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Environmental determinism or what if Greenland became green again?  

Reading Group of the Doctoral School in Philosophy and Human Sciences



Environmental determinism or what if Greenland became green again?


Convener: Emiliano Tolusso - Giorgio Masellis

Committed PhD students: Simona Azzan, Eugenio Petrovich


The goal of the reading group is to examine what we mean today for environmental determinism. Historically it was an ideology that was prevalent throughout the early decades of the 20th Century that held that the natural environment was responsible for virtually all human development. It helped bring the study of geography into the venue of postsecondary education, where it was viewed as a tool for study of human activities. It was a new science inspired by Darwinism that viewed human adaptation to the natural environment as critical to socialization. It was central to Calvinism and some versions of Protestantism that were relocated to North America where it took roots.

During the course of the 20th century this paradigm lost its major supporters and then became a topic of disapproval. However, it was never entirely disproven and it has persisted till today. In view  of  the  evidence,  it  is  proposed  that  environmental determinism has to be reopened for reassessment and debate and it is manifest that future generations will be apprised of the potential problems that it may inspire.

As a matter of fact Jared Diamond and Laurence Smith’s milestones of geographic literature served as foundation for the rebirth of the paradigm that today is living a new era in the scientific panorama.

For this reason during the reading group we’ll try to describe the outlines of their major masterpieces (Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond and The World in 2050 by Laurence Smith) in order to provide critics and to answer to the question what if Greenland will become green again?.

To paraphrase Ellen Churchill Semple the study of humans without consideration of the earth would be like studying cactus without consideration of the desert. 



  • Diamond J.: Armi, Acciaio, Malattie, Einaudi, 1998, Torino
  • Eades G.: Determining environmental determinism, Progress in Human Geography, 2012, vol. 36
  • Harden C.: Framing and Reframing Questions of Human-Environment  Interactions, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 2012, vol. 102
  • Hulme  M.:  Reducing  the  future  to  climate:  A  story  of  climate determinism and  reductionism, Osiris, 2011, vol. 26
  • Johnston F., Sidaway J.: Have the human geographical can(n)ons fallen silent; or were they never primed?, Journal of historical geography, 2015, vol. 49
  • Judkins   G,  Smith   M  ,  Keys   E:  Determinism within  human-environment   research  and  the rediscovery of environmental causation, Geographical Journal, 2008, vol. 174
  • Livingstone   D.:      Changing    Climate,    Human    Evolution,    and     the      Revival of Environmental Determinism, Bulletin of the history of medicine, 2012, vol. 86
  • Marchesi   G:   Polar   bears,   cactus   and  natives:   race,   agrarian   reform   and  environmental determism, Journal of historical geography, 2014, vol. 45
  • McGregor  K.:  Huntington  and  Lovelock:  Climatic determinism in  the  20th  century,  Physical Geography, 2004, vol. 2
  • Radcliffe  S.: Environmentalist  thinking and/in geography, Progress  in Human Geography,  2010, vol. 34 Smith L.: 2050 Il future del nuovo Nord
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