School of Thought Essay

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GERMAN GEOGRAPHICAL THOUGHT AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF LÄNDERKUNDE Ute Wardenga* Introduction In standard international publications on the history of geography, German geography features as one of the major early contributors to the development of the subject as a regionally oriented discipline in the 19th century. Names such as Carl Ritter, Alexander von Humboldt, Ferdinand von Richthofen, Albrecht Penck, Friedrich Ratzel, Hermann Wagner, Joseph Partsch, Alfred Hettner or Alfred Philippson are synonymous with a geographical approach which has entered the annals of the subject’s history as Länderkunde, an apparently specifically German variant of Regional Geography. Nowadays there is little mention of this strongly narrative approach, which links physical and human geography through the medium of space: hardly any of the geographers currently practising at German universities spends a significant part of his/her working life writing Länderkunde, and there is scarcely a younger geographer among us capable of writing the stylistically accomplished, gripping narrative required for a successful Länderkunde, representing the best in current research. Indeed, hardly any of us would wish to do so: since the 1970s the writing of Länderkunde has been perceived as an activity which contributes little to one’s reputation, as it is associated with a form of geography which is now rejected as unscientific. The story I will relate here is that of the rise and fall of Länderkunde as a geographical approach which significantly influenced the development of regional geography in Germany. Its importance, which is often questioned today, can only adequately be appreciated if one understands the issues to which Länderkunde provided answers, and how it was possible for it gradually to lose its functions after the Second World War. Länderkunde is not automatically identical with Regional

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