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chorology (or chorography)

  The study of the areal differentiation of the earth\'s surface. Chorology represents the oldest tradition of western geographical inquiry. It was first set forth by Hecataeus of Miletus in the sixth century  BC and codified most elegantly by Strabo in the 17 books of his Geography written sometime between 8  BC and  AD 18. The geographer, he declared, is \'the person who attempts to describe the parts of the earth\' (in Greek, chorographein). The two key words were \'describe\' and \'parts\': in effect, Strabo was recommending what would now be called regional geography as the core of geographical reflection. He was not interested in chorography for its own sake but intended it to serve a higher purpose. \'If there is one science which is worthy to be practised by a “philosopher”,\' he argued, \'then it is geographical science\'. For Strabo, geography described those worthwhile things from which one could learn about truth, nobility and virtue: it was \'a complement to political and ethical philosophy\'. It was, in the original sense of the term, a practical activity. For this reason Strabo\'s geography was fundamentally concerned with human activities. It was directed towards social and political ends and paid considerable attention to the interests of the military commander and the political ruler. Chorography was not supposed to provide a comprehensive gazeteer or a regional inventory. It was partial and purposive. \'I am neither required to enumerate all the many inhabited places nor to fix all the phenomena\', Strabo insisted, and he said he began \'with Europe, because it is admirably adapted by nature for the development of excellence in men and governments\' (van Paassen, 1957, pp. 1-32).

Strabo\'s conception of geography was challenged by Claudius Ptolemaeus (or Ptolemy) round about  AD 150. In his view, the purpose of geography was to provide \'a view of the whole, analogous to the drawing of the whole head\' and this meant that he separated geography from chorography which, so he said, \'has the purpose of describing the parts, as if one were to draw only an ear or an eye\'. As this passage implies, for Ptolemy graphein did not mean describing but drawing and, specifically, mapping.

Ptolemy\'s \'geography\' is geodesy and cartography and he preferred to leave out everything which had no direct connection with that aim: \'We shall expand our “guide” for so far as this is useful for the knowledge of the location of places and their setting upon the map, but we shall leave out of consideration all the many details about the peculiarities of the peoples\' (van Paassen, 1957, p. 2).

The distance between Strabo and Ptolemy could not be plainer, and it is indelibly present in the constitution of a distinctively modern geography too. As late as the seventeenth century, Strabo and Ptolemy continued to provide the main models for European geography. The usual distinction was between a special geography, devoted to the description of particular regions (including a study of the human population) and a general geography, mathematically oriented and concerned with the globe as a whole. The premier illustration is provided by Bernhard Varenius who published both studies in special geography and his famous Geographia Generalis in which, for the first time, geography sought to engage with the ideas of Descartes, Bacon and Galileo (Bowen, 1981).

The modern case for geography as a \'chorographic science\' was argued most forcefully by Richard Hartshorne in The nature of geography (1939), and ever since the subsequent debate over exceptionalism in geography — and despite the nuances and qualifications which Hartshorne had registered — chorology has often been used in polemical opposition to spatial science (cf. Sack, 1974). But the temper of the original version, with its acknowledgement of the importance of political power and philosophical reflection, is a forceful reminder of the continuing need to attend to the politics of geographical inquiry. (DG)

References Bowen, M. 1981: Empiricism and geographical thought: from Francis Bacon to Alexander von Humboldt. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Hartshorne, R. 1939: The nature of geography: a critical survey of current thought in the light of the past. Lancaster, PA: Association of American Geographers. Sack, R. 1974: Chrology and spatial analysis. Annals of the Association of American Geographers. 64: 439-52. van Paassen, C. 1957: The classical tradition of geography. Groningen: J.B. Walters.

Suggested Reading van Paassen (1957) pp. 1-32.



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