Geography in Virginia Four Hundred Years of Geography and Geography Education in the Old Dominion




Bachmann, Monika M.

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This paper examines the four-hundred year history of geography and geography education in Virginia. As the site of the oldest permanent English settlement in North America, the home of many of America’s most important founding fathers and early presidents, and location of many pivotal military battles of the Revolution and Civil War, Virginia was until the mid-nineteenth century one of America’s leading colonies and states. It has an unparalleled and richly documented history of geographic scholarship and thought, producing a reputable geographic study written in each century since its founding in 1607. From Robert Smith in the seventeenth century, through Robert Beverly and Thomas Jefferson in the eighteenth, Matthew Fontaine Maury in the nineteenth, to Jean Gottmann in the twentieth, the Old Dominion provides the backdrop for a valuable geographic heritage that reflects the geographic “Weltanschauung” (world view) of not just Virginia, but the greater nation. Sometimes as a follower, but more often – and more recently again – as a leader, Virginia’s geographically-informed Weltanschauung and the discipline’s fortunes waxed and waned with the flow of people, societal norms, territorial expansion and wars, and technology. The history of geography’s evolution in the Old Dominion is traced chronologically in two ways: the formal geographic studies by Smith, Beverly, Jefferson, Maury, and Gottmann, and the examination of geography education in schools at all levels. The former approach traces the changing nature of Virginia’s “Weltanschauung;” the latter approach reveals that the discipline’s history in Virginia’s (and the country’s) educational system has been fluid, at times giving dictation regarding curriculum and pedagogy, at other times taking it. Various indicators, such as the number of schools offering geography, the number of students enrolled in geography courses, and the kinds of texts used, show a close correlation between the growth and change of the state (and, by extension, the nation), and the growth and change of the discipline, both in academia and in the popular perception of the discipline.



Virginia, Geography education, Historical geography, Geography texts, Geography of Virginia