Two new abstracts sent to ICHG2018 and AAG2018

My latest plan is to send two abstracts to the 17th International Conference of Historical Geographers in Warsaw, July 15-20 and the Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting in New Orleans, April 10-14 in 2018. In the first case, the first abstract will hopefully be part of the following session:


Global Histories of Geography 19301990

Convenors: Ruth Craggs (King’s College London) and Hannah Neate (Manchester Metropolitan University)

Reflecting on the key centres associated with the emergence of geography as a spatial science in the 1960s Barnes (2002, 508) remarked: “Why are places in Africa not on there, or Asia, or Australasia?” thereby highlighting significant gaps in disciplinary histories and accounts of geography’s development in the second half of the twentieth century. By way of response, this session aims to highlight work into the ‘global’ histories of geography in the period 1930-1990, a period marked by geopolitical transitions including WWII, decolonization and the end of the Cold War.  We are looking to make links with scholars who are carrying out research on the history and practice of geography, specifically in submissions that explore scholarly communities of geographers whose contribution to the development of geography in the twentieth century often goes unrecognised in the ‘canon’ of geographical research.

Possible themes for papers:

  • Papers focusing on geographers from the global South, Indigenous geographers in settler states, Asian geographies and geographers, geographers from the former Eastern Block
  • Biographies of individuals or groupings of geographers
  • Accounts that highlight how geography was being pursued in other ‘centres’
  • The role and development of national and international disciplinary associations and networks
  • Geographical knowledge, expertise and intersections with decolonization and the end of the Cold War


Historical geographies of the “quantitative revolution”: Towards a transnational history of central place theory

Geography’s “quantitative revolution” has been a true textbook chronicle in the discipline’s canonical history. However, historical research has only recently seriously begun to unravel the geographical contexts of its emergence, which is complicated by the simplified narratives that emerged in critical revisionism from the 1970s. This paper offers an interpretative framework from the perspective of the historical geographies of scientific knowledge (HGSK), by focusing on Christaller’s central place theory (CPT) to deconstruct the common Anglo-American narrative, arguing that it has concealed other contexts in the “Second” and “Third” worlds. Early applications (especially in Germany, Poland, Netherlands, Israel) and the wider European discourse of “central places” call for a reevaluation of the canonized narratives of CPT. The globalization of CPT is interpreted through the rising American hegemony in the early Cold War era, which led to the Americanization of German location theories in modernization theory discourse. Networks behind the American, British and Canadian centres show the importance of European locations, such as the Swedish hub in Lund, and the “planning laboratories” of Asian, South American and African contexts after decolonization. Soviet and Eastern Bloc reformism and the institutionalization of regional planning from the late 1950s summoned CPT in the service of centralized state planning, and ignited debates of adaptability between “socialist” and “capitalist” contexts. By reflecting on some of these cases, this paper argues for a transnational history of CPT by readdressing issues of narrativity and historical periodization, and shows the need for provincializing and decolonizing dominant Anglo-American geographical knowledge production.


“The Ghana job”: Opening semiperipheral Hungary to the decolonized developing world

Based on interviews, archival and media sources, this paper looks at how post-WWII socialist Hungary developed foreign economic relations with decolonized countries, by focusing on the emergence of Hungarian development and area studies and development advocacy expertise towards developing countries. The paper’s case study is the Centre for Afro-Asian Research (CAAR) founded at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1963 – from 1973 the Institute for World Economy (IWE) – parallel to similar institutions founded in the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc states. CAAR was established as a government think tank by József Bognár, a close friend to Prime Minister János Kádár and perhaps one of the most important figures in socialist era Hungarian reform economics and foreign policy-making. The institute rose as a consequence of the “Ghana job”: Hungarian economists led by Bognár developed the First Seven-Year Plan of Ghana in 1962. The associates of CAAR and IWE promoted export-oriented growth against import-substitution industrialization and summoned geographical development concepts such as “poorly developed countries”, “dependency”, “semiperiphery”, “open economies”, or “small countries” as alternatives to the Cold War categories of “capitalist” and “socialist” world systems. This shift in geographical knowledge production is connected to the geopolitical contexts of the Sino-Soviet split, the Khrushchevian “opening up” of foreign relations, the emergence of the “Third World”, and also the 1956 revolution in the case of Hungary. The role of Ghana and the Eastern Bloc is connected to the 1960s wave of transnational development consultancy and strategies of “socialist globalization”.


