Nothing New under the Sun? George Perkins Marsh and Roots of U.S. Physical Geography

Jacob Bendix, Michael A. Urban

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


U.S. geomorphologists and biogeographers often cite early theoretical roots dating back to late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century exemplars such as Powell, Gilbert, Cowles, and Clements, or earlier European contributors like Hutton, Lyell, von Humboldt, and, of course, Darwin. Yet reviews of our intellectual roots often overlook an early and important U.S. contributor: George Perkins Marsh. Marsh’s work on Man and Nature is more often cited in the field of environmental history, where it is appropriately noted as a prescient review of human impacts on the landscape. We suggest, however, that his significance extends beyond early environmental activism and that in fact Marsh describes many concepts and analytical approaches that continue to underlie modern geomorphology and biogeography. Moreover, Marsh’s ideas and approach presaged fundamental concepts central to our current study of the Anthropocene and coupled human–environment systems, as he emphasized interconnections among biotic, geomorphic and human elements, perhaps most notably with regard to impacts of deforestation on flood regimes. There is, therefore, much to learn from Marsh—both about early thinking in physical geography and about the depth of scientific analysis underlying our discipline’s early interest in human impacts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)709-716
Number of pages8
JournalAnnals of the American Association of Geographers
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2021


  • Anthropocene
  • biogeography
  • environmental science
  • geomorphology
  • human impacts

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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