Life and Major Works of Élisée Reclus
Élisée Reclus: Fast Facts
Date of birth: March 15, 1830
Place of birth: Saint-Foy-la-Grande, Gironde, France
Died: July 4, 1905; Torhout, Belgium
Education: University of Berlin
Notable works: “Nouvelle géographie universelle” (New Universal Geography), “Le Révolté” and “La Révolte”
Élisée Reclus (1830-1905) was a French geographer, writer, and anarchist. He is known for his pioneering work in the field of geography and for his radical political ideas.
Reclus was born in Sainte-Foy-la-Grande, France, and studied at a Protestant college in southern France before enrolling at the University of Berlin. He later traveled extensively throughout Europe and the Americas, studying geography and exploring the natural world.
He became a prolific writer, producing a number of influential books and articles on geography, including the multivolume work “Nouvelle géographie universelle” (New Universal Geography) and “La Terre: Description des phénomènes de la vie du globe” (Earth: Description of the Phenomena of Life on the Globe).
Élisée Reclus became a member of the First International (an organization of socialist and labor parties) and later the Anti-authoritarian International (an anarchist organization).
Reclus was also a committed anarchist, and his political beliefs informed much of his work. He believed in the importance of social and economic equality, and advocated for a society based on cooperation and mutual aid rather than competition and hierarchy. He was a close associate of the anarchist thinker Peter Kropotkin, and the two men worked together on a number of projects.
Reclus was a vocal opponent of imperialism and colonialism, and spoke out against the brutal treatment of indigenous peoples by European powers. He also advocated for the preservation of the natural world and the importance of sustainable living. He criticized imperialism and colonialism, and spoke out against the brutal treatment of indigenous peoples.
Today, Élisée Reclus is remembered as a pioneering geographer and an important figure in the development of anarchist thought. His work continues to influence scholars and activists around the world.
Anti-Marriage and Naturism
He was a vocal member of the Anti-Marriage Movement that had grown among working-class French in the mid-to-late 1800s. This view of his is captured in his 1882 pamphlet titled “Unions Libres”. He and his two daughters subscribed to a kind of union known as “free unions” (union libre) which was devoid of civil or religious ceremonies.
Reclus advocated for naturism, stating how the human body was cleaner when nude than when wearing clothes. He also believed that skin developed better and healthier when it is exposed to light and air.
Support for the Paris Commune in 1871
He wrote a number of articles in support of the Paris Commune, a revolutionary government that took the reins of control in Paris from March 18 to May 28, 1871. For his political activism, he was exiled from France in 1872. He proceeded to settle in Switzerland, where he wrote a number of works, including Histoire d’une montagne. It was also in Switzerland that he wrote La Nouvelle Géographie universelle, la terre et les hommes. The work earned him the gold medal from the Paris Geographical Society in 1892.
Other interesting facts about Élisée Reclus and his works
He was born to a Protestant preacher. It’s said that he had thirteen siblings, including famous French geographer Onésime Reclus and French anarchist Élie Reclus.
During his time at the University of Berlin, he was taken under the wings of Carl Ritter (1779-1859), a German geographer who is widely considered one of the founders of modern geography.
In his early youth, he travelled a lot, visiting not just London but the U.S. and other places in Central and South America.
Reclus began his career as a geography teacher in a number of French schools and colleges.
He wrote for a number of anarchist publications, including “Le Révolté” and “La Révolte”.
He advocated for the study of human geography (the relationship between people and their environment) and the importance of understanding the natural world.
In 1894, he was made chair of comparative geography at the Free University of Brussels.
He was also a vegetarian, and often times advocated for the end of animal cruelty and meat-eating. Some modern animal rights activist and nature conservatist have drawn a bit of inspiration from him.
In 1892, he was honored with the Gold Medal from the Paris Geographical Society.
Another notable honor he received came in 1894, when he was awarded the Patron’s Medal of the Royal Geographical Society.
Élisée Reclus died on July 4, 1905 in Torhout, Belgium.
Some of the notable scholars Reclus influenced include Irish novelist and literary critic James Augustine Joyce, French novelist and travel writer Octave Mirbeau, and English naturalist and geographer Alfred Russel Wallace.