Richard Hartshorne’s racism

In my research, I’ve done some investigation on the debates of American geography between the 1920s and 1950s. Today, I’ve just encountered an incredible quote from the eminent American geographer, Richard Hartshorne, author of a once almost biblical text on the history of geography, The Nature of Geography (1939), and who was active during the noted period. This is the guy in his authentic environment and his tome.

According to textbook narratives and all academic pieces on him to date, as a political geographer he was generally troubled by environmental determinists and eugenicists of the time, and I previously thought of him as a sort of liberal, who was against racial prejudice and the tenets of physical anthropology. As the story goes, many geographers such as Hartshorne became increasingly disillusioned by these insidious thoughts, the abandonment of which was further encouraged by the growing mainstream American antipathy for Nazism and Fascism in Europe in the mouth of WWII. This is the American narrative.

Now, here’s the quote from the first page of the 1938 article in question:

“However, in place of this problem of national minorities the United States has more permanent problems of racial minorities – problems in a form essentially unknown in Europe. The differences between French and English, Germans and Poles, or even Swedes and Finns, Rumanians and Magyars are essentially cultural, not biological. Germans have become French and Poles have become Germans in two generations. So far as appearance is concerned, the barber and the tailor can make the change in a day. But no amount of education can change into white Americans the descendants of the negroes who arrived in Virginia before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, just as no beauty shop can make a fullblood negro look like a white person.” (p. 276)

Hartshorne’s racial definitions here are purely statistical, and he does not provide any analytical arguments for the distribution of races, only a descriptive account on the data and some basic geographical factors connected to regional divisions in labour and industry. He uses the definitions and data of the United States Bureau of the Census, 1930. As he explains:

“We shall not enter into the argument regarding what is meant by “race.” Our interest is in social and political situations that arise from obvious biological differences, and we can therefore accept the ordinary interpretation of racial terms as used in this country. In the United States apparently the only definition of a negro is one who is known to be a negro; i.e. one who, either because of obvious physical characteristics, chiefly color, or because of known origin, is recognized as having any degree of negro ancestry, regardless of how much white ancestry he may also have.” (p. 277)

The same is the case with the other races identified, the Mexicans, Indians and “Orientals”. For example, Mexicans are said to be Indians speaking Spanish, who could be “recognized on sight”. The only thing he argues against concerning some very racist ideas is climatic determinism in the “negro case”:

“But it is clear from the map that this is not a direct reflection of climate, as some foreign observers have supposed. The large number of negroes in Northern cities cannot be dismissed as exceptions; nor can the absence of negroes in many Southern districts be explained climatically.” (p. 277)

Why is this whole stuff flabbergastingly interesting? Well… as previously noted, my humble impression is that

there is still almost complete silence on the racial ideas of American geographers who were NOT commemorated as well-known eugenicists or environmental determinists of the time.

You can read about the racisms of Ellsworth Huntington, Griffith Taylor, or maybe the more moderate Ellen Churchill Semple. Neil Smith has written on Isiah Bowma416QJHWKYYL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_n’s racism in his The American Empire (2004), but I could find only some littered personal accounts on the racism of other important geographers, like Carl Ortwin Sauer (this calls for another post). There aren’t even traces of reflection on these issues in any of the most prominent accounts on the history of American geography, like in David Livingstone’s The Geographical Tradition (1992), Ron J. Johnston’s (and James D. Sidaway’s) Geography and Geographers (2015), Richard Peet’s Modern Geographical Thought (1998), Geoffrey J. Martin’s American Geography and Geographers (2015) or his All Possible Worlds (2005), just to name a few, and nor in Reflections on Richard Hartshorne’s Nature of Geography (1989).

In sum, it seems to me that the reevaluation of the racial thought of a wider field of American geographers is yet to be done in light of contemporary racial discourses and political thought.

By the way, here are the maps, just for fun.

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Hartshorne, Richard (1938): Racial Maps of the United States. Geographical Review, 28(2) p. 276-288.