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geographical determinism

Guns, Germs, and Steel

❶European states consequently developed strong institutions and capital-periphery linkages.

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geographical determinism
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Jared Diamond draws similarities between the changing climate conditions that brought down the Easter Island civilization and global warming in his book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.

A scientist at the Lamont—Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University , writes that societal collapse due to climate change is possible today. In the Pulitzer Prize winning Guns, Germs, and Steel , author Jared Diamond points to geography as the answer to why certain states were able to grow and develop faster and stronger than others. His theory cited the natural environment and raw materials a civilization was blessed with as factors for success, instead of popular century old claims of racial and cultural superiority.

Diamond says that these natural endowments began with the dawn of man, and favored Eurasian civilizations due to their location along similar latitudes, suitable farming climate, and early animal domestication. Diamond argues that early states located along the same latitude lines were uniquely suited to take advantage of similar climates, making it easier for crops, livestock, and farming techniques to spread.

Crops such as wheat and barley were simple to grow and easy to harvest, and regions suitable for their cultivation saw high population densities and the growth of early cities. The ability to domesticate herd animals, which had no natural fear of humans, high birth rates, and an innate hierarchy, gave some civilizations the advantages of free labor, fertilizers, and war animals.

The east-west orientation of Eurasia allowed for knowledge capital to spread quickly, and writing systems to keep track of advanced farming techniques gave people the ability to store and build upon a knowledge base across generations. Craftsmanship flourished as a surplus of food from farming allowed some groups the freedom to explore and create, which lead to the development of metallurgy and advances in technology.

While the advantageous geography helped to develop early societies, the close proximity in which humans and their animals lived led to the spread of disease across Eurasia. Over several centuries, rampant disease decimated populations, but ultimately led to disease resistant communities. Diamond suggests that these chains of causation led to European and Asian civilizations holding a dominant place in the world today. Diamond uses the Spanish conquistadors' conquering of the Americas as a case study for his theory.

He argues that the Europeans took advantage of their environment to build large and complex states complete with advanced technology and weapons. The Incans and other native groups were not as blessed, suffering from a north—south orientation that prevented the flow of goods and knowledge across the continent.

The Americas also lacked the animals, metals, and complex writing systems of Eurasia which prevented them from achieving the military or biological protections needed to fight off the European threat. In his book States and Power in Africa , political scientist Jeffrey Herbst argues that environmental conditions help explain why, in contrast to other parts of the world such as Europe, many pre-colonial societies in Africa did not develop into dense, settled, hierarchical societies with strong state control that competed with neighboring states for people and territory.

Herbst argues that the European state-building experience was highly idiosyncratic because it occurred under systemic geographic pressures that favored wars of conquest — namely, passable terrain , land scarcity , and high-population densities. European states consequently developed strong institutions and capital-periphery linkages. By contrast, geographic and climatic factors in pre-colonial Africa made establishing absolute control over particular pieces of land prohibitively costly.

Some early African empires, like the Ashanti Empire , successfully projected power over large distances by building roads. The largest pre-colonial polities arose in the Sudanian Savanna belt of West Africa because the horses and camels could transport armies over the terrain. In other areas, no centralized political organizations existed above the village level. African states did not develop more responsive institutions under colonial rule or post-independence.

Colonial powers had little incentive to develop state institutions to protect their colonies against invasion, having divided up Africa at the Berlin Conference. The colonizers instead focused on exploting natural resources and exploitation colonialism. Marcella Alsan argues the prevalence of the tsetse fly hampered early state formation in Africa.

African communities were prevented from stockpiling agricultural surplus, working the land, or eating meat. Because the disease environment hindered the formation of farming communities, early African societies resembled small hunter-gatherer groups and not centralized states.

The relative availability of livestock animals enabled European societies to form centralized institutions, develop advanced technologies, and create an agricultural network.

Livestock also diminished the comparative advantage of owning slaves. African societies relied on the use of rival tribesman as slave labor where the fly was prevalent, which impeded long-term societal cooperation. Alsan argues that her findings support the view of Kenneth Sokoloff and Stanley Engerman that factor endowments shape state institutions. Contradicting the link between the Inca state and dried potato is that other crops such as maize can also be preserved with only sun.

Numerous scholars have argued that geographic and environmental factors affect the types of political regime that societies develop, and shape paths towards democracy versus dictatorship. Robinson have achieved notoriety for demonstrating that diseases and terrain have helped shape tendencies towards democracy versus dictatorship, and through these economic growth and development.

An Empirical Investigation , [39] the authors show that the colonial disease environment shaped the tendency for Europeans to settle the territory or not, and whether they developed systems of agriculture and labor markets that were free and egalitarian versus exploitative and unequal.

These choices of political and economic institutions, they argue, shaped tendencies to democracy or dictatorship over the following centuries.

In order to understand the impact and creation of institutions during early state formation, economic historians Stanley Engerman and Kenneth Sokoloff examined the economic development of the Americas during colonization.

These endowments included the climate, soil profitability, crop potential, and even native population density. Institutions formed to take advantage of these factor endowments. Those that were most successful developed an ability to change and adapt to new circumstances over time. For example, the development of economic institutions, such as plantations , was caused by the need for a large property and labor force to harvest sugar and tobacco, while smallholder farms thrived in areas where scale economies were absent.

Though initially profitable, plantation colonies also suffered from large dependent populations over time as slaves and natives were given few rights, limiting the population available to drive future economic progress and technological development. Factor endowments also influenced political institutions. This is demonstrated by the plantation owning elite using their power to secure long lasting government institutions and pass legislation that lead to the persistence of inequality society.

