Richard Hartshorne's adaptation of Alfred Hettner's system of geography

Francis Harvey, Ute Wardenga

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Most geographers assume that the ideas of the German geographer Alfred Hettner (1859-1941) had a significant impact on Hartshorne's The Nature of Geography. In this article we consider Hartshorne's adaptation of Hettner's diverse and at times contradictory work in the context of both German and American geographies. We argue that Hartshorne adapted Hettner's system of geography for an American audience, without engaging with fundamental ideological and intellectual changes which took place in Germany following the First World War. Sharply distinguishing their work from that of their predecessors, German geographers in the 1920s and 1930s overwhelmingly rejected Hettner's approach. During this period, many embraced a holistic and organic concept of geography, which built on völkisch and nationalistic ideologies. Yet rather than engaging with these debates in German geographical thought, Hartshorne simply adopted the interpretation of Hettner's work presented by his critics (Spethmann et al.). Motivated by the desire to cast geography in a neo-Kantian philosophical framework, ironically in opposition to Hettner's own philosophy of science, Hartshorne's adaptation of Hettner's system of geography is closer to the interpretations of his German critics. There were, we suggest, significant differences between the ideas of Hettner and Hartshorne on the place of geography among the sciences, the importance of nomothetic and idiographic approaches, the relationship between systematic and regional geography, and the understanding of landscape.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)422-440
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Historical Geography
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2006

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This article was prepared with the support of the American Association of Geographers' Research Fund, the University of Kentucky, and the Leibniz-Institut für Länderkunde, Leipzig, Germany. Birgit Wolf and Klaus and Hanny Arnold also provided assistance. We want to acknowledge the comments of Nicholas Entrikin, John Fraser Hart, Pauliina Raento and the anonymous reviewers. We would also like to thank J. P. Jones, Wolfgang Natter, John Pickles, and participants at the IGU Commission's meeting on the History of Geographic Thought in Taegu, Korea, 2000, and many others who have offered comments and encouragement along the way.

Copyright 2008 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Contextualist historiography
  • Geographical thought
  • Germany
  • Länderkunde
  • United States

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