Brunhes, Jean

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Brunhes, Jean

(b. Toulouse, France, 25 October 1869; d. Boulogne-Seine, France, 25 April 1930)


Brunhes came from a family of university professors: both his father, Julien, and his older brother, Bernard, were professors of physics. Jean entered the École Normale Supérieure in 1889, and in 1892 he graduated and passed the agrégation in history and geography. His faculty adviser was Vidal de la Blache. On a scholarship from the Thiers Foundation from 1892 to 1896, he completed his education by taking courses in law, mining, and agriculture. He found his true vocation in geography when he wrote the thesis “L’irrigation, ses conditions géographiques… dans la péninsule ibérique et I’Afrique du Nord,” which he defended in 1902.

Brunhes was named professor of general geography at the University of Fribourg in 1896, and in 1908 he was appointed to give a course in human geography at the University of Lausanne. He continued to work in human geography, a science that did not then exist in France.

In his Anthropogéographie the German geographer Friedrich Ratzel attempted to explain man in terms of nature and to make history and culture dependent on geography. In contrast, Brunhes saw in nature “not a tyrannical fatalism, but an infinite wealth of possibilities among which man has the power to choose” (S. Charléty, Notes sur la vie et les travaux de M. J. Brunhes [Paris, 1932], p. 13). He also believed that there is no social determinism whose laws can be ascertained. In his great work, Géographie humaine (1910), Brunhes presented the first attempt to coordinate the geographical phenomena resulting from the activities of man. It was illustrated with numerous photographs. In 1912 the Collège de France created a chair of human geography for him.

A member of the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques since 1927, Brunhes died suddenly of a stroke just after he and his daughter, Mme. Raymond Delamarre, had published Les races, a small, richly illustrated book.

Certain geographers have reproached Brunhes for having extended geography to cover all forms of human activity; others have criticized him for having limited the study of geography to what is “photographable.” Nevertheless, he gave a decisive impetus to human geography.


I. Original Works. Brunhes’s writings include La géographie humaine. Essai de classification positive. Principes et exemples (Paris, 1910, 1912, 1925), trans. into English (Chicago-New York, 1920); 2 vols. in G. Hanotaux’s Histoire de la nation française; I. Géographie humaine de la France (Paris, 1926), and II, Géographie politique et géographie du travail (Paris, 1926), written with P. Deffontaines; and Les races (Paris, 1930), written with his daughter, Mme. Raymond Delamarre. He also translated Isaiah Bowman’s The New World as Le monde nouveau. Tableau général de géographie politique universells (Paris, 1928).

II. Secondary Literature. Biographies of Brunhes are A. Allix, in Les études rhodaniennes, 6 (1930), 340–342; M. Boule, in L’anthropologie, 40 (1930), 514–515; V, Châtelain, in Dictionnaire de biographie française, fasc. 39 (1955), cols. 554–555; D. Faucher, in Revue de géographie des pyrénées et du Sud-ouest, 1 (1930), 514–515; E. de Martonne, in Annales de géofraphie, 39 (1930), 549–553; and G. Vallaux, in La géographie, 34 (1930), 237–239.

Juliette Taton

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Jean Brunhes

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