ROOTS: Rediscover the Origins Of Theoretical Space

History and Development of Location-Theoretical Ideas


Supporting Research Sites:

Supporting Writing Sites:

Where did a particular location theoretical concept or idea come from? In this class project, we will look at the development of the ideas needed to create today's rather eclectic body of location theories and theories of spatial organization and behavior. Specifically, what did economists or geographers need to know or to contemplate in order to be able to theorize that a locational equilibrium would (or would not) result from a particular constellation of variables and assumptions, a spatial pattern would evolve or a specific social or institutional structure would have certain locational ramifications, etc.

Generally, there are two ways to account for the history of a discipline:

  1. You can trace whatever represents a particular discipline over time; or
  2. You can try to discover the origin of ideas representing a particular discipline at a point in time by following these ideas to their intellectual roots. Given the relatively non-theoretical, highly descriptive nature of academic work in Economic Geography prior to the 1950ties, the overwhelming influence of microeconomics on classical location theory, and the eclectic nature of today's theoretical economic geography, the history of Economic Geography as a discipline will not yield a satisfactory account of the development of location-theoretical thinking.

While the theoretical ideas covered in this class are not explicitly presented in a chronological order, you may wish to establish such a schematic chronology for different strands of locational thinking and to discover "Who inspired whom?" in the development of this body of theory over the past 200 years.

For our project, please select a location-theoretical concept (see list) which you feel you can (right-away or eventually) link to your area of interests. Then find an article (in an academic journal or edited book) published recently (start with the last 5 years), review this article and begin to

  1. trace the intellectual "roots" of this concept or idea; and
  2. assess the impact this idea has had since its conception.
If you have any problems finding such recent literature related to your interests, you may want to start with searching for ideas in relatively recently published book like Gordon Clark et al., eds., (Oxford Handbook in Economic Geography); Roger Hayter (Dynamics of Industrial Location); or Golledge & Stimson (Spatial Behavior) (Check here for more information on those books).

This (backward) tracing of ideas and contributions should enable you to find earlier literature. Select one article or book chapter each week for weekly reviews. These reviews should assess both, the general contribution of the piece to Location Theory or Economic Geography (and thereby contribute to your overview of the discipline AND the more specific contribution to the development of YOUR specific concept or its application to issues in Location Theory.

Otherwise, there are only few constraints to this project, since it is supposed to appeal to your imagination:

  1. The string of ideas and historical contributions should be related to questions of location, land use and spatial organization of societal phenomena. If this relationship is not obvious, you need to spell it out.
  2. Your presentation has to be firmly anchored in the literature. All factual components need to be documented (by bibliographic references or electronic links)
  3. Your contribution should -- whenever possible -- also be connected to class materials and to contributions by others in the class. The idea is to contribute to a "whole", i.e. to a system of links between historical intellectual contributions. Your own scheme together with the larger scheme should provide you with an improved understanding of theoretical geography and its many different perspectives and approaches.
  4. There is nothing wrong with (in fact, I strongly encourage) connecting this project to your own interests. This historical project permits you to do both, trace the historical roots of your own locational interests, AND be always sure that your own interests are intellectually connected to our 450 objectives.


There is an almost infinite supply of sources available for this project. Certainly, your regular class readings will be useful. However, there are a few sources which are particularly bibliographic in nature and therefore more useful for tracing intellectual developments:

Classical and Neo-Classical Bodies of Location Theory

Behavioral, Organizational and Structuralist Approaches Useful references can also be found in these two lists:

  1. Review Papers related to Topics in Economic Geography
  2. Review Papers specifically related to Geography 450

Examples of Specific "Detective" Work in the Field of Economic Geography & Regional Science:

  1. Asheim, Bjorn T., Industrial Districts: The Contributions of Marshall and Beyond, in: The Oxford Handbook of Economic Geography, Edited by GORDON L. CLARK, MARYANN P. FELDMAN, and MERIC S. GERTLER, Oxford (U.K.): Oxford University Press, 2000, Ch.21, pp.413ff. [HF1025.O94.2000 (Suzzallo)]

  2. Isard, Walter, "The Contributions of (Andreas) Predoehl to Location Theory and Regional Science," Jahrbuch fuer Sozialwissenschaft, 14(3), 1963, 22-8. [Leon Moses and the Substitution Principle]

  3. Krumme, G., "Werner Sombart and the Economic Base Concept," Land Economics, 44(1), February 1968, pp.112-116. [ Sombart]

  4. Peucker, Thomas K., Johann Georg Kohl: A Theoretical Geographer of the 19th Century," in Professional Geographer 20(4), July 1968, pp.247-50. [ The Three-Dimensional City]

  5. Pinto, James V., "Launhardt and Location Theory: Rediscovery of a Neglected Book," Journal of Regional Science 17(1), 1977, pp.17-29. [Alfred Weber's Location Theory]

  6. The History of Game Theory [Timeline] []

Other potentially useful historical accounts or summaries can be found in:

Some years ago, I compiled a "Locational Name-Dropping List" with names of people who contributed, directly or indirectly, to the development of spatial economic theory.

Since 1964, economists have been competing for Nobel Prizes. Looking through the list of award winners, one cannot but be amazed and gratified as to how many of them had a significant impact on Economic Geography in general and location theory in particular.

ECON 4033 History of Economic Thought. Spring 1995 D.E.R. Gay, Classes such as this are frequently taught in Economics, less often in Geography. For us, this class can serve two functions: It can serve as an example as to how to link present ideas to historical VIPs. Since Location Theory is to a large extent economic theory, we find the larger context for our body of theory in Economics, in spite of the fact that we hardly find references to location theory in Economics.

Presentation: Clearly, the most appropriate mode of presentation of this project would your direct contribution to the Resource Page in Economic Geography. Several undergraduate students in Economic Geography have recognized the value of learning the few fundamental skills needed to get a Home Page established. There is help available, I encourage you to seek it, let me know if you want to venture into something new and exciting. The presentation in "hard copy" is in many ways more difficult. I do not encourage you to write an essay-type paper, but to develop "blocks" (i.e. brief, crisp and concise statements about individual contributions to location theory or annotations to pieces in the literature constituting major stepping stones in the development of the body of theory which you are interested in. These "blocks" then could be linked by "annotated arrows", i.e. your "historical information map" could be introduced by a graphic scheme with names (theories or references to contributions) and arrows where the significance of names and arrows would both explained in extended footnotes or brief statements ("blocks") on separate pages.

Methodologies / Scientific Histories /Locational-Bibliographic Detective Work / Library Searches: