The Careers and Research of Historical Geographers

Historical Geography Jobs

History, geography and philosophy are three subjects that can be combined to create many different types of careers. Participation in the History Club and Philosophy Club, a geography minor, international study opportunities and the senior thesis are all building blocks to successful career paths.

Historians who specialize in ancient or classical histories often need special language skills such as paleography, numismatics, or sigillography. They also use archival records and field observations to analyze historical landscapes.


Geographers who focus on historical geography are generally interested in researching the relationship between human activity and the environment. They may also study the effects of political, economic and social changes on geographic patterns. These activities often involve working with a variety of archival sources, including documents, maps and personal accounts.

Most of the research in this area of geographical inquiry is conducted on a worldwide basis. However, researchers in this field have published on a wide variety of topics, including regional studies on China, Europe and South Africa. They have also examined the ways in which colonialism has shaped societies across the globe.

This type of research is a synthetic discipline, with many topical and methodological similarities to such interdisciplinary fields as history, anthropology, ecology, environmental science and literary studies. This makes it difficult to define a single object of study, and the field itself is often divided into subfields that are labeled ‘economic’,’social’, ‘political’ and so on.


Historical geographers investigate a variety of topics including cultural landscapes, historic patterns of migration and the history of geographic representation. They use archival records, field observations and tools such as Geographic Information Systems to develop clearer pictures of the past.

While the research of historical geography has embraced a diversity of methodologies, there are several issues that remain important to its growth and future development. One issue concerns the role of imperialism in historical geography. The research of early historians of geographical topics was typically framed within the language and ideas of European hegemony.

This approach inevitably led to a skewed and biased perspective of the world. Nevertheless, historical geography has continued to evolve as scholars draw inspiration from a wide range of intellectual debates and scholarly traditions that are rooted in broader academic homes. Baker notes that by the 1960s, historical geographers had widened their purview to broadly mirror the expansion of present-orientated human geography and were able to co-opt methods from other disciplines.


Like historians, historical geographers use fieldwork to compare the current landscape with the past. They also utilize archival documents and maps. However, their research is less concerned with the cause of geographical change and more about describing its effect. They are interested in a variety of locations, including China, Europe, Latin America, the former USSR and South Africa.

Surveyors use a range of measuring tools, including total stations, robotic total stations, theodolites, GNSS receivers, theodolite arcs, GPS receivers, retroreflectors and other specialized equipment. They have an understanding of algebra, geometry, trigonometry, regression analysis, physics and engineering. They also know coding languages and laws regarding surveys, land appraisals and property ownership.

Surveyors often work with assistants, known as chainmen, who help them place target reflectors and find old reference marks. They also write down the measurements they take and punch them into a computer. They are always looking for gross errors, which could reduce the accuracy of their data.


Unlike historians who study events that have already happened, historical geographers focus on the relationship between people and their environments. They also examine the changing patterns of geographical patterns over time. They must be familiar with archival documents and historical records from a specific region and period of history. They may travel to research sites.

A number of important historical geographers have helped develop the discipline, including Carl O. Sauer, who studied the development of cultural landscapes and influenced the field of human geography. Ellen Churchill Semple developed the concept of environmental determinism. She believed that states develop within the constraints of their natural resources and must expand into new areas if they want to survive. Others, like Friedrich Ratzel, used evolutionary ideas to study the spread of populations. This approach later grew into a major area of study for historical geographers. It also influenced modern geographic theories of globalization. As a result, the field of historical geography has evolved from an essentially physical branch of geography to a broad interdisciplinary endeavor.

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