Paradigm, No 22 (May, 1997)


Networks of Authors and the Nature of Geography Textbooks 1875-1925

Norman Graves

172 Stoneleigh Park Road,
Epsom KT19 ORG



In the last quarter of the 20th century the number of geography textbooks specifically aimed at secondary schools was small. The reason is not difficult to find: there were few secondary schools in existence and those that did exist tended to be of the so-called public schools or endowed grammar schools catering for a social élite. These schools were wedded to a classical studies curriculum and few headmasters thought that geography was worth including in the curriculum. Those geography textbooks which did exist were in the tradition of the elementary schools, an example being George Gill’s The Oxford and Cambridge Geography, in which facts abounded, though the reasons for their inclusion were often mysterious.

With the advent of the 1902 Education Act which allowed Local Education Authorities to set up secondary schools, the market for geography textbooks increased in size, partly because there were more schools to cater for, but also because geography as a subject began to be taught in schools as a ‘discipline of knowledge’ with an educational purpose, rather than as a set of facts to be ingurgitated and reproduced. Thus the textbooks change in character and begin to espouse a ‘people-environment’ viewpoint, or a ‘man-land’ theme, to use the terminology then current.

The people who were responsible for or who willingly adopted the then ‘new geography’ wrote textbooks as a means of propagating their view of the subject as an educational medium. They belong to three broad categories. The first category was that which contained teachers in higher education; for example Halford Mackinder (1861-1947), Andrew John Herbertson (1865-1915), and Archibald Geikie (1835-1925). The second category was that of the schoolteachers, such as Leonard Brooks (1894-1964); and the third category was that of the teacher educators such as James Fairgrieve (1873-1953). Although they all shared the common aim of making geography in schools a subject worth teaching by making it transform the way pupils looked on the world, there were marked differences in their approach.

It is these differences in approach which led me to form the view that there were three different networks of authors operating in those 50 years. Of course the concept of a network of authors was not current in those days, but the empirical reality was that such authors knew one another, interacted in various ways, and were animated by a particular view of what geography should be and of how it should be taught. There were broadly three networks of authors which I shall call respectively the ‘natural science network’, the ‘new geography network’ and the ‘pedagogue’s network.’ To some extent this was also the chronological order in which these networks manifested themselves.

The natural science network was one which argued that geography should be a natural science. It consisted of such people as William Hughes (1818-1876), Thomas Huxley (1825-1895), Archibald Geikie and Richard Gregory (1865-1952), most of whom had had a scientific training. Huxley had trained in medicine but soon developed his research in zoology and became naturalist to the Geological Survey and lecturer in natural history at the Royal School of Mines, now part of Imperial College, London University. His book Physiography: an introduction to the study of nature was to prove popular among students and teachers.

Geikie was a geologist who became director of the Geological Survey for Great Britain and had written a text called Teaching Geography in. which he extolled the scientific method. William Hughes was essentially a teacher of geography in a teacher-training college, the College of St Mark and St John, and became Professor of Geography at King’s College, London, though one has to be conscious of the fact that the title of professor was used rather loosely in those days, rather in the way that the term professeur is used in France. None of his appointments was full-time, and much of his energies went into map-making and textbook-writing. It is clear from his lectures to teachers that though he had a wide view of geography, he felt that the essential basis of the subject lay in its natural science aspect.

Richard Gregory early became interested in the natural sciences and in science education. He was well known to the scientific establishment of his time, for example through the British Association for the Advancement of Science; he held many appointments of a scientific nature and was eventually knighted for his services to science education, For many years he held an appointment as ‘Professor of Astronomy’ at Queen’s College, Harley Street, in reality an independent secondary school. His venture into geography textbook-writing was a means of using geography as a means of introducing pupils to the scientific method of acquiring knowledge. Indeed his textbooks are clearly scientific in content and eschew any human geography content. In fact, one of his textbooks would hardly be recognised as geography today: being mainly astronomy, astrophysics and astrochemistry. However, he is probably the most consistent of the scientific network in that textbooks written by William Hughes and Archibald Geikie did not always live up to the principles enunciated by their authors; their textbooks did not always exemplify the scientific method.

