Volume XXII, Number 3, November 2002

Geographer Questioned at Pearly Gates

By Jerry Dobson, President, The American Geographical Society

A lifetime of personal experience has conditioned me to expect this scene when, at last, my time comes to face those Pearly Gates:
St. Peter says, “So, you’re a geologist.”
“Uh, no Sir, that’s ‘geographer.’ I’m a geographer.”
He flushes. “Well, it’s an easy mistake to make. Not much difference is there?”
Not wanting to cause further embarrassment at this exceedingly inopportune moment, I say in my most conciliatory way, “Right, Sir. They do have four letters in common, and three of them are right up front. Scores of universities. . .even the American Association for the Advancement of Science. . .have made the same mistake. But, clearly I’m a geographer.”
“Ah, a mapmaker. Now there’s a noble profession. Why, when I was a boy, I used to. . .”
“Pardon me, Sir, but you’re thinking of ‘cartographer.’ I’m a geographer. We’ve been around for 2,500 years or so. Surely, you’ve met Strabo, Ptolemy, Herodotus. . .”
“Before my time, but I’ve heard of them. Several Ptolemys, in fact. . .pharaohs, I believe. . .but they didn’t make it in. And, oh yes, later there was an astronomer. . .same name. . .not a pharoah.”
“Well, yes, an astronomer but also an accomplished mathematical cartographer and geographer. He practically invented latitude and longitude,” I say.
“But this Herodotus chap. . .Father of History, wasn’t he?”
“His works are called The Histories, but back then ‘history’ just meant an investigation of any sort, and his investigations most certainly were geographical. History, as we know it today, wasn’t invented until hundreds of years later. Make no mistake. Ptolemy, Herodotus, and I are geographers!”
“Right. . .right. So where did you teach?”
“I taught many years at the University of Kansas, but don’t assume all geographers are teachers. In fact, I myself worked at Oak Ridge National Laboratory for 26 years before moving to academia.”
“What on Earth might a geographer do at a national laboratory?”
“Oh, facility siting, transportation management, logistics, environmental analysis, GIS. . .”
“GIS! What’s that?”
“That’s the computerized form of geography. It’s the hottest thing on Earth. I’m surprised you haven’t heard of it.”
He flushes again, and I realize I’ve gone too far. He stares down the never-ending line behind me. “Anybody back there heard of something called GIS?”
An eager plaintiff shouts back, “It’s a little gizmo that collects satellite signals and tells you exactly where you are.”
Quickly, another one shouts, “You Doofus, that’s GPS. GIS is a computer map.” His attitude does not serve him well, and he drops (literally) out of line.
Yet another one calls more humbly, “It stands for ‘graphic information system.’ We use them all the time where I work. . .er, worked.”
“No, it’s a geographic information system,” I say, “and it’s lots more than a computer map. It handles attributes, geometry, topology. . .”
“Ah, topology,” St. Peter says. “Why didn’t you say so? Hills and valleys I understand.”
“No, Sir. You’re thinking of topography. Topology is how we represent spatial relationships. Today, many disciplines are working together to develop new ontologies of . . .”
“Ontologies? Got that from biology, didn’t you? ‘Ontology recapitulates something or other,’ as I recall.”
“No, Sir. You’re thinking of ontogeny, biologists used to say ‘ontogeny recapitulates philogeny.’”
“Enough, enough,” he whines. “What’s it good for anyway, this GIS?”
“All the things I mentioned earlier plus lots more. I’ve used it myself to study lake acidification, human evolution. . .” He frowns, and I quickly move on, “continental drift. . .”
“See, now that’s geology,” he says.
“No, Sir. Even geologists call that field paleogeography. As a matter of fact, continental drift was first proposed by the geographer Ortellius in 1596, based on the fit of coasts between Africa and South America, and geologists didn’t catch on for another 366 years.”
“I noticed it myself sometime around 800,” St. Peter says, “but I didn’t say anything.” Then, he whispers, “They actually fit better if you rotate South America 90 degrees. . .and there are some other fits around the world that you just wouldn’t believe.” Recovering, he adds, “Great view from up here, of course, but it must have been difficult for your Ortellius with nothing more than crude, large-scale maps.”
“Actually we call them small-scale maps when they show the whole globe,” I say. Again St. Peter flares, and I try to make amends, “But lots of otherwise intelligent mortals call them large scale. I’ve witnessed whole conversations proceed from beginning to end with people using the terms in opposite ways , and yet never knowing. It’s so confusing, I’ve stopped using the terms myself.”
“Anyway, so we gave you satellites, and now you can map land use to your heart’s content from hundreds of miles up this way.”
“You mean land cover,” I say. “Land cover is physical, tangible, and visible even from satellites. Land use is economic and cultural. Sometimes we can infer use from cover, but not always. Often the only way is to knock on doors and ask people how they use their land.”
“Back to the business at hand. Have you done anything important?” he asks. “I’ve got to put something down.”
I ponder a moment. “I was president of the American Geographical Society.”
“Wow!” he says. “Nice magazine. Great videos. Your own TV channel. Now, movies. Impressive.”
“You’re thinking of the National Geographic Society,” I say, “We’re older and more. . .”
“Enough chitchat,” he says. “I’m afraid you geographers just don’t fit in up here. It’s a peaceable place, and you’re so contrary.”
“We’ll get along,” I say. “We spend our lives accommodating folks who don’t understand us any better than you do. Still, we aren’t much appreciated by the so-called “hard” sciences. Is that going to be a problem?”
“Not really,” he says, “we don’t have all that many of them. . .But we do have engineers.” He turns to the courtyard behind him. “Engineers!” he calls, and wings flutter all around.
I cannot hide my shock.
“Oh, yes.” He says, “Quite a few make it.” Then in a lower voice, “Simple lot, but they’re good with numbers. We use them for counting sparrows and tallying things. . .and some of them are good with a harp.”
“We’re good with engineers,” I say timidly.
“Still,” he insists, “it would help if you had some redeeming quality.”
I search the deepest, darkest recesses of my soul. “I was a chemistry major my first two quarters of college,” I admit.
“Enter,” he says.
I dash inside, pretending not to hear as he returns to his ledger and mutters, “Now, how is it you spell ‘spatial’?”
I quickly mingle, but soon I am recognized by an angel in the crowd. Wings akimbo, he stares at me and says, “Say, aren’t you that database guy?”

