Barrows, Harlan H. 1923. Geography as Human Ecology. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 13 (1/March): 1-14.


The main argument in Harlan H Barrow’s article “Geography as Human Ecology” is that although “Geography” was not recognized for years and was frequently characterized as “the youngest of the subjects of advanced study”, geography can be claimed as “Mother of the Science” for, geography bore other subjects like “astronomy, zoology, botany, geology, meteorology, archeology, and anthropology” as its children (p. 1). Though “the scope of geography has changed from time to time in the past” and the future changes can be expected, geography remains as “vibrant science” for years (p. 2). Therefore, geography cannot be overlooked even though another subject (child of geography) has become a successful specialist.

Furthermore, presenting “Human Ecology” as the unique field of geography, Barrow writes, “Geography will aim to make a clear relationships existing between natural environments and the distribution and activities of man” and meanwhile suggests to adopt “…the standpoint of man’s adjustment to environment” in order detour “environmental determinism” which, in fact, does not exist (p. 3).  He states that geography as Human Ecology shows a deep connections with other subjects like physiography, sociology, history, climatology, plant ecology, etc. –the subjects that show the relation of particular element to the environment, while Human Ecology deals with various elements of the environment to show the interaction between man and a particular environment complex. He further makes three major systematic division of Human Ecology as:

  1. Economic Geography which covers agricultural geography, pastoral geography, commercial geography, etc., also termed as “most fundamental division” that deals with “adjustment of man to his environment which is associated with getting a living”.
  2. Political Geography which establishes a relationship between man’s political attitudes and the natural environment.
  3. Social Geography which connects the social life of people with their natural environment. (p. 7)

Barrow, hence concludes summarizing that: geography “…seeks to cover too much ground” to benefit other subjects; “an organizing concept” is required to describe geography; there is “…an intimate and direct” relation between, man and the earth that could be perceived from geography only; geography, though is a “field subject” has been confined as a “library subject” which requires a vigorous change; geography requires a discussion from beginning to end to become a “geographic”; and, finally, but most importantly, we are on the right track to define geography in America (p. 13-14). Better late than never, he congratulates “us” for having recognized geography as the mother of all subjects and coming up with the concept of geography as Human Ecology that defines man’s adjustment to the environment.

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