Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Notes on New England Historiography - the importance of geography 1

I know the geography of New England pretty well. Even so, I am regularly reminded that I do not know it well enough.

Back in November 2006 in my second post on this blog, Geography of New England - Introduction, I suggested that to understand New England's history we needed to understand New England's geography, the way in which climate and landscape have helped shape New England life. This remains true.

I know the Tablelands and coast best simply because I have spent more time there.

Flying back the other day from Grafton to Sydney, the first time that I had done this, I found that I could recognise all the main rivers and coastal towns from the air quite easily because I had a very good mudmap in my mind. The same is true of the Tablelands.

As we move west, my knowledge weakens. While I have driven through the area, there are more places that I have not visited. For that reason, I have begun to write a series of posts on the New England Australia blog with a western focus. I have added a list at the end of the post that I will try to update from time to time.

If there are gaps in my knowledge of current geography, they become still greater as we move back into the geographic past. When I look at the geographic posts I have written on this blog, also listed at the bottom, there is just the one post on the Macleay Valley dealing in any way with the more distant geographic past.

We all write history in different ways. I write by creating patterns in my mind that I then test and refine with further research. In doing so, I use existing histories as a starting point where they exist. In other cases, I collect pieces of information, then fit them together to form an initial rough outline.

The relations between human beings and their surrounding environment is quite complex.

In one sense, geography just is. It may change with time. It may be affected by human occupation. However, it can be described in physical terms.

Human perceptions of the geographical world around them, the nature of the interactions between humans and that world, is very different. These interactions take place at many levels and are often unseen. Often, they have to be inferred from the evidence.

In all cases, though, the starting point has to be the actual geography itself. If you do not understand this, then it becomes hard if not impossible to understand human history.

Western Posts

Geography Posts

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