(Our thanks to GeoWorld, where an earlier version of this article appeared: www.geoplace.com


Please send us your e-mail address so that we may add it to our database. We are hoping to use them in the near future to alert Fellows and subscribers when their subscriptions are up for renewal and, not incidentally, saving the Society a bundle on postage fees. Email: AGS@amergeog.org.

Lepawsky Wins McColl Fellowship

By Mary Lynne Bird

The McColl Family Fellowship for 2003 has been won by Josh Lepawsky, a PhD candidate in the Department of Geography at the University of Kentucky.

The fellowship will cover the cost of air travel to and from Malaysia. Lepawsky will look at the role of information technology (IT) and the new high technology urban region being built south of Kuala Lumpur as part of the efforts of the Malaysian state to place the country “at the forefront of the so-called “Information Age”, while at the same time valorizing the country’s ‘Islamic’ and ‘Asian’ values.” Lepawsky writes further, “By providing a wide spectrum of IT infrastructure, including broadband and wireless Internet access for all business and households located in the [high technology region], the Malaysian government intends to create its vision of an ideal nation and citizenry that can take advantage of the so-called ‘Information Age’.” The goal is “the reimagination of Malasia and Malaysians as a nation and people.”

Lepawsky, who earned his undergraduate degree in geography at the University of British Columbia and his maser’s degree in geography at Queens University, has traveled extensively in Malaysia and returns to make the most of scholarly contacts he made in a three-month stay there in 2001-2002. The terms of his award include the writing of an article suitable for publication in FOCUS on Geography based on the work the fellowship enables him to do in Malaysia.

Previous winners of the McColl Family Fellowship have included Joseph J. Hobbs of the University of Missouri-Columbia for work in Madagascar, Kendra McSweeney now of Ohio State University for work in Honduras, and Roger Balm of Rutgers University for work in Peru.

The fellowship award was made by the AGS Council based on the recommendation of a selection committee drawn from the Council. The committee was chaired by Jerome E. Dobson of the University of Kansas and included William E. Derrenbacher of ESRI, William P. Doyle of Texaco, Chris Duncan of Delta Airlines, John Kelmelis of the U.S. Geological Survey, Alexander B. Murphy of the University of Oregon, Allan Shapiro, an independent architect, and Joseph S. Wood of the University of Southern Maine.

