John K. Wright

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John Kirtland Wright (1891-1969) was an American geographer and is seen as one of the ancestors of the Humanistic geography by introducing the concept of Geosophy and studying the idea of 'geographical lore'. Wright completed a PhD in history at the Harvard University and then started working as an librarian at the American Geographical Society. There he developed his interest in three main theme's that later would emerge in his published works. These theme's are: the overlapping of academic disciplines with geography, the power of the mind and the supernatural realm in creating subjectivity in geographic research, and the importance of sharing academic knowledge (Handley, 1993). His career as an geographer has been described as "one of the most fruitful and illustrious in the history of American geography" (Lowenthal, 1969).



In 1947 John Kirtland Wright developed the concept of Geosophy. This concept is said to be one of the antecedents of the humanistic approach in geography (Cloke et al., 1991) and he stated that Geosophy would be a whole new subfield in geography (Handley, 1993). He described the concept as the following:

"Geosophy ... is the study of geographical knowledge from any or all points of view. It is to geography what historiography is to history; it deals with the nature and expression of geographical knowledge both past and present—with what Whittlesey has called ‘man’s sense of [terrestrial] space’. Thus it extends far beyond the core area of scientific geographical knowledge or of geographical knowledge as otherwise systematized by geographers. Taking into account the whole peripheral realm, it covers the geographical ideas, both true and false, of all manner of people—not only geographers, but farmers and fishermen, business executives and poets, novelists and painters, Bedouins and Hottentots—and for this reason it necessarily has to do in large degree with subjective conceptions."

By emphasizing the role of human nature in his idea's about geography he introduced a whole new way of thinking in geography. Geosophy differed from the dominant geographical approaches of the time, which were more closely linked to Behaviourism.

Geographical lore

Before developing the idea of Geosophy, Wright had been concerned with the geographical ideas possessed not by all manner of people both great and humble, and in particular he studied the geographical lore possessed by people living in 'the time of the Crusades' (in Medieval Europe) (Cloke et al., 1991). In the following paragraph of his book about geographical lore, he describes what he meant with the term (Wright, 1925).

"By 'geographical lore' we mean what was known, believed and felt about the origins, present conditions and distribution of the geographical elements of the earth ... It comprises theories of the creation of the earth, of its size, shape and movements, and of its relations to the heavenly bodies; of the zones of its atmosphere and of the varied physiographic features of air, water and land; finally, it comprises theories of the regions of the earth's surface ... Moreover, in addition to formulated beliefs, whether true or false, our definition of geographical lore covers [people's] spiritual and aesthetic attitude towards the various geographical facts, as revealed - often unconsciously - in descriptions of regions or of landscapes" (Wright, 1925, p. 1-2)

Wright hence suggested that an important dimension to our labours as human geographers should entail asking about and striving to reconstruct the geographical lore contained in the minds of human groupings as diverse as the eskimos of Alaska and the chartered surveyors of Westminster (Cloke et al., 1991).


  • Cloke, P., Philo, Ch. & Sadler, D. (1991) Approaching Human Geography. Chapman, London.
  • Handley, M. (1993). John K. Wright and Human Nature in Geography in Geographical Review, Vol. 83, No. 2.
  • Lowenthal, D. (1969). Obituary: John Kirtland Wright 1891-1969 in Geographical Review, Vol. 59, No. 4.
  • Wright, J.K. (1925). The Geographical Lore of the Time of the Crusades; a Study in the History of Medieval Science and Tradition in Western Europe. New York, American Geographical Society, 1925.
  • Wright, J.K. (1947). Terrae Incognitae: The Place of Imagination in Geography Annals of the Association of American Geographers 37: 1–15.


  • Page created by Lars-Olof Haverkort --LarsHaverkort 16:14, 8 September 2012 (CEST)
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