Civic Discipline: Geography in America, 1860-1890

By Smith, Steve | Journal of Cultural Geography, February 2013 | Go to article overview

Civic Discipline: Geography in America, 1860-1890


Smith, Steve, Journal of Cultural Geography


Civic Discipline: Geography in America, 1860-1890, by Karen M. Morin, Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2011. xi+245 pp., US$73.29 (hardback), ISBN: 978-1-4094-0143-8

Karen M. Morin's Civic Discipline provides a glimpse into the machinations of late nineteenth century geography through the prism of Charles P. Daly's work as president of the American Geographical Society from 1864-1899. Her discussion of Daly's geography informs our understanding of both Daly himself, and also of geography's multiple enterprises during the late nineteenth century. Civic Discipline, while attending to the concerns of geography as an intellectual, imperial and commercial enterprise, also forces a consideration of the extent to which a geographical approach, and in particular Daly's approach to social and political issues of the time, circumscribed or otherwise disciplined knowledge of society and space.

Morin introduces her research by first situating it within an existing literature in the history of geographical thought. She demonstrates keen awareness of David Livingstone's The Geographical Tradition: Episodes in the History of a Contested Enterprise, Matt Hannah's Governmentality and the Mastery of Nineteenth-Century America, and Nell Smith's American

Empire." Roosevelt's Geographer and the Prelude to Globalization. Her work supports this vein of research by examining an important figure in American geography whose influence demonstrates the ways in which geography may function to create subjects, thus leading to a "contested enterprise".

After situating her intellectual endeavors within the context of these existing works Morin supports her narrative with a short, but informative, biography of Charles P. Daly. In addition, she provides a robust and informative discussion of her work and why he is a suitable subject vis-a-visa larger discussion of the role and importance of the early American Geographical Society (AGS). Her central argument is that Charles P. Daly and the AGS focused on many seemingly different and distinct aspects of capitalism, colonialism, and power during this period and, as such, engaged in a civic enterprise. She introduces this early and effectively by situating Daly and his role within the AGS as the site of the production and consumption of geographical knowledge (6). This knowledge was particularly ensconced in civic and commercial interests of the time.

Morin's contributions are both historical and theoretical. She conducted laborious and insightful archival work, as well as clearly mastered the secondary literature on a vast array of subjects important to her work. …

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