The McColl Family Fellowship program is supported by contributions from Dr. and Mrs. Robert W. McColl.


Please use the following e-mail address to contact the Geographical Review editorial team of Douglas Johnson and Viola Haarmann: GeogReview@clarku.edu.


Geographical Review


Great for readers with a special interest in the topic, these issues are also particularly apt as a resource for classroom use. Special prices available. Please contact the Society at 212-422-5456 or email:AGS@amergeog.org.


The American Geographical Society is in the first stages of compiling a “Best Of” anthology from the Geographical Review. We are curious to know from our readers which article had the greatest impact on them. In particular, we would like to know about those unsung pieces that left a lasting impression, perhaps even changed the course of a lifetime.


By Peter Lewis

THE FOUNDING FISH is a blue-chip tour d'horizon of the American shad from John McPhee, maestro of the extended essay if not the fly rod. Suitably, and to the readers' good fortune, there isn't a dry patch in this story of a fish and its homewaters. Owlish, reflective, full of sustaining information you had no idea you wanted---or came to want---to know, but also warm and full of McPhee, for he is a shad fisherman, with rod and dart and fly, of longstanding. Still, he likes to have his Virgils along for the exploration---fish biologists and behaviorists, commercial fishermen, fishing friends and acquaintances who were born with the touch, shad and river historians---for they feed him all the colloidal material that glues the story---episodes of McPhee's encounters with the fish--- together. Readers tending toward hard science will be pleased with the clear-minded ichthyological material, while those whose slant is more in the direction of humanities will graze enjoyably on the historical and anecdotal parts. In one approach, we get to climb right into the fish's skin, in the other we get to climb into McPhee, which is a surprise and a pleasure in a writer known more for his shadowy presence than stepping into the spotlight of his books. The subject made this inevitable, since there isn't a dedicated fisherman without dozens of stories of experiences on the water. The cargo of stories here---many bright with humor; there is a chapter devoted to losing fish---is weighty enough to have required many days on many rivers (how did he find time to write all those other books?), yet McPhee's ability to convey the wonder of it all is unfailing and inviting: You are allowed to discover all the information, partake in all the anecdotes, right by his side. "I'm a shad fisherman," says McPhee. True, but also a talented portraitist of the fish, a Gilbert Stuart of the species, and a William Hogarth, too, sticking an elbow into the ribs of his obsession.

A rangy, socially and politically astute, switchblade-wicked collection of essays, from depictions of Los Angeles in film noir to a Paiute prophet's neo-catastrophic epistemology, comes packaged as DEAD CITIES, by Mike Davis. September 11th might have dramatically marked the end of American exceptionalism, but the age of anxiety was already upon us, writes Davis, and "it is already clear that the advent of 'catastrophic terrorism' in tandem with protracted recession will produce major mutations in the American city." Fear and catastrophe run through this assembly of essays like fault lines, as seen in the portraits of hell from national and international ecocide sites; Las Vegas, whose apocalyptic urbanism is cooed over by postmodernist philosophers as "virtuality"; the pharaonic and socially irresponsible redevelopment strategy of downtown Los Angeles. Like a pair of zoom binoculars, Davis can screw close to the tortured Compton, a neighborhood about to slip its own tectonic disk, or pull back, way back, to comparative planetology and "an existential Earth shaped by the creative energies of its catastrophes." Pushy and polymathic, Davis has earned the right call LA's subway "an aphrodisiac to attract real estate investment to the city's three largest redevelopment projects," or that the South Central riot "was as much about empty bellies and broken hearts as it was about police batons," because he has made the connections, a web of such intricacy---racism, vested interests, ecology, social neglect, corruption, real estate scams, pork-barrel politics, urban dereliction---that it deserves a Tiffany setting. There are moments when readers will wish that Davis cut to the chase, when the writing feels too much like action painting swooning in its own gestures; there are more moments of salutary humor, as when cold warriors in San Diego managed to find "Kremlin-endorsed hotrodders and Maoist high school sex clubs" under every grain of beach sand. All in all, Davis is a smart and tough, with one eye out for the underdog and the other surveying the sickness of the political and corporate landscape.

