Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 80.djvu/594

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Let US now view a few more historical facts in this limelight of geography. The history of geography, which leads to the geography of to-day, is a record of achievement, colonization, trading, conquest, religious zeal, and scientific endeavor. The nomads move because the environment will not support them. Disturb an environment and see the result. Block the trade route from Europe to Cathay as did the Turks and a new world is discovered. Block this route and Venice trade passes into the hands of Portugal. Pierce the Isthmus, and Japan is at your doors. As Keltic has so well pointed out, the first great civilizations, Babylonian, Egyptian, Chinese and Indian, began in the great river valleys. They were non-cosmopolitan and isolated civilizations, for they were content in the fertile valleys of the Nile, Euphrates, Ganges and Yang-tse-Kiang. Contrast with theirs the spirit of the Phoenicians, the sturdy and fearless seamen of the pre-christian era, forced to trade by the non-fertile condition of their strip of country. See the physical development of the Greek, his intellectual stimulus inspired greatly by the multitude of topographic conditions. How did the Himalayas affect history?—serving as a barrier, hindering the migration of both man and beast, and protecting the people from invasion? Among mountain people many ancient customs are preserved. Because the Scotch and Welsh were much less affected by invasion than other parts of the British Isles during time of inroads, some of the oldest of their dialects still linger with them. The Basques, a small body of people in the Pyrenees, still speak a language spoken by no other race. Why has Switzerland been able to remain independent? Because the brisk air of mountains helps to develop a brave, hardy people, and because of her impregnable position among the Alps. Why did the early American settlers locate along the Atlantic coast and not push towards the west? The Appalacians served as a barrier to the spread of the early colonists and sheltered them from the savages of the west. Why was Alaska exploited? The gold in her gravels. England owes much of her historical importance to the geographical fact that the sinkings of the land give the coast such an irregularity of outline as is always favorable to the development of navigation, commerce, fishing. Why has Austria been from time to time the scene of inroads by Asian peoples? Because she lies open to the Black Sea and the plains of central Europe.

Man, with certain limits, differs from his lower cousins of the animal family by being able to take his environment by the forelock and make use of it for his own convenience. He constructs a Suez canal, he removes a mountain from his path by carving a Simplon tunnel, he brings fertility to arid New Mexico; he drains Arkansas swamps, he rescues Holland from the sea, he changes the course of the Mississippi. Indeed, it may seem bold, but there is much truth in the statement that the greatest enterprises of the present day are the results of wise utilization of geographic knowledge.