Emmanuel De Martonne: Biography And Contributions To Geography

Emmanuel de Martonne was one of the most important geographers of the 20th century. To this day, in France he is known as one of the main founders of physical geography. In fact, he is considered a specialist in geomorphology thanks to all the work he did in this area.

He dedicated his entire life to the study of geography and was recognized not only in France, but also worldwide. Not only was he limited to regular geographic studies, his practice also covered so-called human geography, a branch of geography that studies people and the formation of communities.

Portrait of Emmanuel de Martonne

His work is tied to the development of historical events and the political circumstances that occurred at the time. In addition, Martonne was one of those in charge of establishing the borders between countries after the culmination of the First World War at the Versailles Conference.

Article index

  • one


    • 1.1

      First World War

  • two

    Contributions to the geography of Emmanuel de Martonne

    • 2.1


    • 2.2

      Its role in European geography

  • 3



Emmanuel de Martonne was born on April 1, 1873 in Indre, France. His mentor was one of the most important geographers in history, the founder of French geography and founder of the French Geopolitical School, Paul Vidal de la Blache.

Later he enrolled in the same college where his mentor had studied: the École Normale Supériure. There he would also pursue the same titles as Vidal de la Blache, which he would obtain three years after enrolling at the École: geographer and historian.

After graduating, he worked with two important geographers of the time until in 1899 he obtained the post of professor at the University of Rennes. As a professor in Rennes, he founded the Institute of Geography on the German model in that same city.

First World War

When World War I broke out, he was assigned to the Geographical Commission, which included six leading geographers of the time. Among them was his mentor, Paul Vidal de la Blache.

He worked in this commission until the end of the war and collaborated as an advisor to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Peace Congress of Versailles. It was then that the border areas of each country began to be defined again after the respective expansions that occurred in the conflict.

He was also tasked with calling for the return of the Alsace-Lorraine region to France, which had been in German control since the end of the Franco-German War in the late 19th century.

He collaborated closely with the establishment of borderlines in Romania and the Balkan countries, where he would have previously conducted several studies that familiarized him with the region. In fact, it is said that Martonne had a great fascination for Romania. He died on July 24, 1955 in a commune near Paris, due to natural causes.

Contributions to the geography of Emmanuel de Martonne

During the course of his career (which lasted more than 50 years) Martonne highly influenced academic geography thanks to the high quality of his teachings and the role he played as a professor at various national and international universities.

After having taught at the University of Rennes and in Lyon, he was appointed president of the Faculty of Geography in Paris. There he taught the geographical method to several generations of French students, highlighting the importance of field work in this social science and explaining the principles of cartography.

One of his greatest contributions was the redirection of the focus that was given to geography in university institutions. His approach went hand in hand with that of his mentor, and he relied on it to change the geographic pensum of universities.

Based on this, he wanted to create a new approach to geography, combining all the basic sciences that it covered (cartography, morphology, climatology, botany and zoology). For this he is known as the founder of general physical geography.

Most of the students he taught devoted their lives to the study of descriptive regional geography, based on the principles that Martonne taught as a teacher.

Furthermore, he recommended that the Paris Institute of Geography be converted into a university institution and not an institution of faculties. This helped to cover more areas of study.


De Matronne was a fundamental figure in the French geographical sphere. He was the founder of the Association of French Geographers and the International Geographical Union. In addition, he became president of the Geographical Society.

He was one of the geographers whose influence and contributions helped alter the world’s center for geographic studies, with the decline of the German school of geography and the rise in popularity of the French school.

His career was marked by the importance he gave to field work, which was reflected in the amount of travel and exploration he made worldwide. This stood out in particular when he drew the geographical boundaries of various countries after the First World War.

Academically, he wrote more than 150 books and articles. In addition, he obtained a doctorate in Literature and another in Sciences before 1910, which allowed him to be one of the few geographers in history with the ability to function satisfactorily in all areas of geography.

Its role in European geography

His particular field of interest was the geography of Europe, specifically that of central Europe. Based on his studies, he wrote the fourth volume of the book Universal Geography , which had been directed by his mentor, Paul Vidal de la Blache.

The development of his Treatise on Physical Geography was one of his most influential works on world geography. It was the writing that helped him fulfill his ambition to create a general geography that encompassed all the main areas of study of this social science.

However, his area of ​​greatest focus was geomorphology. He developed his work based on what was done by previous authors and generated geographical maps of the endorheic basins (areas of the Earth that do not have natural drainage areas).


  1. Emmanuel de Martonne, Hypergeo in English, (nd). Taken from hypergeo.eu
  2. Emmanuel de Martonne et la naissance de la Grande Roumanie, Gavin Bowd, 2011. Taken from st-andrews.ac.uk
  3. Emmanuel de Martonne and the ethnographical cartography of central Europe (1917–1920), Gilles Palsky, 2001. From tandfonline.com
  4. Emmanuel de Martone, Wikipedia in English. Taken from wikipedia.org
  5. Paul Vidal de la Blanche, Wikipedia in English. Taken from wikipedia.org

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