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In Portugal, a long hiatus during which Geography was almost absent followed the brief and sudden flourishing that the science had known in the 16th century by the work of some notable explorers. Both the Jesuits, in their colleges, and the reformers of the 18th and 19th centuries gave little consideration to this science, viewed merely as an auxiliary of History. There were compilations by few chorographers but Geography had no place in the university.
Yet, some precursors of Geography appeared in the 19th century in Portugal, such as the silviculture engineer Barros Gomes, the army officer Gerardo Pery, the doctor Silva Telles. But it was not before 1922, when Amorim Girão was awarded a PhD in Geography that the science finally attained an academic status, though not reaching further than the regional and national framework.
A new focus for the development of Geography emerged in Lisbon, since 1943, under the initiative of Orlando Ribeiro and soon gained international recognition. His humanistic mind, naturalistic knowledge and wide cultural horizons were developed in contact with "high demanding and rigorous minds, many of them with a scientific background". Those characteristics, enhanced with the support of observation, would be the pillars upon which Orlando Ribeiro undertook the renovation of Geography. He defended a sound physical basis for geographical studies and an integrated education for the field, one that should not separate the various aspects – physical, cultural and social – of the geographical entity being studied.
By the end of his long career, Orlando Ribeiro still expresses concerns about the lack of integration and synthesis in the face of the evolution of geographical studies. In his memory writings, produced between the 60s and the 80s, he states: "Although some geographers embrace both the physical and human branches of Geography, there is a total separation between the first, rooted in rigorous methods of analysis and experimentation, and the second, so that geomorphologic studies are not included in the context of an integrative regional Geography. The lack of interest in Regional Geography is now evident, as if regions were not any more the fundamental entities of any study and one of the faces of Geography".
According to Orlando Ribeiro, the existing diversity of orientations reveals a trend in the "separation by topics, while the more reasonable would be by region". For him, this is not defensible despite the evolution of observation techniques such as the aerial photography. On the contrary, "the man is nowadays able to study his place from the outside, actually seeing features that used to be conveyed by the artificial views of cartography only, with their deformations and conventional representations, rigorously geometrical, that were, for five centuries, the basis of universal Geography. Yet, in her studies of human settlements and regional characterization, Suzanne Daveau acknowledges and explores the History, the Archaeology and the Ethnography; while following modern and precise techniques such as the pollinic analysis of the quaternary formations, or the collecting of material for dating by the carbon-14 method."
"I only feel apart from certain new-fashioned orientations that so engage some young geographers, from a Human Geography that focuses on isolated theoretic and abstract spaces, with no human (and even spiritual) implantation and activity, all disconnected from the physical framework that sustains and conditions them [...]. My Human Geography - or better, the human face of Geography – is made with all senses: the vision, that reaches the landscape and perceives its significant details; the hearing that catches the distant tinkling of a flock or the aggressive noise of the mechanical circulation, the cocks’ crow announcing a nearby locality, or the silence of the hindu villages where animals are not breed for the sin of killing them; the scent of Muslim bazaars composed mainly of the spicy fragrances that are also felt in the Brazilian and Mexican markets; the urinous odour of the desert where the caravan passed or camped, the summery stink of the crowded tube; the unique satin-like of the black skins so often whipped [...], the flavours of the popular cooking that combines, as in Bahia, ingredients from the three parts of the world – a starting-point for the study of the encounter and sedimentation of civilizations. Homo sum: humani nihil a me alienum puto! All that is so far from the economic theory that inspires one of the currents of Human Geography, in which men are diluted in quantitative or geometric abstract relations, despite the precision and pertinence of some of its analyses. Notwithstanding, I am faithful to the key ideas of my vocation and I seek also to keep myself loyal to the liberal and tolerant spirit of my youth".
(Quotations from Memórias
de um Geógrafo, 2003).