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Human biogeography: evidence of our place in nature

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Focusing on human biogeography as a research endeavour may make sense to biogeographers, but in the academic world generally this particular scholarly niche has long been filled by other rival disciplines such as sociology, human ecology, geography, anthropology and archaeology. It may be true that having so many ways of looking at ourselves as a species is a good thing, but it can also be argued that this academic fragmentation of effort has often nurtured the commonplace view that we as a species are ‘above’ or ‘not part of’ what plain folks call the ‘natural world’. Here I review the historical and basic intellectual ingredients of what might be (but often isn't) called human biogeography. I offer a case study drawn from my research work on the Sepik coast of Papua New Guinea. This research illustrates how adopting an explicitly biogeographical approach to human diversity can lead to unexpected insights into the character and history of human settlement in this part of the world. One benefit of having a field with this explicit orientation might be that the conservation of biodiversity would make more sense to more people.

Keywords: Aristotle; New Guinea; Pacific Ocean; T.H. Huxley; biogeography; historical biogeography; human beings; human migrations; oceanic islands; sea level change

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 1, 2006

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