Readings in Cultural Geography, edited Philip L. Wagner and Marvin W. Mikesell; 589 pages; $8.50; The University of Chicago Press, 1962.

reviewed by Clifford Geertz


Book Review, in:  American Scientist, vol. 51, no. 1 (March 1963), p. 64.


Rather like anthropology, geography has traditionally held a somewhat ambiguous position within the academic table of organization, spreading itself across aspects of both the natural and social sciences. The steadily increased interest in "cultural geography" in recent years is, in turn, a response to the recognition that while the natural science side of the discipline has advanced steadily in technical sophistication, the social science side has rather lagged. Wagner and Mikesell's superb Reader makes it clear that this is rapidly ceasing to be the case and that, indeed, it is precisely in those areas where geography overlaps with sociology, economics, anthropology, and even psychology that some of the greatest intellectual ferment in the field is now occurring.

The editors divide their book into four major sections: "Orientation," concerncd primarily with the definition of cultural geography as a sub-field within the science as a whole; "Cultural Areas and Distributions," concerned with the spatial dimensions of cultural similarity and difference; "Cultural Origins and Dispersais," concerned with setting diffusion, migration, evolution, and other processes of cultural change against the background of environmental realities; and "Landscape and Ecology," concerned with more functional analyses of the systematic interaction between environmental and social forces. Altogether, thirty-four selections are included, all but two presented in unabridged form, several of them translations of valuable, rather inaccessible essays in German, French, Swedish, Portuguese, and Italian. Each section is introduced by a substantial analytic essay written by the editors, giving the book much more unity and coherence than such readers commonly have. There is a full index.

Perhaps not all the articles fall properly uuder the "cultural geography" rubric, even as most broadly defined, but all contribute to a clarification of its conceptual and/or methodological Problems. This is an immensely valuable collection, not only for teaching purposes, but for those, inside and outside the field itself, who wish to gain an over-all picture of the directions in which the more sociological sort of geography is moving.—Clifford Geertz

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