Enlightening choices: a century of Anglophone canons of the geographical tradition

Robert J Mayhew

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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This paper attends to the politics and pedagogy of canon formation by looking at the ways in which a century of Anglo-American historiography since the formal consolidation of the discipline in the 1870s has constructed images of geography's history during the ‘long’ eighteenth century (c.1660–1832). It is contended that different images of geography in that era have been constructed to suit various imaginings of the nature of geography from Keltie's imperialist image at the start of the twentieth century through to David Livingstone's reworking of geography as an Enlightened science. As such, whilst a stable ‘canon’ of geographers such as Cook, Kant and Humboldt has been built, how the individuals who constitute it and their achievements are framed has mutated over time. The essay concludes by reflecting on what we can learn from this survey about how geography builds canons, the strengths and weaknesses of the discipline's canon formation and its role in promoting humane inquiry.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-20
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Historical Geography
Early online date23 May 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2015


  • Canonicity
  • Eighteenth Century
  • History of Geography
  • Historiography


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