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Berkeley School

  Although there has been some dispute about whether it constitutes a school of cultural geography, there is little question that American cultural geography was dominated until the 1980s by Carl Sauer, his colleagues at Berkeley and their students. It was most certainly a school in the sense that there existed a coherent set of interests and approaches to research. While this type of cultural geography is no longer important in Berkeley, it remains a research tradition carried on by former Berkeley students and their students scattered throughout the world. Among the better known of Sauer\'s students are Andrew Clark, William Denevan, Fred Kniffen, Marvin Mikesell, James Parsons, David Sopher, Philip Wagner, and Wilbur Zelinsky.

Arguably no geographer had more influence on American geography in the twentieth century than Carl Sauer. He received his Ph.D. in 1915 from the University of Chicago, where he came under the influence of the environmental determinism of Ellen Churchill Semple. In 1923 he moved to Berkeley and under the influence of the anthropologists A.L. Kroeber and R.H. Lowie was exposed to a concept of culture which was to replace his earlier environmentalist ideas (Leighley, 1976). In 1925 Sauer (1963) wrote what is perhaps his best-known work, \'The morphology of landscape\', which strongly denounced environmental determinism and suggested a method by which cultural geographers should proceed in their field studies.

Shortly after arriving at Berkeley, Sauer developed what was to become a life-long interest in Latin America, and there remains a strong connection with that region in the work of subsequent generations of his students. During the 1930s he also developed increasingly strong ties with biological scientists, describing himself as \'an earth scientist with a slant towards biogeography of which man is a part\' (Leighley, 1976). These interests culminated in his monograph, Agricultural origins and dispersals (1952).

During the last twenty years of his life, Sauer pursued two broad, rather speculative historical themes. The first was palaeographic and focused on such questions as early human\'s use of fire, the seashore as a primeval habitat, and primeval man as a peaceful gatherer rather than exclusively a hunter. The second theme was the condition of America when the Europeans encountered it. He published four books on this theme, of which the best known is The early Spanish main (1966).

While giving Sauer his due as a creative scholar and founder of American cultural geography, it must be remembered that most of the ideas that he introduced into the field: historical reconstruction, culture area, diffusion, were current at the time in German geography and American cultural anthropology. His intellectual debt to Ratzel, Schluter, Hahn and Kroeber was immense. Sauer and his students placed a greater emphasis upon human relationships with the physical environment than did the anthropologists, whose interests not only included human-environment relations but also behaviour more generally.

Wagner and Mikesell (1962) provide what is still thought of as the most useful summation of the nature of Berkeley cultural geography: they define cultural geography as \'the application of the idea of culture to geographic problems\'. One can identify three principal themes which define the work of the Berkeley school.

The first is the diffusion of culture traits. Cultural geographers, like cultural anthropologists from the 1920s through the 1940s, favoured explanation in terms of the diffusion of culture traits rather than independent invention to account for the development of cultures. Sauer was particularly interested in tracing the spread of plants and animals while others have examined such things as house types, names, and ideas as indicators of the diffusion of cultural traits (Kniffen, 1965).

The second theme is the identification of culture regions through material and non-material traits (cf. sequent occupance). This theme enjoyed great popularity in American anthropology until the 1940s and continued to be important in cultural geography to the present. culture areas were identified by plotting the distribution of material and non-material traits such as building types, ploughs, animals, magazine subscriptions, language, religion and ethnicity (Zelinsky, 1973).

The third theme is cultural ecology, usually studied in historical perspective. Attention was focused on how perception and use of the environment is culturally conditioned.

It has been argued that the Berkeley School adopted a reified superorganic conception of culture from the anthropologist A.L. Kroeber (Duncan, 1980; but see Price and Lewis, 1993). Because of such a reified notion of culture, the Berkeley geographers rarely felt the need to examine in detail the social or political organization of the societies they studied. (JSD)

References Duncan, J. 1980: The superorganic in American cultural geography. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 70: 181-98. Duncan, J. 1994: After the civil war: reconstructing cultural geography as heterotopia. In K. Foote et al., eds, Re-reading cultural geography. Austin: University of Texas Press. Kniffen, F.B. 1965: Folk housing: key to diffusion. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 55: 549-77. Leighley, J. 1976: Carl Ortwin Sauer, 1889-1975. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 66: 337-48. Price, M. and Lewis, M. 1993: The reinvention of cultural geography. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 83: 1-17. Sauer, C.O. 1952: Agricultural origins and dispersals. New York: American Geographical Society. Sauer, C.O. 1963: The morphology of landscape. In J. Leighley, ed., Land and life: selections from the writings of Carl Ortwin Sauer. Berkeley: University of California Press, 315-50. Sauer, C.O. 1966: The early Spanish main. Berkeley: University of California Press. Wagner, P.L. and Mikesell, M.W., eds, 1962: Readings in cultural geography. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Zelinsky, W. 1973: The cultural geography of the United States. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Suggested Reading Sauer (1963). Wagner and Mikesell (1962).



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