Bill and Merri Carters' LATITUDE is a scholarly story that follows the road to understanding latitudinal variation and the nailing down of its law, by an actuary at a life insurance company, in 1891. All sorts of problems vexed 19th-century astronomers and among the most vexing was the unpredictable scatter of their celestial observations, unexplained problems with the angle of aberration and parallax. Although variation in latitude---that is, the mysterious movement of a place relative to the fixed line of latitude---had been suggested as the culprit for some time, it was not until Seth Chandler, an American amateur astronomer working in the life insurance industry, devised his own tools of measurement, and then Simon Newcomb reconciled the readings with dynamic theory, that the variation was understood. The reasons for the variation came to be known as the Chandler Wobble, after the movement of the Earth's pole, but that does not come close to explaining the phenomenon, and the Carters suffer no fools in their story. The book sits in that funny land between popular study and an essay intended only for the initiate, because the Carters have decided not to eschew the language of science: "the centrifugal force acting on any point in a rotating body increases linearly with the distance from the axis of rotation, and the square of the angular velocity." Despite the slices of historical narrative and biographical material, the book is destined for an enlightened amateur audience, comfortable with the language. Then again, there are also windows of opportunity for the non-specialist to become acquainted with fascinating physical properties of Earth, including the revolution of the Earth's pole, fluidity, elasticity, centrifugal force, and periodicity, which in turn may offer readers a glimmer as to why their personal GPS devices may need minute recalibrations every so often. Wading through the physics of it all, the Carters manage to convey a sense of the Earth's dynamic nature---the swiftness of its transformations---and the impermanence of all things measured.

French historian Elisabeth Crouzet-Pavan provides a formidable reading of Venetian history---how the Venetians imagined their artistic, architectural, commercial, and political uniqueness---in VENICE TRIUMPHANT. Although Crouzet-Pavan divides her study of Venice into distinct spheres---the lagoon and then the greater sea world, the relations with terra firma Italy, the evolution of the state, everyday life---in each chapter these elements operate on planes of convergence, a synchronicity of economic factors, social realities, cultural phenomena, and political expressions, necessities and contingencies, symbols and specific cartographies. To say that Crouzet-Pavan has a grasp of the literature, from the oldest parchments to contemporary writings, is to wildly understate the situation, and she is always happy to poke a whole in a thesis, such as Venice turning its back on the mainland. She explores the city’s relationship to its site, both as trope and as vehicle to commercial and political relationships, how it grew as an urban organism through an arduous process of construction and how it helped shape the networks and customary relations of Venetian life. She traces the early crystallization of political forms and institutions, its interventionist character and the harmonious activities of powerful families, through the paradigmatic shifts in government and the surprising diversity of players within its exclusiveness. Elegantly, Crouzet-Pavan animates her story with the acts, words, and movements of Venetians, giving equal measure to stone, brick, and tile, set within “a space in which men and women, acting in accordance with set rhythms, well-established codes, and accepted signs, fabricated history day by day, lived, produced, came together, and expressed their identities in specific practices and customs.” (138) Crouzet-Pavan constantly shuffles the big picture with the human scale: international relations are critical, as is the role of money lending and the production of salt, so too confraternities, the parish bell tower, the candlestickmaker, the fencing teacher, the rag seller. Crouzet-Pavan is an impressive conductor, making sprightly and complex music out of the myriad strains that shape Venice.

Barbara Freese manages in this history of COAL to buff that glamour-free substance until it shines like its distant cousin the diamond. Coal's potential heat-giving qualities were not what attracted people to it in the first place, explains Freese; rather, jet---a type of hard, shiny coal---was prized for its use in ornamentation. But it was not long before coal became known as the genie bearing the gift of warmth and power, with all kinds of strings attached. Freese concentrates her story on the evolution of coal use in Great Britain, the United States, and China. It was used in the area of Wales during the Bronze Age to cremate the dead and by Stone Age people in what is now China as jewelry, but its world-changing properties were not tapped until later, when it provided heat to warm the hearth and drive the engine of industry. Freese's writing is a bit like coal---smooth and glinting, compact but not to the point that it doesn't burn with a steady warmth---though with none of the downsides, for coal also contributed its fair share to miserable air quality, black lung disease, scarred landscapes, and outrageous working conditions, abetted by "social and economic policies that tolerated and exacerbated the suffering" that would give rise to both the Molly Maguires and the Pinkerton Agency, as well as a whole distinct class of "social outcasts who faced astonishing dangers in providing an increasingly vital commodity." Freese gives ample space to coal's polluting nature---as Assistant Attorney General of Minnesota, she became involved in investigating the effects coal burning had both within and outside the state---and the consequences it wrecked on London and continues to heap on China, as well as acid rain, smog, disease, global warming, and how it might operate upon natural climatic jolts. But she also keeps the story lively with a wealth of fascinating coal-related oddments. It's dirty, it's cheap, and like many such, its past---in the right hands, as Freese's surely are---makes an intriguing, cautionary tale.

