Geographies of Human Difference

in Placing the Enlightenment

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print June 2007 | ISBN: 9780226904054
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226904078 | DOI:
Geographies of Human Difference

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  • Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)


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This chapter considers in particular the part played by knowledge in geography, formulating the central questions posed in the Enlightenment to do with human society, human difference, and human distribution. It argues that the Enlightenment Science of Man was in several crucial ways a Geography of Man. There can be no doubt that the human sciences in the Enlightenment depended on geographical knowledge for their origin and later refinement. Stadial thinking as a peculiarly Enlightenment form of historical explanation was dependent on geographical descriptions of human difference. Geographical information, in the form of travel accounts and “philosophico-physical geography”, as Johann Herder put it of Johann Reinhold Forster's work, provided “the reservoir of human experiments” in the human sciences. Geographical information—even admitting of the presence of the erroneous and the credulous—was the raw material “from which discerning philosophical historians drew much of their ‘experimental’ knowledge.”

Keywords: geography; Enlightenment; human society; human difference; human distribution; Science of Man; Geography of Man; Johann Herder; Johann Reinhold Forster; knowledge

Chapter.  9306 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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