Engerman and Sokoloff found smallholder economies to be more equitable since they discouraged an elite class from forming, and distributed political power democratically to most land-owning males. These differences in political institutions were also highly influential in the development of schools, as more equitable societies demanded an educated population to make political decisions.

Over time these institutional advantages had exponential effects, as colonies with educated and free populations were better suited to take advantage of technological change during the industrial revolution, granting country wide participation into the booming free-market economy.

Engerman and Sokoloff conclude that while institutions heavily influenced the success of each colony, no individual type of institution is the source of economic and state growth. Other variables such as factor endowments, technologies, and the creation of property rights are just as crucial in societal development. To encourage state success an institution must be adaptable and suited to find the most economical source of growth.

The authors also argue that while not the only means for success, institutional development has long lasting-economic and social effects on the state. Other prominent scholars contest the extent to which factor endowments determine economic and political institutions. American economists William Easterly and Ross Levine argue that economic development does not solely depend on geographic endowments—like temperate climates, disease-resistant climates, or soil favorable to cash crops.

They stress that there is no evidence that geographic endowments influence country incomes other than through institutions. Other states like Canada with fewer endowments are more stable and have higher per capita incomes. Easterly and Levine further observe that studies of how the environment directly influences land and labor were tarred by racist theories of underdevelopment, but that does not mean that such theories can be automatically discredited.

Thus, as a result of basic environmental differences, different peoples of the world develop in different ways over history, so that in the end, certain of these peoples are more capable of conquering and dominating other peoples. Geographic determinism is the central idea of Guns, Germs, and Steel in a way, the other four themes discussed here are particularly important aspects of the theory of geographic determinism , but it can also be a counterintuitive way to think about human history.

Individual humans can strive for greatness or success or do whatever they want , but their freedom has always been constrained by what resources and ideas are available to them—and therefore, by geographic factors. Diamond argues for why agricultural societies defeated hunter-gatherer societies in warfare, but by his own admission, he lacks a full geographic explanation for why certain agricultural societies prevailed over other agricultural societies—again suggesting that geography is important but perhaps not as central to explaining history as Diamond maintains.

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other Guns, Germs, and Steel quote. Thus, an observer transported back in time to 11, B. With hindsight, of course, we know that Eurasia was the one. In short, Polynesia furnishes us with a convincing example of environmentally related diversification of human societies in operation.

But we thereby learn only that it can happen, because it happened in Polynesia. As we'll see, food production was indirectly a prerequisite for the development of guns, germs, and steel. Hence geographic variation in whether, or when, the peoples of different continents became farmers and herders explains to a large extent their subsequent contrasting fates.

That higher birthrate of food producers, together with their ability to feed more people per acre, lets them achieve much higher population densities than hunter-gatherers. The same pattern of an abrupt start of food production dependent on domesticates from elsewhere, and an abrupt and massive population replacement, seems to have repeated itself in many areas in the prehistoric era.

In the absence of written records, the evidence of those prehistoric replacements must be sought in the archaeological record or inferred from linguistic evidence. Early farmers surely didn't use molecular genetic techniques to arrive at their results. The first farmers didn't even have any existing crop as a model to inspire them to develop new ones. Hence they couldn't have known that, whatever they were doing, they would enjoy a tasty treat as a result. Plant domestication is not a matter of hunter-gatherers domesticating a single plant and otherwise carrying on unchanged with their nomadic lifestyle.

Suppose that North American wild apples really would have evolved into a terrific crop if only Indian hunter-gatherers had settled down and cultivated them. But nomadic hunter-gatherers would not throw over their traditional way of life, settle in villages, and start tending apple orchards unless many other domesticable wild plants and animals were available to make a sedentary food-producing existence competitive with a hunting-gathering existence.

Domesticable animals are all alike; every undomesticable animal is undomesticable in its own way. Why was the spread of crops from the Fertile Crescent so rapid? The answer depends partly on that east-west axis of Eurasia with which I opened this chapter. Among the latter is the failure of the attempt by German conspirators to kill Hitler on July 20, , an event that had big consequences for the course of the last year of World War Two, the lives of millions of people, and the resulting map of Europe today.

No geographic or environmental feature of Rastenburg ordained that the bomb would only wound Hitler. Similarly, the differences between the current economies of North and South Korea, or between those of the former East and West Germany, cannot be attributed to the modest environmental differences between North and South Korea, or between East and West Germany.

Still other examples are the many differences between the attitudes of French and German people, e. These differences are viewed as products of French and German culture and history for which no plausible geographic explanations have been advanced. German as well as French geography provides geese and frogs. Image from The World Until Yesterday. Today, no scholar would be silly enough to deny that culture, history, and individual choices play a big role in many human phenomena.


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The term “geographic determinism” is used by many scholars as a pejorative, to justify the quick dismissal of a proposed geographic interpretation of a human phenomenon. For example, the charge of geographic determinism is occasionally leveled at my book Guns, Germs, and Steel.

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Geographical determinism definition at mangoo.gq, a free online dictionary with pronunciation, synonyms and translation. Look it up now!

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Environmental determinism is the belief that the physical environment affects social and cultural development. This school of thought can be traced back to ancient Greek times but did not become. One that received much prominence in geographic history but has declined in recent decades of academic study is environmental determinism. What Is Environmental Determinism? Environmental determinism is the belief that the environment (most notably its physical factors such as landforms and/or climate) determines the patterns of .

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Frank Davey defines geographical determinism as "a belief that the landscape has or should have--effects on the personalities and perspectives of its inhabitants, [and] leads to the assumption that these effects should have greater importance to the individual than do other possible grounds of identity" (5). Here again geography played favourites. Eurasia had a lot of largish animals that people could try to domesticate, whereas in the Americas and Australasia almost all large animals that might have been domesticated became extinct at the end of the ice age.