Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Wither Physical Geography: 100 Volumes of the Geographical Review

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Wither Physical Geography: 100 Volumes of the Geographical Review

Article excerpt

The centennial volume of Geographical Review marks a distinct milestone for the discipline of geography in North America. Great editorial leadership, landmark articles, recognition as a flagship journal: all traditions tagged to the Geographical Review. It has been my privilege, as a member of the Editorial Board, to have been part of that enterprise for most of the last quarter-century. I have worked with inspirational editors--Doug McManis (still my favorite, with apologies to), Paul Starrs, Douglas Johnson and Viola Haarmann, and Craig Colten--and learned much from them. But, a la Christopher Keylock (2007), I already knew the difference between "whither" and "wither."

Many of the legendary physical geographers and several leading geologists of the twentieth century published in the Geographical Review. The honor roll includes such luminaries as William Morris Davis (both in the Geographical Review and in its predecessor, the Bulletin of the American Geographical Society; see, for example, Davis 1919, 1934), Harlan Bretz (1928), Richard Joel Russell (Russell and Howe 1935), John Hack (1941), Warren Thornthwaite (1948), Luna Leopold (1951), and Kenneth Hare (Hare and Ritchie 1972). However, the work of physical geographers, as the central focus of a research article, has been virtually missing from the pages of the Geographical Review for the last several decades.

By my quick count, using titles or abstracts, only 19 of the 382 articles in volumes 86-99 (1986-2009) are on physical geography. Surprisingly, even in the special issue on "Doing Fieldwork" (DeLyser and Starrs 2001), only one of the fifty-six essays deals primarily with physical geography. Slightly more contributions by physical geographers appeared in the mid-1980s and early 1990s, as Doug McManis supported a thematic issue on "Coastal Geomorphology" in 1988 and a short-lived series of essays on philosophy and concepts in physical geography (Sherman 1988; see, for example, Nordstrom 1993). And for most of the last twenty-five years only one or two physical geographers at a time have served on the Editorial Board, which currently comprises thirteen members, not including the editor, the two associate editors, and the book review editor, all of whom are human geographers. So the modern circumstance raises several questions that I will attempt to address here: Was there once a stronger presence of physical geography in the Geographical Review? If so, why has that presence waned? And what might the answers to the preceding questions portend for the journal's future?

Much of the change of content in the pages of the Geographical Review is reflected from larger disciplinary forces that altered the landscape of North American geography through the mid-twentieth century. This stems from the disciplinary autophobia espoused by Richard Hartshorne in 1939 under the guise of chorography and regional geography (neatly, but unfortunately not fatally, taken to task in Sauer 1956, 294-295). The decades-long focus on regionalism did great damage to the discipline as a whole (see, for example, Hartshorne 1962), but it dramatically undermined physical geography in general and geomorphology in particular (Butzer 1989). For instance, Hartshorne rejected the study of geomorphological processes as being nongeographical ([1939] 1961, 423-424), and many geography departments in the United States endorsed that rejection via their hiring policies. Therefore, that part of the physical geography community that might have been especially well poised to exploit the quantitative revolution was largely absent from academic geography. It is noteworthy that Hartshorne considered both climatology and biogeography--plant geography in the original--to be safely in the realm of his systematic geography ([1939] 1961, 78-79). Nevertheless, the middle of the twentieth century must be considered a dark period for physical geography in general. Certainly there was a marked distinction in the content of academic geography journals, including the Geographical Review and the Annals of the Association of American Geographers, as physical geography appeared less and less often in their pages. …

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