- Reflections on John Joseph Winberry’s LSU Years
John J. Winberry—the very best of the best. At Louisiana State University (LSU), John was indeed the most able of his graduate class (1967 to 1971). My time at LSU coincided with part of his tenure there; we were graduate student peers from 1968 to 1970. Those were exciting years in the LSU Geography and Anthropology program. My desk sat caddy-corner to John’s for the two years of our coexistence in a room filled with desks and bookshelves that defined the boundaries of our private spaces. John was unique in our graduate class in two fundamental respects. First, he was a native Louisianan, born and schooled in New Orleans, whereas nearly all other graduate students were from the north—yes, Yankees! At a time during which the nation’s attentions were focused upon turbulent civil rights struggles throughout the South, we Yankees (Maryland in my case) were more than a little uncomfortable living and studying in Baton Rouge. John with his gentle good manner and quirky sense of humor warmly welcomed us to his Louisiana, which we soon learned to be an absolutely fascinating and marvelous place.
A second way in which John was unique was that he was a National Defense Education Act Fellow. This grant program encouraged students and supported their progress from undergraduate degree to PhD while by-passing the Master’s program. It also allowed John to pursue graduate studies without serving in the near obligatory role of graduate teaching assistant. In addition to the NDEA grant support, John’s seven months of field research in Mexico was supported by a National Science Foundation grant and financial support from a LSU Dissertation Year Fellowship. With well-earned outside financial support, John was able to progress from a B.A. degree from LSU-New Orleans in 1967 to earning his doctoral degree from LSU-Baton Rouge in 1971, a span of four short years.
Even a cursory glance at John Winberry’s curriculum vita attests to the profound and lasting influence that the LSU Geography and Anthropology faculty had on his teaching, graduate advising, and research. Winberry’s undergraduate degree was in History, with a minor in Anthropology. Whereas seeds of geographic interest may have been sown during his undergraduate years, this predilection was nurtured and flourished under inspired tutelage of LSU’s faculty, particularly geographers Fred B. Kniffen and Robert C. West, and anthropologist [End Page 6] William G. Haag. John’s lifetime work bears the mark of their combined influence. His doctoral dissertation and a number of subsequent publications focused upon The Log House in Mexico: Distribution, Origin, and Dispersal and various aspects thereof. These early works reflect the combined and profound impact of those faculty members with whom he worked most directly.
In terms of influence, Fred Kniffen provided the foundation for studies pertaining to house types and other aspects of the cultural landscape, as well as the framework of regional geography. Bill Haag inculcated in John a firm grasp of the concept of culture and its relevance to the understanding of human groups, their material and non-material culture traits, as well as their origin, dispersal, and distribution. His dissertation, advised by Professor West, was a seminal study that exhibited West’s Latin American focus, his scrupulous attention to detail, and his insistence in the absolute necessity of original field work. These essential traits were earmarks of Winberry’s own distinguished teaching and research career. Even his publications on such seemingly exotic topics as elves and kudzu bear the mark of John’s LSU education which emphasized the fundamentals of geography, culture, and environment.
As a student, John seemed always to tower above his peers. He was a brilliant, articulate, meticulous, and hard-working student. Yet to his credit, in no way was he overbearing. He let his works speak for themselves. We only took one class together, Robert West’s infamous “Survey of Geographic Literature,” a course which West perfected over the years—as we all were certain—as a means by which to truly humble all graduate students. The worldwide survey of geography’s emphasis and...