University of Sussex
Cullis, James W.S..pdf (1.53 MB)

Landscapes of progress: the place of physical geography in Scottish Enlightenment accounts of stadial theory

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posted on 2023-06-09, 13:48 authored by James W S Cullis
The aim of this thesis is to explore the place of physical geography in Scottish Enlightenment accounts of stadial theory. It does this through examining the historical works of the following authors: Adam Ferguson, Henry Home, (Lord Kames), John Millar and Adam Smith. Stimulated by the 1748 publication of Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws each of these individuals presented distinctive explanations for historical progress. Conventional interpretations of Scottish Enlightenment accounts of stadial theory have tended to stress how these were informed by debates over moral conduct and political practice in line with the rise of commercial society. However, these approaches have neglected to consider the place of physical geography within Scottish Enlightenment accounts of historical progress. Consequently, this thesis aims to amend this picture and demonstrate how physical geography provided further insight into the arguments deployed by stadial theorists. This thesis will therefore be structured in the following way. In the introductory chapter, the focus will be on Montesquieu’s understanding of physical geography within the Spirit of the Laws, in demonstrating that his account provided key insights into the differences between European and Asiatic societies which Scottish Enlightenment authors would draw from in order to develop their individual arguments. The second chapter will focus on the work of Adam Ferguson and his An Essay on the History of Civil Society. In the process, it will demonstrate how he used physical geography to illustrate the way social stability was rooted in civic virtue. In the third chapter, Henry Home’s (Lord Kames) Sketches of the History of Man will be examined. It will be argued that physical geography allowed Kames to demonstrate a sceptical interpretation of societal progress which culminated in an ambiguous view of humanity. The final chapter considers the place of physical geography in Adam Smith’s Lectures on Jurisprudence and the Wealth of Nations. In addition to this, this chapter will consider the work of John Millar as an example of the legacy of Smith’s argument and how it informed accounts of physical geography in stadial theory written after the Lectures. Doing so it demonstrates Smith’s understanding of physical geography to be concerned with the way historical progress was conditioned by local influences. This thesis will therefore argue that physical geography provides a way of viewing Scottish Enlightenment accounts of stadial theory which use the premise that societal development was intrinsically linked to a range of physical factors including location, climate, topography and fertility.


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