Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Chauncy D. Harris (1914-2003), Geographer Extraordinaire*

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Chauncy D. Harris (1914-2003), Geographer Extraordinaire*

Article excerpt

The name Chauncy Dennison Harris has a special resonance for most geographers. I first became aware of this in the 1960s when, as a boy, I would ask my geographer father about his travels to professional meetings and his opinions about geography programs in different parts of the country. Chauncy Harris's name sticks out in my memories of those conversations, not because my father knew him particularly well but because of the obvious respect my father had for him.

It is possible, of course, that Harris's name made such an impression simply because it sounded so distinguished to young ears. After all, it is difficult to imagine that anyone named Chauncy Dennison Harris could be an intellectual lightweight or someone with a frivolous approach to life. But in all likelihood the name made such a strong impression because of the way my father spoke of the man.

It is hardly surprising that my father held Harris in high esteem. Harris had done pioneering work on the Soviet Union, he had established a healthy dialogue between Soviet and American scholars, and he had made significant contributions to the literature in urban geography. He had also held the kinds of positions that reflect prominence and accomplishment: dean of the Division of the Social Sciences at the University of Chicago (1954-1960), president of the Association of American Geographers (1957), president of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies (1962), and secretary-general and treasurer of the International Geographical Union (1968-1976).


Remarkably, Harris held some of the highest positions in the world of geography well before he turned fifty. How did this happen? Part of the answer lies in his devotion to study, research, and writing. Born and raised in Utah, Harris earned a B.A. from Brigham Young University (where his father was president) at the age of nineteen. Graduate studies took him first to the University of Chicago, then to the University of Oxford and the London School of Economics (under the auspices of a Rhodes Scholarship), and finally back to the University of Chicago, where he earned his Ph.D. in 1940. His dissertation focused on Salt Lake City's regional role (Harris 1940), signaling the beginning of a lifelong research interest in urban geography.

After brief stints at Indiana University and the University of Nebraska, Harris was called to Washington, D.C., in 1942 to join the Office of the Geographer in the U.S. Department of State. In Washington he became intrigued by what was known--and not known--about the Soviet Union. He started studying Russian and immersed himself in the available cartographic and statistical information about the country. In 1945 Harris published his first two works on the Soviet Union: seminal pieces on the Soviet urban pattern and on the ethnic composition of Soviet cities (Harris 1945a, 1945b). Both appeared in the Geographical Review.

Harris did not leave behind his urban geography interests, however. During World War II he made two signal contributions to the literature in that subfield. The first was an important article setting forth a classification of cities based on functional type (Harris 1943). The second was a coauthored article (with Edward Ullman) discussing "the nature of cities" (1945). The latter article, published in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, was Harris's most widely cited publication. To this day, most textbooks in human and urban geography make reference to the Harris and Ullman "multiple nuclei" city model from that article.

Appointed to the faculty of the University of Chicago during the war, in 1945 Harris took up residence in the institution that he was to call home for the remainder of his career. He had an enormous influence on the development of American geography in the ensuing decades. He virtually pioneered the field of Soviet studies, particularly in geography. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.