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  • President’s Plenary Session: Bringing Geography to the Public Through BooksSession held Friday, October 21, at Phoenix, Arizona
  • James Allen

Session held Friday, October 21, at Phoenix, Arizona

When I was a graduate student in the 1960s, I was struck by the absence of geographers writing books for the public. I found so many aspects of the world fascinating, and I thought geographers' research was interesting. But professional geographers seemed to be writing only for their fellow geographers, and their analyses and interpretations of regions, places, economies, and landscapes were buried in academic geography journals. I do remember an exception—a book that I read with admiration, a book that demonstrated how a geographer could create an idea, study it closely, and present it in a way that captivated Americans. That was the book Megalopolis: The Urbanized Northeastern Seaboard of the United States (1961), by Jean Gottmann, a French geographer who had been a visiting professor in the United States. Of course, that book was the one that popularized the term "megalopolis" that remains so useful today, the term for the massive metropolitan areas that result when the suburbs of cities expand and coalesce.

Since the 1960s, growing numbers of geographers have written books aimed at both scholarly and public audiences. Two of the best of these, Southwest: Three Peoples in Geographical Change, 1600—1970 (1971) and Imperial Texas: An Interpretive Essay in Cultural Geography (1969), are regional interpretations written by my mentor at Syracuse University, Donald Meinig. Many more books by geographers have now been written partly for public audiences, and that has been a very good trend for geography.

Because I still believe that we geographers have interesting and important things to say to non-academic audiences, I convened this Plenary Session to stimulate your thinking about the writing [End Page 105] of such books. I have asked three of our country's best known and distinguished geographers to speak about their recent books that have appeal beyond the scholarly world of geographers. Our three speakers are William Clark of UCLA, Larry Ford of San Diego State University, and Susan Hardwick of the University of Oregon. I have asked them to talk not so much about the content of their books as about the process of writing them, including the frustrations and satisfactions of writing such books, compared to the usual academic publications. Incidentally, I don't recommend that young professors begin such writing before they have tenure. However, for "mature" geographers, near the middle or end of their careers, writing these books can be an especially rewarding experience.

A New Zealander by origin, William Clark received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois. He has been a population and urban geographer at UCLA for many years. His research has focused on internal change, housing, and mobility in United States cities and the role of ethnic and racial preferences in maintaining levels of segregation. He has received numerous awards, including a Guggenheim fellowship and election to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences. Bill also received the interdisciplinary Decade of Behavior Research Award, which recognizes research that has made an impact on policy or a contribution to solving social problems. Bill's two most recent books deal with immigrants. The first, titled The California Cauldron: Immigration and the Fortunes of Local Communities (1998), investigates the impact of immigrants in many spheres of life in California. The second, Immigrants and the American Dream: Remaking the Middle Class (2003), analyzes a wide range of data to determine the extent to which recent immigrants to the United States have been able to achieve a middle-class status.

Larry Ford received his early degrees from Ohio State University and his Ph.D. from the University of Oregon. For many years he has been Professor of Geography at San Diego State University. As a geographer he has worked closely with the City of San Diego on aspects of planning, was a Senior Fulbright Lecturer in Indonesia, and received the Distinguished Teaching Award from the National Council for Geographic Education. He has long been fascinated with cities, their architecture, and their landscapes and gets many of his creative ideas from walking around cities...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1551-3211
Print ISSN
0066-9628
Pages
pp. 105-107
Launched on MUSE
2006-07-05
Open Access
No
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