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  • Benchmarking and Beyond:CLAG's Role in Evaluating Research Agendas, 1970–2020
  • Gregory Knapp


The Conference of Latin American Geography (CLAG; originally, Conference of Latin Americanist Geographers) began as an actual conference in 1970, convened to assess the current state of research themes on the region. The resulting proceedings were published as a Benchmark volume in 1971 (see Carmin, Martinson, & Lentnek, 1971). Many organizations have produced benchmark or inventory and prospect volumes to stimulate future research (James & Jones, 1954), but CLAG went further than most by starting with one and producing them on a regular basis.

After the end of that conference it was decided to create an organization by the same name, which went on to organize many additional meetings and publications that have continued through the present. The idea of benchmarking continued in decadal meetings in 1980 and 1990, resulting in special publications. A final effort took place in a publication in 2002 (Knapp, 2002), but after that interest in systematic evaluations waned, as the new Journal of Latin American Geography (JLAG) was published more frequently, covering diverse topics, sometimes in themed issues such as this one. What was accomplished by the Benchmark meetings and volumes? What were their strengths and weaknesses?

Critical research of academic and scientific organizations is important for evaluating organizational effectiveness and best practices, and also issues of inclusion and diversity. Organizations often do a good job of celebrating their successes but may not do so well at diagnosing problems (Lutz & Collins, 1993). CLAG has recently changed its name from Latin Americanist Geographers to Latin American Geography as one gesture to enhance inclusion. How does the trajectory of benchmarking relate to issues of diversity?

the first benchmark: challenges of diversity

As is well known, the idea for a conference on Latin America was discussed at a private meeting of fifteen geographers during the 1969 meeting of the Pan American Institute of Geography and History in Washington, D.C. The meeting was held at the Cosmos Club at the invitation of Preston James; participants were all from the United States, and included mostly U.S. faculty (including John Augelli, president of the Latin American Studies Association), but also geographers from the Organization of American States (Wolfram Drewes) and the State Department (Arthur Burt) (Martinson, 1996). Founded by John Wesley Powell [End Page 38] in 1878, the Cosmos Club was also where the National Geographic Society was founded. This members-only club became racially integrated in 1962 and open to women in 1988, due to public pressure. While CLAG itself never formally refused participation to women and minorities, or Latin Americans, their participation was similarly limited in its early years. This is something the organization needs to continue to recognize as it broadens its commitment to diversity.

The preface to the 1970 Benchmark volume (Carmin et al., 1971) provides a discussion of the context of the first conference. Originally the conference was to be small and restricted to a few North American participants, due to funding and timing concerns, as well as to the vision that the conference would be national and primarily for North American geographers. However, as funding was obtained (from the National Science Foundation [NSF] and the Social Science Research Council [SSRC]), interest expanded until it grew to 150 total participants, including fiftyone invited presenters and eight discussants. Planning meetings were held at Michigan State University (chaired by Barry Lentnek) in October 1969, and at Ohio State University in January 1970, and the first conference was held in Muncie, Indiana, funded by the NSF and SSRC with cochairmen Tom Martinson and Robert Carmin of Ball State University, from April 30 to May 3, 1970 (Martinson, 1996). At this point Martinson was not a board member, but would later join the board and become executive secretary from 1978 to 1992. Invited, funded observers from Latin America at the 1970 meeting included Pedro Pinchas Geiger (Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatistica, Brazil), Silvana Levi de López (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico), and Carlos Merida (Guatemala) (Carmin et al., 1971).

The final published volume—Volume 1 of the CLAG Publication Series—included forty articles, among them twelve on urban, spatial, and...


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