Sir Halford John Mackinder Biography

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Early Life

(20th-Century Biographies)

Halford John Mackinder initially hoped to follow the occupation of his father, a medical doctor. Later he shifted his studies to science, then history and strategy, then law, which he actually practiced for a time, and, finally, he began lecturing on “the New Geography.”

Mackinder was the eldest son of Draper and Fanny Anne Hewitt Mackinder, who were both of Scottish ancestry. His education was at Epsom College and at Oxford, where he first gained a junior studentship at Christ Church in 1880. In 1883, he was president of the Oxford Union, and in 1884 he gained the Burdett-Coutts science scholarship. Later, he was called to the bar at Inner Temple and also began lecturing in the university extension system, eventually delivering more than six hundred lectures, mostly in the North and West between 1885 and 1893.

Mackinder was asked to give his lecture on “Scope and Methods of Geography” to the Royal Geographical Society in January, 1887, thus stimulating the revival of the academic discipline of geography in Great Britain. In 1892, he traveled to the United States and lectured at a number of major universities, including Johns Hopkins, Harvard, and Chicago.

Mackinder always involved himself in a number of endeavors simultaneously. Extension lecturing led him into university administration, where he was to make significant contributions at several institutions. During the 1890’s he was director of what evolved into the University of Reading. Between 1903 and 1908 he served as the second director of the newly formed London School of Economics and Political Science. Between 1895 and 1925 he was lecturer and then professor of geography at the University of London. At the same time he was instrumental in the creation of the first institute, and then school, of geography, officially formed at Oxford in 1899. His readership in geography at Oxford, the first such appointment in a British university, was from 1887 to 1905.

In 1889, Mackinder married Emilie Catherine Ginsburg, the daughter of an Old Testament scholar. Emilie Mackinder often lived abroad, and, although she survived her husband, there is rarely any mention of her in Mackinder’s obituaries.

Life’s Work

(20th-Century Biographies)

At the same time that Mackinder was accomplishing so much in university administration and in the academic institutionalization of the discipline of geography, he was also formulating innovative theories on political geography, later known as geopolitics. He had already impressed academic authorities, especially leaders of the Royal Geographical Society, with his early lectures on the New Geography and the scope and methods of geography.

The discipline of geography in Great Britain had been declining, and many considered it unworthy of academic study. Oxford University, influenced by Mackinder, began the most significant steps of the subject’s rehabilitation. During his formative years, Mackinder was influenced by Sir Bartle Frere, president of the Royal Geographical Society in the 1870’s. While working as an administrator, Mackinder published basic texts in geography. Most important was Britain and the British Seas (1902). This book became the standard regional guide and was considered a classic of modern geographical literature. Other texts followed, including guides on India and the Rhine area of Europe.

Mackinder’s close association with the Royal Geographical Society provided a platform for the development of his geopolitical theories. In 1904, Mackinder presented a paper, “The Geographical Pivot of History,” in the Geographical Journal. This was the first statement of his geopolitical theories. The second major statement of his theories appeared in a book, Democratic Ideals and Reality, published in 1919, in which the famous Heartland thesis is found in full. Democratic Ideals and Reality was addressed to the peacemakers at the Paris Peace Conference after World War I. Mackinder continued to refine his views in an article published in Foreign Affairs , a journal of interest...

(The entire section is 1,918 words.)