The Venezuelan Development Corporation, through its public relations department, has been sponsoring and publishing a series of state “geographies” of Venezuela. I use quotation marks because these are more like gazetteers than the traditional regional geographies of the French, German, or British schools. The title of each volume, in fact, is “Geographical Aspects.”
It is just this gazetteer-like quality which detracts from the utility of these studies. Only rarely does the reader find any true synthesis of the many elements of local geography to give us an appreciation of what the place is really like. We cannot criticize Vila for hewing to state boundaries, but this limitation makes it difficult for the reader to determine whether similar conditions prevail in an adjoining state or to know something of the geography of a larger region which contains several quite similar states.
Each monograph is rigidly structured in a highly organized and somewhat pedestrian way. There are five major sections: 1) Generalities, including area and boundaries, 2) Physiography, 3) Biogeography, 4) Human Aspects, and 5) Economic Aspects. The proportion of space devoted to each topic is about 5%, 15%, 45%, 10%, and 25% respectively. In each subsection material is presented in rather typical gazetteer form, a short introduction, followed by a listing of items, species, and production figures. Early history is often emphasized, and sixteenth- and seventeenth-century sources are quoted at length.
Black and white maps are provided for many topics, especially those dealing with statistical material. Unfortunately the only location map of the entire state (the “place name” map) is printed on the cover of the book and nowhere else. Equally regrettable is the lack of physical maps showing natural vegetation, areal geology, or population distribution. Each map is printed on the reverse side of a fold-out photograph. After reading the climate section in the volume on Aragua (pp. 43-47), the reader later discovers a temperature map on p. 145 and a precipitation map on p. 209! Each volume generally has some eight to ten pages of photographs which are useful and pertinent but to which little or no reference is given in the text.
If the reader is interested in basic data about a particular Venezuelan state, some of it of recent date, these will indeed be useful reference sources, and in Latin America such local data are often very hard to find. On the other hand, if the reader wants a meaningful insight into the physical and cultural geography of that state, discussion of relationships among geographical factors, or interpretations of data, he will be disappointed. These are rather arid, colorless, and uninspired geographical works.