FARLEY is James King’s highly readable biography of a work---a piece of work---in progress: Farley Mowat---scourge of all ratty human behavior on the Earth, prolific writer, sheer presence---still very much alive and kicking at 82, measured and found impressive. Mowat, who has enjoyed wide popularity in the United States---with the exception of the State Department, who considered him undesirable and forbade him entry in 1984---as well as everywhere else, is given a very workmanlike profile by King, who avoids amateur psychologizing---which in Mowat’s case could have been an unhappy field day---while charting Mowat’s ever-sticky relationship with his father, yet mostly hews to the facts as remembered by Mowat, his various literary associates, his family, and copious letters and journals all made available to King. The writer’s more celebrated acts---running naked across the snowy wastes, howling at the moon, “at readings and parties, he was often dressed in a kilt and sometimes he would ostentatiously remove his underpants and throw them away”---are situated within the context of his development as a writer and a voice for environmental sanity and the rights of the native populations of the north country. It is not difficult for King to focus on Mowat’s darker, tentative side, his solitariness and urge to wander; he was devastated by what he saw during WWII, “any belief he had possessed in moral or ethical goodness in human existence had been shattered,” while what he had witnessed of the degradation of the Inuit and Ihalmiut and their environments remains a steady, forceful subject of this work. King provides the reader with introductions to most of Mowat’s books, a look at the vibrant writer-editor relationship between Mowat and Peter Davison, and a good summary of Mowat’s feelings when it comes to the human race: “we, the most successful of all animals, are almost the most stupid.” Readers are left wondering exactly what is lower still on that particular food chain.

In THE SIEGE OF SHANGRI-LA, remote-traveler Michael McRae delivers a top-drawer history of recent forays into the metaphysical, controversial, and uncompromisingly wild Tsangpo Gorge of Tibet. When the Tsangpo River drops off the Tibetan Plateau, it enters a landscape so forbidding---a chaos of high sharp peaks and sheer valleys---it might as well have fallen off the face of the Earth. As such, it has quite a reputation as a visionary landscape, where inner and outer landscapes meld, a power place, with hidden, even paradisiacal elements. To enter such a land is to slip into allegory, writes McRae, who starts his keen-witted account of Western machinations in the Tsangpo River valley with the 19th-century explorers and collectors who had their eyes peeled for topography, orchids and red pandas and Tibetan tigers, and only incidentally on ethnography, but they never made it to the inner gorge, the deepest 10 miles of canyon where a colossal waterfall was rumored to account for the great drop in the river's elevation. This piece of the fanciful doesn't hold a candle to the mythological and cosmological significance of the gorge to the Tantric Buddhists, some of whose ideals and goals are "symbolized by features of the physical landscape," but only to those who have flushed their karmic residue to access "a clear view of the mystical geography." McRae does a gratifying job of explaining Tantric practice and how it related to the travels through the region in the late-20th century by Ian Baker and Hamid Sardar---a couple of karma-fueled geographers by way of Oxford and Harvard---though spirituality had little to do with subsequent expeditions chronicled by McRae, which ranged from nasty, embarrassing beard-pulling between free-booting adventurers and National Geographic- sanctioned honchos to a cheesy "siege-style, media-driven assault." It's always a distinct pleasure when a McRae article or book appears. He doesn't churn them out bimonthly, but gives his hard travel to distant places a chance to mull and mold after he returns, until it is properly digested and ready for the storytelling.