The ‘new geography’ network consisted mostly of authors who were linked to one another through, at first, the Royal Geographical Society (RGS), and later also through the Geographical Association (GA) which was founded in 1893. This network contained such people as Halford Mackinder, Andrew Herbertson and Hugh Mill (1861-1950). They looked upon themselves as the missionaries of the view of geography expounded by Halford Mackinder in an address to the RGS in 1886. Most of their textbooks were not published until the late-19th century or the early years of the 20th. Mill’s Elementary Commercial Geography, for example was published in 1994. Mackinder wrote some seven textbooks between 1902 and 1914, but the most successful of this group was Herbertson who based his school textbooks on his scheme for dividing the world into natural regions. Typical of his textbooks were Man and his World (1899) and the Oxford Senior Geographies (1907). Although none of these authors would have subscribed to the theory of environmental determinism, the fact that they stressed the ‘man-land’ approach to geography meant that in school use, such textbooks lent themselves easily to a deterministic philosophy. Indeed it seemed only too plausible to state that the British were bound to have become the greatest empire-builders of the world because of their position in the world and the resources which they commanded. It accorded well with political sentiment at the turn of the century.

The pedagogues’ network was formed of those geographers who were most concerned with the education of young people, either because they were schoolteachers themselves as in the case of A. Morley-Davis, or because they had been schoolteachers and were now in teacher education as in the case of James Fairgrieve or in the inspection service as was the case for Leonard Brooks,

These authors were concerned to make the learning of geography a meaningful experience for young people and stressed the necessity of using concrete examples that related to the pupils’ own experience. They agreed with the idea of using regional geography as a framework for teaching the subject, but felt that Herbertson’s regions were too large and abstract to be easily comprehended by pupils in primary and secondary schools. Consequently, they adopted the much smaller region or pays of the French geographers, as the basis of their teaching. They also developed the ‘sample studies’ or ‘case studies’ techniques of bringing reality’ into the classroom. Examples of their books are A Geography of the British Isles by Morley-Davis, in which he incorporated questions in the text to make pupils think about the relationship between, for example, relief and routes, based on a map of the Southern Uplands of Scotland. A Regional Geography of Asia & Australasia by Leonard Brooks, forming the second of a series designed for a four-year course in a secondary school which attempts to marry concepts in physical geography with the study of the regions of Asia and Australasia. The influence of current political thinking is evident in the third example, namely Fairgrieve and Young’s The British Empire first published in 1924. Here the authors attempt to sketch the nature of what was then the British Empire while at the same time giving a realistic description of geographical conditions. They do this by describing certain aspects of life in, for example Trinidad, in intimate detail, while at the same time trying to ‘sell’ the idea of the British Empire as a political concept.

There is little doubt that in terms of their educational objectives, the books written by the ‘pedagogues’ seem to be more attractive than many of the others. But they perpetuated the idea that geography should be taught by using some sort of regional framework, first advocated by Herbertson. The ‘pedagogues’ and the new ‘geographers’ formed together the geographical establishment, bolstered by the Royal Geographical Society and the Geographical Association. As a result, the ideas of those who formed the ‘natural science network’ did not make much progress in the teaching of geography. Although their textbooks remained in print for a decade or so, they were to be overtaken in popularity by those advocating regional geography. So it was that regional geography was to dominate school geography for over sixty years.



Brooks, L. A Regional Geography of Asia and Australasia (University of London Press, 1916).

Fairgrieve, J. and Young, E.The British Empire (George Philip & Son, 1924).

Geikie, A.Teaching Geography (Macmillan, 1887).

Gregory, R. A.Elementary Physical and Astronomical Geography (Joseph Hughes & Co, 2nd edn. 1891).

Gregory, R. A. and Christie, J. G.Advanced Physiography (Joseph Hughes & Co, 1893).

Herbertson, A. J. and Herbertson, F. D.Man and his Work: an Introduction to Human Geography (Black, 1899).

Herbertson, A. J. and Herbertson, F. D.Oxford Senior Geography (Clarendon Press, 1907).

Huxley, T. H.Physiography: an Introduction to the, Study of Nature (1877).

Mill, H. R.Elementary Commercial Geography (Cambridge University Press, 2nd edn. [first edition, 1894]).

Morley-Davis, A.A Geography of the British Isles, Part II : Scotland and Ireland (Macmillan, 1909).

Vaughan, J.E.‘William Hughes, F.R.G.S. (1818-1876) as a Geographical Educationist’. In W. E. Marsden (ed.), Historical Perspectives on Geographical Education, International Geographical Union, Commission on Geographical Education (University of London Institute of Education, 1980).


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