided into seven “climates.”

Eratosthenes - coined the name geography: geo meaning “the earth” and graphein meaning “to write.” He is noted for devising a system of latitude and longitude, and for being the first known to have calculated the size of the Earth within a remarkable 0.5 percent accuracy. He prepared one of the earliest maps of the known world.

Herodatus - He is almost exclusively known for writing The Histories, a collection of 'inquiries' about the different places and peoples he encountered during his wide ranging travels around the Mediterranean littoral and into Mesopotamia. He took as the unifying theme for this work the conflict between the ancient Greeks and the Persians or 'Medes'.

Richard Hartshorne - a prominent American geographer. He is the author of The Nature of Geography (1939) and Perspective on the Nature of Geography (1959)

Homer Hoyt - an economist who studied housing data for 142 American cities, presented his sector model of urban land use in 1939. he maintained that high-rent residential districts were instrumental in shaping the land-use structure of the city. Because these areas were reinforced by transportation routes, the pattern of their development was one of sectors or wedges, not concentric zones.

Alexander von Humboldt - he is considered one of the founders of modern geography work on botanical geography was foundational to the field of biogeography; set about the task of collecting and analyzing data about the relationships between the spatial distribution of rocks, plants, and animals.

Ellsworth Huntington - one of the best known U.S. proponents of Ratzel’s ideas; argued that climate was a major determinant of civilization; according to him climate of maritime northwestern Europe produced greater human efficiency as measured by better health conditions, lower death rates, and higher standards of living.

Immanuel Kant - writing in the latter part of the eighteenth century, distinguished between specific fields of knowledge represented by disciplines such as physics and biology, and the two general fields of knowledge: geography, which classified things according to space, and history which classified things according to time; influential philosopher, and his belief in the intellectual importance of geography was an important element in establishing the subject as a formal discipline.

Halford John Mackinder - proposed the heartland theory in the early twentieth century based on environmental determinism, the heartland theory addresses the balance of power in the world and, in particular, the possibility of world conquest based on natural habitat advantage. It held that the Eurasian continent was the most likely base from which to launch a successful campaign for world conquest.

Thomas Robert Malthus - English economist and cleric was the most famous pioneer observer of population growth with the publishing in 1798 of An Essay on the Principle of Population, known as the “dismal essay.” He believed that the human ability to multiply far exceeds our ability to increase food production. He maintained that “a strong and constantly operating check on population” will necessarily act as a natural control on numbers. He regarded famine, disease, and war as the inevitable outcome of the human population’s outstripping the food supply.

George Perkins Marsh - in 1864 he wrote a treatise entitled Man and Nature, or Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action. As the first work to suggest that human beings are significant agents of environmental change, it is considered one of the most important advances in geography, ecology, and resource management in the nineteenth century; major influence on U.S. environmentalism.

W.D. Pattison - wrote The Four Traditions of Geography: Earth science tradition, human-environment tradition, regional / landscape, and spatial tradition.

Ptolemy - main work is his Geographia. This too is a compilation of what was known about the world's geography in the Roman Empire during his time; devised and provided instructions on how to create maps both of the whole inhabited world and of the Roman provinces.

Friedrich Ratzel - a German trained in Biology and Chemistry who originated geopolitical theory in the late 1800’s; greatly influenced by the theories of social Darwinism. He stated seven laws of state growth; the model portrays the state as behaving like a biological organism; thus, its growth and change are seen as “natural” and inevitable; pioneered the belief of environmental determinism.

Carl Ritter - he is considered one of the founders of modern geography; In his view, "geography was a kind of physiology and comparative anatomy of the earth: rivers, mountains, glaciers, &c., were so many distinct organs, each with its own appropriate functions; and, as his physical frame is the basis of the man, determinative to a large extent of his life, so the structure of each country is a leading element in the historic progress of the nation;" His 20-volumne Erdkunde was a monumental work of comparison and classification; He and von Humboldt urged human geographers to adopt the methods of scientific inquiry used by natural scientists.

W. W. Rostow - in 1960 proposed a widely cited model for economic advancement. Generalizing on the “sweep of modern history,” he theorized that all developing economies may pass through five successive stages of growth and advancement.

Carl Sauer - conducted pioneering research on the origins and dispersal of plant and animal domestication, was one of the first t propose that the process of domestication was independently invented at many different times and locations. He believed that domestication did not develop in response to hunger. He maintained that necessity was not the mother of agricultural invention, because starving people must spend every waking hour searching for food and have no time to devote to the centuries of leisurely experimentation required to domesticate plants.

Ellen Churchill Semple - suggested in 1911 that such desert-dwelling peoples “receive from the immense monotony of their environment the impression of unity.” She proposed that the unobstructed view of the stars and planets provided by the clear desert skies allowed the herders to see that the heavenly bodies moved across the sky in an orderly, repeated progression. Concluded that desert dwellers “gravitate inevitably into monotheism;” carried Ratzel’s ideas to the United States; claimed that geography was the study of the influences of the natural environment of people.

Strabo - mostly remembered for his 17-volume work Geographica, which literally means "Geography". It presented a descriptive history of people and places from different regions of the known world for his era.

Johann Heinrich von Thunen - German scholar-farmer who developed the core-periphery model in the nineteenth century (economic determinism). In his model he proposed an “isolated state” that had no trade connections with the outside world; possessed only one market, located centrally in the state; and had uniform soil, climate, and level terrain throughout. He created this model to study the influence of distance from market and the concurrent transport costs on the type and intensity of agriculture.

Waldo R. Tobler - an influential American-Swiss geographer and cartographer. His idea that "Everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related to each other" is referred to as the "first law of geography," summarized this law in the concept of distance decay.

Alfred Weber - German geographer who was a major theorists of industrial location. He devised a model of how to understand industrial locations in regard to several factors, including labor supply, markets, resource location, and transpiration.