Sarah Murgatroyd shimmeringly reconstructs the 1860 Victorian Exploring Expedition, which sought to traverse Australia south to north, a fiasco from the start that needed no clairvoyance to know it would end in disaster, in THE DIG TREE. It was the middle of the 19th century and the age of exploration was coming to a close, but there remained great swaths of land outside the ken of Europeans. One of those unknown regions was interior Australia. The Royal Society deemed it was time to finance an expedition through the uncharted landscape. But Murgatroyd also notes that the expedition, while allowing for feints toward the heroism of exploration and the desire for scientific knowledge of the area, may have been primarily motivated by economic considerations: control of the future telegraph cable and the possibility of overland trade with Southeast Asia. The leader of the expedition was Robert Burke, a bit of a loose cannon with a reputation for spending "hours lying in his outdoor bathtub, wearing nothing but his police helmet, reading a book, and cursing the mosquitoes." Without any background in exploration, with little regard for the scientists among his company and less for the aborigines he met en route ("he had come to conquer, not to learn"), and an overburden of fruitless supplies---he had packed a goodly supply of dandruff brushes, for instance---Burke made numerous logistical blunders in his drive to secure his patron's wishes, ultimately finding himself with three men pushing his way to the north coast, "a continuous mass of mangroves, mosquitoes, mud, and mosquitoes." Burke made the coast, but he wouldn't make it back, nor would many of his men. Little of practical nature was made of his discoveries, yet he is remembered in Australia as a hero. By Murgatroyd's lights, he was lucky to make it as far as he did until, inevitably, his luck wore out. A sorry, if Herculean, chapter in Australian history, venal and murderously inept, told by Murgatroyd with verve and a gathering sense of doom.

Adam Nicolson has written a lovely biography of a place, SEA ROOM: Set in a Viking sea, the Shiants are a threesome of islands of grass, wind, birds, a long human presence, and Nicolson’s sometimes home. When he was 21, Nicolson's father gave him the Shiants, in the Hebrides, which he had purchased years before. The fact of ownership doesn't sit comfortably with Nicolson---though he might lay claim to descent from the chiefs of Lewis---but he won't part with the islands, for his love of them is keen and deep. Nor will he fence them off, rather choosing to make them available to those drawn to them. Matters of private property aside, this work is his gift to the islands, a rangy exploration of their human past, a delineation of their prospect, an overview of their natural history. Nicolson has listened hard to the men who have experience with the Shiants, he has become a familiar with the campions and flag iris, the puffins and shearwaters, the seeps where fresh water is gathered. He has plumbed the possible histories behind reliquaries of the islands---a Norse house? a hermit's retreat? He is as hungry to know about the glories of a workaday boat he has made for the local waters, fit for the grinning teeth of the breaking seas, as he is to hear any of the tales, tall or true, that speak of the islands' past. His writing is clear---as sharp, educative, and exact as the explanation he gets from the shipwright---but it is sensitive to the hauntings and holiness of the islands, appreciating that it is "a place in which many times coexist, flowing at different speeds, enshrining different worlds." Nicolson set out to write a "love letter " to the Shiants, but this is also a summoning, rich with history and a lively curiosity, which is now too a part of the place. And the Shiants are the better for it.

Substantial travels into the center of the Incan landscape are the subject of Hugh Thomson’s THE WHITE ROCK, an intelligently enthusiastic book with a taste of just knocking about. Thomson's two periods of significant roaming in the Peruvian outback fell nearly 20 years apart. The first was in 1982 when, on something of a lark, he set forth to rediscover Llactapata, an Incan ruin described by Hiram Bingham but subsequently mislaid. And with the help of a local man---the discovery of sites by explorers, Thomson notes, is accomplished mainly by "discovering reliable local guides who could lead them to those sites"---he does just so, then proceeds to other Incan sites, from Bolivia to Equador, taking his own measure of the Inca. Having left no written history, he both relies on the suppositions of contemporary archaeologists and the likely dubious accounts of the conquistadors, but is not afraid of putting emphasis where he feels it has been neglected, as in the sculptural and aesthetic qualities of Incan stonework, in a broader interpretation of the importance of mountains to the Incans, and the multifarious purposes of Incan towns. He travels to the wildest outposts, mostly through dense jungle; for all the ridgeline grandeur of Machu Picchu, the White Rock, and Choquequirao, this is primarily machete country, where his next step is revealed only after the sweep of the blade, though evidence of the remarkable and intricate Incan pathways, with their "extraordinary, almost symbiotic feel for the mountains themselves," make the going easier at times. His return in 1999 is chiefly to visit Inca Wasi and the great melancholy wreck of Espiritu Pampa. The travelogue is aided immeasurably by his profiles of explorers, archaeologists, and Incan emperors, in particular Manco Inca, who came between Atahualpa, seized and murdered by Pizzaro, and Tupac Amaru, the last emperor, and was "an more admirable character than either of them." A delightfully personal, skeptical, and ebullient journey, with the right degree of humor necessary for hard travel to distant places.

