Sir Halford Mackinder

Halford Mackinder
Born (1861-02-15)15 February 1861
Gainsborough, England
Died 6 March 1947(1947-03-06) (aged 86)
Nationality United Kingdom
Fields Geography, Geopolitics, Geostrategy
Influenced Karl Haushofer

Sir Halford John Mackinder PC (15 February 1861 – 6 March 1947) was an English geographer, academic, and Director of the London School of Economics, who is regarded as one of the founding fathers of both geopolitics and geostrategy.

Early life and education

Mackinder was born in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, England, the son of a doctor, and educated at Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School, Gainsborough (now Queen Elizabeth's High School), Epsom College and Christ Church, Oxford. At Oxford he started studying natural sciences, specialising in zoology under Henry Nottidge Moseley, who had been the naturalist on Challenger expedition. When he turned to the study of history, he remarked that he was returning "to an old interest and took up modern history with the idea of seeing how the theory of evolution would appear in human development". He was a strong proponent of treating both physical geography and human geography as a single discipline. Mackinder served as President of the Oxford Union in 1883.[1]


In 1887, he published "On the Scope and Methods of Geography", a manifesto for the New Geography.[2] A few months later, he was appointed as Reader in Geography at the University of Oxford, where he introduced the teaching of the subject. As Mackinder himself put it, "a platform has been given to a geographer". This was arguably at the time the most prestigious academic position for a British geographer.

In 1892, he was the first Principal of University Extension College, Reading, a role he retained until he was succeeded, in 1903, by William Macbride Childs. The college became the University of Reading in 1926, a progression that owed no small debt to his early stewardship of the institution.[3][4]

In 1893, he was one of the founders of the Geographical Association, which promotes the teaching of geography in schools. He later became chairman of the GA from 1913 to 1946 and served as its President from 1916.

In 1895, he was one of the founders of the London School of Economics. At Oxford, Mackinder was the driving force behind the creation of a School of Geography in 1899.[5] In the same year, he led an expedition which was the first to climb Mount Kenya.[6]

In 1902 he published Britain and the British Seas, which included the first comprehensive geomorphology of the British Isles and which became a classic in regional geography.[7]

He was a member of the Coefficients dining club, set up in 1902 by the Fabian campaigners Sidney and Beatrice Webb, which brought together social reformers and advocates of national efficiency.[8]

In 1904 Mackinder gave a paper on "'The Geographical Pivot of History" at the Royal Geographical Society, in which he formulated the Heartland Theory.[9] This is often considered as a, if not the, founding moment of geopolitics as a field of study, although Mackinder did not use the term. Whilst the Heartland Theory initially received little attention outside geography, this theory would later exercise some influence on the foreign policies of world powers.[10]

Possibly disappointed at not getting a full chair, Mackinder left Oxford and became director of the London School of Economics between 1903 and 1908. After 1908, he concentrated on advocating the cause of imperial unity and lectured only part-time.[11] He was elected to Parliament in January 1910 as Unionist Party member for the Glasgow Camlachie constituency and was defeated in 1922. He was knighted in the 1920 New Year Honours for his services as an MP.[12]

His next major work, Democratic Ideals and Reality: A Study in the Politics of Reconstruction, appeared in 1919.[13] It presented his theory of the Heartland and made a case for fully taking into account geopolitical factors at the Paris Peace conference and contrasted (geographical) reality with Woodrow Wilson's idealism. The book's most famous quote was: "Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; Who rules the Heartland commands the World Island; Who rules the World Island commands the World." This message was composed to convince the world statesmen at the Paris Peace conference of the crucial importance of Eastern Europe as the strategic route to the Heartland was interpreted as requiring a strip of buffer state to separate Germany and Russia. These were created by the peace negotiators but proved to be ineffective bulwarks in 1939 (although this may be seen as a failure of other, later statesmen during the interbellum). The principal concern of his work was to warn of the possibility of another major war (a warning also given by economist John Maynard Keynes).

Mackinder was anti-Bolshevik, and as British High Commissioner in Southern Russia in late 1919 and early 1920, he stressed the need for Britain to continue her support to the White Russian forces, which he attempted to unite.[14]

Significance of Mackinder

Mackinder's work paved the way for the establishment of geography as a distinct discipline in the United Kingdom. His role in fostering the teaching of geography is probably greater than that of any other single British geographer.

Whilst Oxford did not appoint a professor of Geography until 1934, both the University of Liverpool and University of Wales, Aberystwyth established professorial chairs in Geography in 1917. Mackinder himself became a full professor in Geography in the University of London (London School of Economics) in 1923.

Mackinder is often credited with introducing two new terms into the English language: "manpower" and "heartland".

Influence on Nazi strategy

The Heartland Theory was enthusiastically taken up by the German school of Geopolitik, in particular by its main proponent Karl Haushofer. Geopolitik was later embraced by the German Nazi regime in the 1930s. The German interpretation of the Heartland Theory is referred to explicitly (without mentioning the connection to Mackinder) in The Nazis Strike, the second of Frank Capra's "Why We Fight" series of American World War II propaganda films.

