Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Early Intellectual Influences on D. W. Meinig: A Former Student's Fond Memories

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Early Intellectual Influences on D. W. Meinig: A Former Student's Fond Memories

Article excerpt

As an undergraduate at Syracuse University in the early 1960s from a family whose parents had not graduated from college, I stumbled around in my first two years trying out a number of majors: journalism, psychology, and history education. Only because I had to take a course called "Cultural Geography" for a high school history education major did I discover geography. I had been excited about maps as early as first grade, but I never imagined that one could study geography in college. So it was with considerable curiosity that I attended my first geography lecture presented by a Donald Meinig in the fall of 1963. Compared with the instructors I had already studied with, this lecturer was in a league by himself. He had a dignified, even regal, presence, and without notes he spoke eloquently in front of large, beautifully designed German maps, constantly weaving geography and history together by sweeping his arms over the maps like a symphony conductor. Within a year I chucked my education major and took as many courses from Meinig as I could as a history major with a geography minor, and later I went on to graduate school in geography. It was the best decision of my life, and it was based on considerable luck because, frankly, many instructors across the campus were not compelling, nor did they have interests that absolutely suited mine, as Meinig's did.

I was not surprised to discover soon after my first lecture that Meinig was among the leading practitioners of historical geography in North America, if not the world. His publications came to include an impressive number of influential articles and nine books, culminating with his four-volume historical geography of the United States, The Shaping of America (1986, 1993, 1998, 2004).What original concepts emerge from Meinig's work that place him among the vanguard of his profession?

One idea is his culture area model, including the elements of cradle, core, domain and sphere. A second idea is his demonstration that geography should be an art as well as a science. A third is the insistence that human geography should be historical. A fourth idea is geographers should have a grand perspective; that is, geographers should portray great cultural traditions as well as localities and nations. And a fifth idea is that geopolitics, including imperialism, makes sense only within the framework of cultural geography.

In 1992 Meinig gave the Haskins lecture for the American Council of Learned Societies, which was published as A Life of Learning. In an entertaining talk laced with much humor he informed his audience: "I can only assume that I was selected because I am one of a rare species in the United States--a historical humanistic geographer--and some one must have suggested it might be of interest to have a look at such a creature, see how he might describe himself and hear how he got into such an obscure profession" (p. 1). In the lecture Meinig identified ten scholars who shaped his thinking when he was a student. They included men born mainly in the late nineteenth century: seven were Americans, the others Europeans; all but one earned a doctorate, for the most part from a prestigious American or English university; and they held positions at the most prominent Anglo-American universities. The diversity of disciplines was healthy: four historians (Arnold Toynbee, Ralph Turner, Lewis Mumford, and Carroll Quigley); two philosophers (Oswald Spengler and F. S. C. Northrop); two anthropologists (Alfred Kroeber and Ralph Linton); and two geographers (Halford Mackinder and Carl Sauer). In this article I explore Meinig's five major ideas and their connection to these ten scholars and how they filtered down to his students.

I conversed with Meinig in October 2008 to confirm that these scholars were sufficient for my purpose. After stating that he had given considerable thought to the Haskins lecture, confirming that the scholars mentioned were very important to him, he identified three other scholars who influenced him in his early years as a student and young professor at the University of Utah before he moved to Syracuse University in 1959: the geographer Derwent Whittlesey, who mainly contributed to Meinig's understanding of geopolitics; and the historians W. …

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