Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Paradigm Dramas in American Geography

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Paradigm Dramas in American Geography

Article excerpt

That my book can be read in many different ways and generate so many questions and debates is probably the first thing to notice about the commentaries collected here. I do not think this is a bad thing, in and of itself. Hopefully our scholarship does provoke and challenge ways of thinking, not just about the discipline of geography but about ways of thinking in general. We all read into books what we are looking for, based on the questions we ask. Meanwhile, we as writers are inescapably part of a process of constructing and producing histories rather than simply uncovering them--and for that we are, whether we like it or not, inherently tied to the "social theories" that help us do that. That said, if my methodology has rocked the boat of more positivist treatments of the history of geography, I would consider the book a success.

With that, I want to first offer a sincere thanks to all the commentators for taking the time to read the book and for providing such collegial and provocative comments about it; and to Kent Mathewson for organizing this forum as well as the "Author Meets Critics" panel discussion about Civic Discipline at the 2012 meeting of the Association of American Geographers (AAG) in New York City.

I did not intend to write a biography of Charles Daly, nor did I intend to write a history of the American Geographical Society. Both of those projects had already been done, in any case. My interest began with what I saw as a missing piece, a relatively unstudied period in the history of American geography before it was codified as an academic discipline and before the National Geographic Society and later the AAG came on the scene.

Because it was the premier geographical institution in the country, I began the research primarily by reading councilor and meeting minutes from the early days of the AGS. But after a while these started to read like something of a flat surface of details--membership lists, treasury reports, and so on, and I sought a way to link the material, ultimately finding it in the figure of the thirty-five-year president of the society, Charles Daly, who was also a well-respected New York judge and civic leader. Most of the material on Daly, though, is held at the New York Public Library (NYPL), so the preponderance of my research was conducted there, not at the AGS headquarters then located on Wall Street. Although anyone with access to JSTOR can read many of Charles Daly's influential annual addresses and writings, there is also a wealth of archival material at the NYPL--handwritten speeches, letters, diaries, account books, scrapbooks--mostly works that Daly saved about himself. That Charles Daly was tantamount to the AGS organization in the nineteenth century was widely presumed, and thus I do not regret that everything else potentially relevant to the workings of the AGS be brought to bear on my research. A number of AGS-affiliated people gave me valuable guidance in the writing of the book and one offered me a fellowship to continue my research. Thus it is important to acknowledge that even within the AGS organization there exists a range of viewpoints about the history of the Society, about the purpose and role of geographical knowledge and practice, and about Civic Discipline.

The research took shape then around the nodal figure of Charles Daly as one very powerful influence on nineteenth-century geography. It became a story about how Daly's geographical sensibility and imagination, situated within other social parameters--American expansionism, industrialization, and urbanization--manifested in social and commercial projects, at home and abroad. Through a close reading of the archival record I found circuits through which geographical knowledge flowed and came to an understanding of how Daly played a pivotal role in popularizing geography among the public, improving the infrastructure of New York City, and aiding American expansion and development. …

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