History of Geography
In the ancient world geography grew out of closely related activities:
(a) exploration, which led to the accumulation of facts about the earth's surface;
(b) charting and mapping of the areas known; and
(c) speculations about the material collected.
The Arabs were the first to show their interest in geography because of their special surroundings. From 8th to 13th century, they made significant contribution in the field of geography. They embarked on a conquest of the world outside of Arabia. In 641 they conquered Persia, and in 642 took control of Egypt. They swept westward across the Sahara and by 732 all the Great Desert was under their control. They crossed through the Iberian Peninsula into France. For some 900 years they ruled most of Spain and Portugal. Muslim rule was also extended into Central Asia, Northern China, India, eastern coast of Africa, Malaysia and some Islands of the South-east Asia.
Quite a good number of Muslim geographers added to the subject and prepared manuscripts on geography. They geographers explained the formation of mountains by folding, sculpturing, erosion and weathering. Travelers went to the eastern countries and gave descriptions of their travels in the form of stories with full information.
The Arabs made outstanding contributions in the fields of mathematical physical and regional geography. Their achievements in climatology, oceanography, geomorphology, linear measurements, determination of cardinal points, limits of habitable world, sprawl of continents and oceans are highly appreciable.
The Arabs who were largely influenced by the Greek tradition adopted the same ideas about the shape and size of the earth. The early Arabs considered the earth as the center of the Universe, around which revolved the seven planets.
In 921 A.D. Al-Balakhi gathered climatic date and information from the Arab travelers and prepared the first climatic Atlas of the world entitled-Kitabul-Ashkal. Al-Masudi gave a very good description of the Indian monsoons. In 985 Al-Maqdisi offered a new division of the world into fourteen climatic regions. He recognized that climate varies not only by latitude but also by position east and west.
The Arab geographers offered important observations regarding the processes shaping the world's landforms. Al-Biruni wrote his great geography of India (Kitab-al-Hind) in 1030. In this book he recognized the significance of the rounded stones he found in the alluvial deposits south of the Himalayas.
For the determination of latitudes, the Arabs like Eratosthenes and other Greeks made use of sun's shadow when it happened to be on the meridian. The shadow was marked by a column gnomon. The Arabs improved over the works of the Greeks and Ibn-Yunus in his astronomical Tables observed that the shadow taken with perpendicular gnomon did not correspond to the height of the center of sun, but to its upper limb.
The phenomenon of tides was also observed by the Arab navigators and scholars. They proved that the tides are caused because of the gravitational pull of the sun and the moon, Al-Masudi who navigated in the Caspian Sea recorded the spring and neap tides, while AI-Biruni wrote in his book Kitab-al-Hind that the Indians believe that the tides are caused by the moon.
Arabs were the first who gave the idea of the periodic nature of the monsoons. Monsoon in fact has been derived from the Arabic word Mausam which means season. Al-Masudi, observed variations in the colors of ocean-water and attributed it to the variation in the salinity of water and the presence of marine vegetation.
(10th century, Arab explorer born in Baghdad)
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