When an icebox was truly a box of ice: the story of Frederic Tudor's trade in frozen water, recounted by Gavin Weightman in THE FROZEN WATER TRADE. At the rise of the 19th century, Tudor, a young Boston entrepreneur, thought he might be able to turn a dime if he could get the ice that formed on a local pond to the West Indies to cool their drinks and make the novelty of ice cream. As Weightman relates the tale, in a voice as soothing as that ice likely was for the people of Martinique, Tudor created the trade from the bottom up---putting together teams to harvest the ice, building ice houses to store the goods, arranging for a monopoly, shipping the ice south. It was a slippery slope at first---the returns were meager until they had ironed out the kinks----and Tudor suffered from both a nervous collapse and the sheriff's debt collectors, before the trade took root. But gradually, ice became indispensable in places like Charleston and New Orleans, Havana, and, remarkably if you are unfamiliar with the thermodynamics of ice, India, where the British colonialists appreciated the godsend, a 16,000-mile, 130-day voyage that "furthered the reputation of New England merchants as ingenious and benevolent entrepreneurs." While Weightman spends most of his time detailing the vicissitudes of the Tudor family trade, he also pays close attention to the development of our understanding of how ice behaves, the evolving design of ice houses, the creation of name brands---Wenham Lake Ice had a cachet akin to Perrier---and the death of the industry, which had a lot less to do with the spread of electrification (iceboxes were still much in evidence in rural America until the 1950s) than it did with pollution: Hudson River ice promised not just a kiss of cold, but probably dose of typhoid bacteria as well. A fascinating and vast industry come and gone, melted away as completely as an ice cube on a summer sidewalk, but delightfully preserved here by Weightman.

Finally, and most enjoyably, CRAZE is a tart, acute inquiry into the gin craze that coursed through London during the early part of the 18th century from Jessica Warner. This savvy investigation is a parable about drugs, why some take them and others worry when they do. From 1720 until 1751, the drug of choice for London’s working poor was gin: cheap, potent, available, a way to numb the fatigue, hunger, and cold that were their lot, explains Warner. By no means was it a universal blessing to the proletariat, but equally by no means was it the proletarian’s health that rallied the moral reformers of the day. Rather, Warner suggests convincingly, the times were flush and peaceful in London and reformers possessed the “lurking fear that ostentation on the part of the poor might blur the outward signs of class and privilege”---liquor had heretofore been the province of the wealthy---and strove to “make them play by the rules of their social superiors.” On the other side of the aisle were the vast majority of London’s landowners and politicians, who found in gin a valuable market for their surplus grain and a ready source of tax money. They also were well aware of the rickety social system that depended on the willingness of the people to defer to the few men who, before the advent of a modern police force, were otherwise powerless to control them. The Gin Laws were unabashedly elitist and the common folk found in them a way to express conscious acts of political protest. Then war came and the moral angle was dismissed in favor over pure taxation, followed by a slump in grain production and a burgeoning workforce that made gin too dear for the working poor, and it was back to the alehouse for them. Social history at its gimlet-eyed best. The stink of self-serving moral agendas---a couple modern examples of which are nimbly exploited by Warner---are given a proper and gratifying airing.


The American Geographical Society has amassed a significant list of readings for a wide range of locales, courtesy of our travel program. We encourage our fellows to drop us a line to see if we have developed a reading list for their next destination.
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Azhara Mukhamejanova:
I am a senior at the Ohio State University majoring in Computer Information Science. Two years ago I came to Columbus, Ohio from Almaty, Kazakhstan with a decision to learn as much as possible about computers. Since my arrival to the United States of America, I have been studying hard yet succeeding learning about a new subject matter in a foreign language. In spite of many challenges, I decided that I did not want to miss any opportunity of furthering my knowledge about computers through a practical experience in the field. I began my search for an internship with optimism. For someone who is new to the field and to the country, I looked for any experience that I could receive. When I learned about getting an internship at the American Geographical Society, I was absolutely thrilled to receive such opportunity. Being passionate about traveling, I packed my bags to go for ten weeks to work in New York.

