Arbos, Philippe

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Arbos, Philippe

(b. Mosset, France, 30 July 1882; d. Andancette, Drôme, France, 28 October 1956)


The son of schoolteachers, Arbos was admitted in 1904, after secondary schooling at Perpignan, to the École Normale Supérieure. Among his teachers there was Vidal de la Blache, who was trying to free geography from its subordination to history (it was restricted to mere enumeration) and transform it into an autonomous science, and to link the study of the physical environment to that of human activities. Before Arbos, he had taught Raoul Blanchard, Jean Brunhes, Emmanuel de Martonne, and others who were to be among the masters of the French school of geography.

In 1907, after passing his agrégation in both history and geography, Arbos became a professor at the Grenoble lycée. Under the direction of Raoul Blanchard, in 1912 he began a doctoral thesis on pastoral life in the French Alps, a work that took ten years to complete (he visited all the valleys and nearly all the townships of the Alps)and became a model for similar studies. Indeed, he clarified the general principles of pastoral life, little known and poorly understood until then. The newness of the subject, the soundness of the information, and the depth of treatment accorded this thesis inspired a whole school of research.

Arbos made the University of Clermont-Ferrand, where he became lecturer in 1919 and served as professor from 1922 to 1952, a center for geographical studies. His study of the urban geography of Clermont-Ferrand (1930) has not become outdated, and his book on the Auvergne (1946) is a classic of regional geography. His great interest was the geography of the Massif Central, and toward the end of his life he contributed a lengthy article on it to Larousse’s La France (1951). Arbos’s scientific writing also includes a great many articles and notes in Revue de géographie alpine and Annales de géographie. Greatly admired abroad, he lectured in Belgium, the United States, and Brazil.

An excellent teacher, Arbos made a point of being available to his students every day. He developed methods of study in the field by increasing the number of field trips, and taught his students the need for solid groundwork and concern for precision, as well as breadth of view and the need to synthesize. Having had excellent literary training, he accustomed his students to the skill and the rigor of his presentation. Many of his students were teachers, and besides influencing them, Arbos had the pleasure of seeing his methods of instruction spread to the secondary and even to the primary level of instruction.


I. Original Works. Arbos’s writings include La vie pastorale dans les Alpes fraçaises (Paris, 1922); Étude de géographie urbaine: Clermont-Ferrand (Clermont-Ferrand, 1930); L‘Auvergne (Paris, 1946); and “Le Massif Central,” in La France (Paris, 1951), pp. 25–111. Mélanges géographiques offerts á ph. Arbos (Clermont-Ferrand, 1953) contains three articles by Arbos.

II. Secondary Literature. Obituaries of Arbos are R. Blanchard, in Revue de géographie, 32 (1957), 57–58; D. Faucher, in Revue de géographie, des Pyrénées et du Sud-ouest, 27 (1956), 418; and M. Sorre, in Annales de géographie, 32 (1957), 182–183.

Juliette Taton