In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Humanistic Geography

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Resources
  • Humanism and the Individual’s Role
  • Importance of (Sense of) Place
  • Critiques of Humanistic Geography

Geography Humanistic Geography
Casey D. Allen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 May 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0015


Since its inception, humanistic geography has often been contested as a “real” discipline. Sometimes used (incorrectly, some critical theorists say) interchangeably with the concept of humanism because of its focus on the human in all its forms (e.g., agency, awareness, consciousness, creativity, etc.), humanistic geography focuses on products of human activity. Humanistic geography can also be seen as a way to understand those events considered valuable and meaningful to humans. Although usually seen as a specifically human geography pursuit, as philosopher, author, and geographer Yi-Fu Tuan alludes, it can (and should) also play a role in physical geography. Some physical geographers realize that “hard” science still includes humanistic tenets and advocate a need for infusing humanistic geography into that field. This new physical geography critique notwithstanding, humanistic geography is usually historically equated with the French school of human geography (such as the writings by Paul Vidal de la Blache) along with Neo-Kantianism and Robert E. Park’s Chicago School pragmatism, while also focusing on (sense of) place and the individual’s interpretation of place—although “people” and “humans” also collectively fall under its umbrella.

General Overviews

The quickest way to get a grasp on humanistic geography’s basics is to read the definition in Gregory 2000. To gain a sense of humanistic geography as a discipline and to go into greater depth surrounding its principles, however, Tuan 1976 presents perhaps the best classic and traditional overview. Whereas Ley and Samuels 1978 assesses the “new” (at the time) discipline, offering strategies for employing humanistic geography across the discipline, Daniels 1985 advocates for making place integral in all studies, specifically noting that humanistic enterprises—when based on place (as a concept)—represent one of geography’s main hallmarks. Still relevant to the 21st-century humanistic geography debates, Smith 1984 (cited under Social Sciences) attempts to mitigate humanistic geography’s perceived weaknesses by outlining several strategies to “do” humanistic geography. Then, to illustrate the richness of research that humanistic geography can bring to the table, Pocock 1981 collates a traditional series of essays surrounding the humanities—literature and painting, in particular—to help in understanding how people experience the landscape. Finally, Adams, et al. 2001 employs the latest techniques of coupling humanistic geography with other components of geography to weave a rich tapestry of experiences in the landscape, noting that even though the included essays would be considered humanistic geography in the traditional sense, the authors of these essays do not necessarily consider themselves to be “humanistic geographers.” In all of these overview pieces, however—and aside from a few articles centered on the environment—much of humanistic geography’s ties to physical geography are missing, although that may be because it is a relatively newer critical approach to physical geography.

  • Adams, Paul C., Steven Hoelscher, and Karen E. Till, eds. Textures of Place: Exploring Humanist Geographies. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001.

    Edited by Yi-Fu Tuan’s former students, this book contains a plethora of humanistic essays that demonstrate the discipline’s breadth in four parts (“Landscapes of Dominance and Affection,” “Segmented Worlds and Selves,” “Moralities and Imaginations,” and “Cosmos versus Hearth”). This trait notwithstanding, the essays display humanistic geography’s wide-ranging applicability and interconnectedness of people with their landscape.

  • Daniels, Stephen. “Arguments for a Humanistic Geography.” In The Future of Geography. Edited by R. J. Johnston, 143–158. London: Methuen, 1985.

    This chapter puts forth the essential concept of place and how it retains a central role in geography at large. Place, Daniels suggests, is the very heart of geography as a discipline while also being the key framework of how people make sense of the world.

  • Gregory, Derek. “Humanistic Geography.” In The Dictionary of Human Geography. 4th ed. Edited by Ronald John Johnston, Derek Gregory, Geraldine Pratt, et al., 361–364. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2000.

    A brief but thorough review of humanistic geography’s history and foundations, this entry traces the discipline’s evolution from inception in the 1970s to epistemological and ontological controversies. Missing are the latest studies from early-21st-century endeavors. Originally published in 1981.

  • Ley, David. “Cultural/Humanistic Geography.” Progress in Human Geography 5.2 (1981): 249–257.

    DOI: 10.1177/030913258100500205

    This article represents the first attempt to trace humanistic geography’s path to mainstream geography. It begins with a brief introduction of cultural geography, noting how humanistic geography evolved from it, then centers its attention on humanistic geography specifically, and ends with suggested research directions. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Ley, David, and Marwyn S. Samuels, eds. Humanistic Geography: Prospects and Problems. Chicago: Maaroufa, 1978.

    This book represents one of the first critiques of humanistic geography. It outlines several ways in which humanistic geography can benefit the discipline, broadly speaking, and also suggests the need for expanding methods because of what some consider to be inherent weaknesses.

  • Pocock, Douglas C. D., ed. Humanistic Geography and Literature: Essays on the Experience of Place. London: Croom Helm, 1981.

    Centered on the key humanistic component of place, this series of essays delves into the humanities via literature. Although a few entries are focused on epistemological and ontological endeavors, humanistic and place-based analyses also include such notables as authors D. H. Lawrence and George Eliot, painters John Ruskin and George Crabb, as well as one on The Grapes of Wrath.

  • Tuan, Yi-Fu. “Humanistic Geography.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 66.2 (1976): 266–276.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8306.1976.tb01089.x

    Considered the treatise of humanistic geography by many, this article outlines the key components of humanistic geography. Focusing specifically on the people–place connections, it notes that humanistic geography seeks to achieve “an understanding of the human world by studying people’s relations with nature, their geographical behavior as well as their feelings and ideas in regard to space and place” (p. 266). Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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