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Halford John Mackinder

Sir Halford John Mackinder PC (February 15 1861 - March 6 1947), was an English geographer.

He was educated at Epsom College and Christ Church, Oxford, and specialised as a physical geographer, later later branching into economics and political theory, arguing that physical and human geography should be treated as a single discipline. He joined the London School of Economics at its foundation and was its director from 1903 till 1908.


Work and achievements

  • In 1887 he was appointed Reader in Geography at Oxford University, then by far the most senior position for a British geographer, announcing: "A platform has been given to a geographer." By 1899 he had drawn together a single School of Geography.
  • The climbing of Mt. Kenya in 1899.
  • In 1902 the publication of "Britain and The British Seas", which included the first comprehensive geomorphology of Britain, and in which he described Britain as 'a lump of coal surrounded by fish'.
  • And in 1904 and the formulation and addition of the Heartland Theory to the field of Geopolitics, with the submission of a paper titled "The Georgraphical Pivot of History" to the Royal Geographical Society. Although initially receiving little attention outside geography, this theory would influence the foreign policies of world powers ever since.
  • He helped found the University of Reading in 1892, and the Geographical Association in 1893 which promoted (and promotes) the teaching of geography in schools. He was GAs chair from 1913 to 1946 and President from 1916.
  • He was knighted in 1920.

Possibly disappointed at not getting a full Chair, Mackinder left Oxford and joined the civil service, lecturing only part time, mainly at the London School of Economics. He was elected to Parliament in 1910 as Unionist member for the Camlachie, Glasgow and was defeated in 1922.

His next major work was in 1919 - Democratic Ideals and Society - was a perspective on the 1904 work in the light of peace treaties and Woodrow Wilson's idealism. This contains his most famous quote: "Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; Who rules the heartland commands the World Island; Who rules the World Island commands the World"

Enter the Nazis

The Heartland Theory was enthusiastically taken up by the German Nazi regime in the 1930s, in particular by Karl Haushofer. Although there is no evidence that Mackinder had any Nazi sympathy, when the German exploitation of his ideas became known on the United Kingdom, he became very unpopular. That he was a fluent German speaker, with many intellectual friends in Germany did not help his image and he died, still somewhat under a cloud.

This is almost certainly unfair. Although Mackinder was anti-Bolshevik (as British High Commissioner he tried to unite the White Russian forces), the principal concern of his work was to warn of the possibility of another major war (a warning also given by economist John Maynard Keynes).

The importance of Mackinder

Mackinder's work paved the way for the establishment of geography as a distinct discipline in the United Kingdom. Oxford would not appoint a Chair until 1934, but Liverpool University and Aberystwyth University both appointed Chairs in 1917. Mackinder was given a personal chair at the University of London in 1923. His role in fostering the teaching of geography is probably greater than any single British geographer.

Mackinder on geography

"The science whose main function is to trace the interaction of man in society and as much of his environment and as varies locally."

"The science of distribution. The science, that is, which traces the arrangement of things in general on the Earth's surface."

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Last updated: 05-07-2005 04:21:51
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04