How and why is one place in earth different from another? This is the most important question of geography, but this is certainly nothing new about it. People have always been interested in other place.
Ever since man began to walk on the earth, he has been eager to explore. Perhaps one of those men lived in a cave in some isolated valley. He was curious about the other side of the mountains. Would this valley similar to his own? Would these be supplies of fruit waiting to be gathered? Would these be animals that he might trap to add to his supply of food? Would there be other men with them he might trade and exchange ideas?
Thousands of years ago this man set out to climb the mountains to see what was on other side. In doing so he became the world’s first geographer. Of course he did not think of himself as a geographer. He was only interested in the other side of the mountains. But this interest was geographical, for he was trying to find out about other places.
In time he discovered the best paths he could follow to reach the neighboring valleys. He found out the lowest passes through the mountain. As his knowledge grew, he tried to find ways of passing this knowledge on to his sons and his friends. But early man had no written language. The caveman could not write a book about his discoveries. Instead as the group sat around their fire at night, he told stories of the places and people he had seen. He described the land and its treasures. He told about the people and their ways of life. Sometimes he scratched crude maps on animal skins and on the walls of his cave. Or perhaps he made maps by trying sticks together in such a way as to point out the direction to other places.
Who was this first geographer of so many thousands of years ago? About what places did he tell? No one will ever know. But such must have been the beginning of geographical knowledge.
It has taken thousands of years to gain all of our present knowledge about places on out earth. Today we have many ways to learning about places. We have books, magazines and newspapers. We have television, radio, and movies, even satellites. All of these things help to bring other places right into our own homes.
We also have automobiles, trains, ships and airplanes that can move us rapidly from one place to another. We have many opportunities to learn how and why one place is different from another.
In the olden days gaining geographical knowledge was not so easy. Only a few men were brave enough to travel to distant places. How eagerly people must have listen to their tales of strange races and distant lands. As their stories were told and retold, they often became a confusing mixture of fact and fantasy. They were not useful to people who wanted the truth. Accurate information was necessary to change the traveller’s tales into real geography.
To secure correct information about other places, travellers had to learn to observe carefully at the land and the way it was used. Along with careful observation had to come accurate-written reports. The reports had to be accurate and reliable, because only in this way could a reader of the reports gain true geographical knowledge.
Ways of measuring distance and direction were also needed. It would be of little use for the traveller to observe carefully and write accurately if he didn’t know where he was, in what direction he had travelled, or how far he had come. So travellers began to add carefully drawn maps, with true reports about distance and direction, to their written description of other place. That was the beginning of real geography.
To travel is one thing. To observe to map and report carefully is quite another. From the time and our first cave man, many people travelled. But it was the Greeks of more than 2.000 years ago who were the earliest real geography.
The first of these real geographers was Thales. Thales was born in 640 B.C. and died in 546 B.C. He lived on the shore of the Aegean Sea and spent his lifetime as traveller and trader. Everywhere Thales travelled, he asked questions. He observed carefully He kept accurate notes of what he had seen and learn. He searched for good ways of measuring distance and direction so that he could draw accurate maps. By questioning other travellers Thales also collected information about places that he had not seen himself.
The first among the early Greek geographers to use the term of “geography” for such knowledge was Strabo. He wrote a great series of books, 17 volumes in all, entitled “Geography”. In this books Strabo brought together all the geographical knowledge that the Greeks had collected. Strabo’s books were a kind of geographical encyclopedia.