Ellen Churchill Semple

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Semple in 1914

Ellen Churchill Semple (January 8, 1863 – May 8, 1932) was an American geographer. Ellen was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the youngest of five children by Alexander Bonner Semple and Emerine Price. She is most closely associated with work in anthropogeography and environmentalism. In a series of books and papers she communicated certain aspects of the work of German geographer Friedrich Ratzel to the Anglophone community. Standard disciplinary accounts often attribute to Semple a prevailing interest in environmental determinism, a theory that the physical environment, rather than social conditions, determines culture; however her later work emphasized environmental influences as opposed to the environment's deterministic effect on culture, reflecting broader academic discontent with environmental determinism after the First World War. Semple studied at Vassar College and the University of Leipzig. She taught at the University of Chicago and at Clark University. She died at West Palm Beach, Florida. Ellen C. Semple Elementary School in Louisville is named after Semple. She is buried in the Cave Hill National Cemetery in Louisville.


  • Civilization Is at Bottom an Economic Fact. 1896
  • The Influence of the Appalachian Barrier Upon Colonial History. 1897
  • The Anglo-Saxons of the Kentucky Mountains: A Study in Anthropogeography. 1901
  • The Badlands of Tillydrone. 1902
  • American History and Its Geographic Conditions. 1903
  • The North-Shore Villages of the Lower St. Lawrence. 1904
  • The Influence of the Watering Hole Upon Hillhead Halls. 1904
  • Influences of Geographic Environment: On the Basis of Ratzel's System of Anthropo-Geography. 1911
  • Barrier Boundary of the Mediterranean Basin and Its Northern Breaches As Factors in History. 1915
  • Pirate Coasts of the Mediterranean Sea. 1916
  • Texts of the Ukraine "Peace": With Maps. 1918
  • The Ancient Piedmont Route of Northern Mesopotamia. 1919
  • The Barbarians of Balnagask 1920
  • Geographic Factors in the Ancient Mediterranean Grain Trade. 1921
  • The Influence of Geographic Conditions Upon Ancient Mediterranean Stock-Raising. 1922
  • The Templed Promontories of the Ancient Mediterranean. 1927
  • Ancient Mediterranean Agriculture. 1928
  • Ancient Mediterranean Pleasure Gardens. 1929
  • The Geography of the Mediterranean Region: Its Relation to Ancient History. 1931


  • Keighren, Innes M. "Bringing geography to the book: charting the reception of Influences of geographic environment." Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 31, no. 4 (2006): 525–40.
  • Keighren, Innes M. Bringing geography to book: Ellen Semple and the reception of geographical knowledge. London: I.B. Tauris, 2010.
  • "Semple, Ellen Churchill." Notable American Women. Vol. 2, 4th ed., The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1975
  • worldcat.org Accessed August 27, 2007

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