I came to the American Geographical Society with knowledge of computers from academic textbooks and hardly any practical experience. Nevertheless, I was ready to utilize my skills and expand my knowledge. In the course of ten weeks, my internship responsibilities included, updating AGS database, improving and updating the list of travelers’ literature, preparing multiple letters for new Ph.D. subscribers, and improving functioning of some fax and copier machines. One of most interesting tasks concerned installation and updating of software and hardware of some of the AGS computers. Configuring it to work properly, troubleshooting, running special computer programs on daily basis (e.g., antivirus program), and taking computer specifications were also a part of my many duties. The most rewarding experience was to communicate with the office staff regarding some technical questions that they had for me.

At the end of my ten-week experience working for the American Geographical Society, I was fortunate to gain a lot of practical experience related to computers in addition to a greater knowledge about the company. I have come to learn many people at the American Geographical Society, whose dedication and passion for their jobs has inspired me. Their collaboration and effort has created an excellent work environment. The overall experience of working for such respectful and honored organization is going to stay forever in my heart. Having spent the whole summer in New York city, where I met so many interesting and different people, and discovered many more interesting places, I evolved and grew as a person with a greater vision and understanding of not only computers, but also of life.

Simon Harris:
I have always been interested in geography but, unfortunately, my experience with the subject has always been limited to the confines of high school in England. Too often I find myself defending the value of geography as a discipline. The American Geographical Society provided a wonderful opportunity actually to explore a practical application of geography. The Society kindly offered me an internship at its offices on Wall Street during the summer of 2002.

I am grateful for everyone at the office providing me with interesting tasks that were also beneficial for myself. Whilst at the AGS, I began to work on aspects of the membership database, which, in the process, enabled me to become familiar with at least some of the important figures and institutions in the field of geography. I am certain they will become increasingly useful as I continue to study the subject. At other times I was asked to undertake research. Often this involved working with old copies of the Geographical Review, which proved to be fascinating. There is always a danger with any internship devolving into little more than the clichéd 'filing and photocopying'. I am indebted to everyone at the AGS for making such an effort to provide such thoughtful tasks.

Whilst not working, I managed to explore the downtown area around Wall Street and to make use of the phenomenal library situated at the AGS offices. It is an astonishing collection of geographical literature and I am sure what I did manage to sample will prove critical in my upcoming university interviews.

I had a thoroughly enjoyable time with the AGS, not only in meeting interesting people from as far as Kazakhstan but also in finally getting an opportunity to delve into the practical uses of geography.

Nations, States, Drugs and Terrorism: Collusions & Conflicts [May 2003]

For more information, click on Conference News.


In memory of F. Kenneth Hare.

The Galileo Circle.

The 2003 AGS Calendar.


pacificWhy travel with the American Geographical Society?
AGS scholars are excellent lecturers and hosts for educational travel programs, having spent a lifetime studying and lecturing on the geographical, biological, and cultural development of a region. An AGS scholar provides you with an expansive and comprehensive understanding of a region. Our AGS lecturers-all outstanding professors of geography-have been carefully selected for their ability to lecture and present fascinating insights into each region’s specific natural and cultural development, and who also love answering questions informally as though they were each traveler’s private tutor. In short, AGS lecturers make congenial travel companions and hosts for our small groups of AGS travelers.

Most AGS trips are conducted aboard small, luxurious ships that follow age-old maritime routes along beautiful coastlines and rivers. The intimate size of these vessels provides a unique shipboard experience, as well as opportunities to dock and anchor at historic ports and towns that larger ships simply cannot visit. Enjoy exploring archaeological sites, architectural wonders, old town centers, and museums. Relax in luxurious accommodations, savor fine food (including regional specialties), and enjoy the first-class service.

Professional trip directors and guides handle all the details. The AGS travel office selects the finest tour operators, coordinates each program, protects your tour payments in an escrow account, and does myriad other tasks to ensure that your AGS trip is perfect.

For more delicious details about the 2003 Tours Schedule, see the Travel Program section of the AGS web site, or contact the AGS Travel Program Office at (888)805-0884 or (603)756-2553.

e-mail: AGStravl@sover.net

Address: The AGS Travel Program, P.O. Box 938, Walpole, NH 03608-0938


Please feel free to fill out the information sheet (electronic or regular versions available) with your news, event notifications, and other activities of interest to the membership.

Fellows of the American Geographical Society play an important role in helping our programs succeed. Please forward news and information about your activities, plus announcements of events or conferences of interest to AGS members, to the AGS Webmaster or to the AGS Office.

Posted December 17, 2002.