A Source Book in Geography

Author: Polycarp Leyser  | Date: 1973

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Polycarp Leyser on Geography and History

He who wishes to read the works of historians, or desires to hold forth in the proper manner about history, must know all disciplines, arts and sciences. Yet there are certain disciplines which are of such a nature that they relate more closely to history than others: chronology, archaeology, the study of coinage, and geography.

Geography, which I list in the last place, surpasses the others both in dignity and excellence. For it assists in a wonderful way the study of history, making it easier to remember historical events when relying on geography.

I would even add that geography is the touchstone both of history and historians, which reveals the errors of historians with ease . . .

Geographia naturalis . . . observes natural boundaries and indicators that place a city in a definite and unchangeable location. Indicators of this type include mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes and seas, in a word, all those variations of the settled parts of the earth which are part of nature. These indicators are extraordinarily stable. Mountains cannot easily be worn down, rivers cannot have their courses changed with ease, nor can seas be changed to dry land as part of a continent . . .

Since mountains and valleys cannot be found everywhere, it seems to me that the best way to establish topographic divisions is to consider water. One finds water in most places, since these settlements were founded by some sea, river, or small stream.

If you add to these indicators the ocean, and the rivers draining to it, in a definite sequence, all areas can be given a topographic definition with ease and in a sequence that is constant, and that leads to the desired location, through a history of untold centuries.

From Polycarp Leyser, Commentatio de vera geographiae methodo (Helmstedt, 1726), quoted from the German translation in H. Beck, Geographie (Freiburg-München: Karl Alber Verlag, 1973), pp. 136–139, by permission. Editor’s translation.


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Chicago: Polycarp Leyser, "Polycarp Leyser on Geography and History," A Source Book in Geography, trans. H. Beck in A Source Book in Geography, ed. George Kish (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978), 388–389. Original Sources, accessed February 23, 2024, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4SY52F79FCYUEAE.

MLA: Leyser, Polycarp. "Polycarp Leyser on Geography and History." A Source Book in Geography, translted by H. Beck, in A Source Book in Geography, edited by George Kish, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1978, pp. 388–389. Original Sources. 23 Feb. 2024. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4SY52F79FCYUEAE.

Harvard: Leyser, P, 'Polycarp Leyser on Geography and History' in A Source Book in Geography, trans. . cited in 1978, A Source Book in Geography, ed. , Harvard University Press, Cambridge, pp.388–389. Original Sources, retrieved 23 February 2024, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4SY52F79FCYUEAE.