Influence on American strategy

The Heartland Theory and more generally classical geopolitics and geostrategy were extremely influential in the making of US strategic policy during the period of the Cold War.[15]

Influence on later academics

Evidence of Mackinder’s Heartland Theory can be found in the works of geopolitician Dimitri Kitsikis, particularly in his geopolitical model "Intermediate Region".

Mackinder on geography

"...the science whose main function is to trace the interaction of man in society and so much of his environment as varies locally."

"The science of distribution. The science, that is, which traces the arrangement of things in general on the Earth's surface."


  • Mackinder, H.J. On the Scope and Methods of Geography On the Scope and Methods of Geography, Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography, New Monthly Series, Vol. 9, No. 3 (Mar., 1887), pp. 141–174.
  • Mackinder, H.J. Sadler, M.E. University extension: has it a future?, London, Frowde, 1890.
  • Mackinder, H.J. “A Journey to the Summit of Mount Kenya, British East Africa”, The Geographical Journal, Vol. 15, No. 5 (May, 1900), pp. 453–476.
  • Mackinder, H.J. Britain and the British Seas. New York: D. Appleton and company, 1902.
  • Mackinder, H.J. "The geographical pivot of history". The Geographical Journal, 1904, 23, pp. 421–37. Available online as Mackinder, H.J. "The Geographical Pivot of History", in Democratic Ideals and Reality, Washington, DC: National Defence University Press, 1996, pp. 175–194.
  • Mackinder, H.J. “Man-Power as a Measure of National and Imperial Strength”, National and English Review, XIV, 1905.
  • Mackinder, HJ. "Geography and History", The Times. 9 February 1905.
  • Mackinder, H.J. as editor of The Regions of the World series which includes the 1902 Britain and the British Seas mentioned above - which included D.G. Hogarth London, Henry Frowde, 1902 and 1905
  • Mackinder, H.J. Our own islands, an elementary study in geography, London: G. Philips, 1907
  • Mackinder, H.J. The Rhine: its valley & history. New York: Dodd, Mead. 1908.
  • Mackinder, H.J. Eight Lectures on India. London : Waterlow, 1910.
  • Mackinder, H.J. The modern British state : an introduction to the study of civics. London: G. Philip, 1914.
  • Mackinder, H.J. Democratic Ideals and Reality. New York: Holt, 1919. Available online as Democratic Ideals and Reality, Washington, DC: National Defence University Press, 1996.
  • Mackinder, HJ. 1943. "The round world and the winning of the peace", Foreign Affairs, 21 (1943) 595-605. Available online as Mackinder, H.J. "The round world and the winning of the peace", in Democratic Ideals and Reality, Washington, DC: National Defence University Press, 1996, pp. 195–205.


  • Ashworth, Lucian M. “Realism and the spirit of 1919: Halford Mackinder, geopolitics and the reality of the League of Nations”, European Journal of International Relations, XX(X), June, 2010, 1–23.
  • Blouet, Brian. Global Geostrategy, Mackinder and the Defence of the West, Londres, Frank Cass, 2005.
  • Blouet, Brian. Halford Mackinder, A Biography. College Station : Texas A&M University Press, 1987.
  • Blouet, Brian, "The imperial vision of Halford Mackinder", Geographical Journal, Volume 170 Issue 4, Pages 322 - 329.
  • Blouet, Brian W., 'Sir Halford Mackinder as British high commissioner to South Russia 1919-1920'. Geographical Journal, 142 (1976), 228-36.
  • Cantor, L.M. The Royal Geographical Society and the Projected London Institute of Geography 1892-1899. The Geographical Journal, Vol. 128, No. 1 (Mar., 1962), pp. 30–35
  • Kearns, Gerry. Halford John Mackinder, 1861–1947. Geographers: Biobibliographical Studies, 1985, 9, 71–86.
  • Kearns, Gerry. Geopolitics and Empire: The Legacy of Halford Mackinder. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • Parker, Geoffrey. Western Geopolitical Thought in the Twentieth Century, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1985.
  • Parker, W.H. Mackinder, Geography as an Aid to Statecraft, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1982.
  • Sloan, G.R. Geopolitics in United States Strategic Policy, Brighton: Wheatsheaf Books, 1988.
  • Sloan, G.R. "Sir Halford Mackinder: the heartland theory then and now", in Gray C S and Sloan G.R., Geopolitics, geography and strategy. London: Frank Cass, pp. 15–38.
  • Unstead, J.F. H. J. Mackinder and the New Geography, The Geographical Journal, Vol. 113, (Jan. - Jun., 1949), pp. 47–57
  • Venier, Pascal. “The Geographical Pivot of History and Early 20th century Geopolitical Culture”, Geographical Journal, vol. 170, no 4, December 2004, pp. 330–336.


External links

Template:Americana Poster

  • London School of Economics
  • see also द जियॉग्राफिकल पॉइवट ऑफ हिस्टरी
  • Window on Heartland – Geopolitical blog inspired on Mackinder’s Heartland theory
  • Hansard 1803–2005:
Educational offices
Preceded by
William Hewins
Director of the London School of Economics
Succeeded by
William Pember Reeves
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Alexander Cross
Member of Parliament for Glasgow Camlachie
Succeeded by
Campbell Stephen

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