Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Good as Gould

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Good as Gould

Article excerpt

I first heard the name "Peter Gould" in my initial year of graduate work at Syracuse University. Gould, I was told, had been on the faculty but was banished to the icy hinterland of Penn State. He was too much the Young Turk, all full of himself about statistics and mathematics and what they could do for geographical inquiry. Preston James, then still king of the hill at Syracuse, declared that it was he and not the young upstarts of geography who deserved credit for this so-called quantitative revolution that was shaking the discipline's age-old pillars. After all, he said, absent the slightest hint of any intended irony, it was Preston James who had first taken precise measurements of coconuts in Trinidad--and before Peter Gould was old enough to bring a spoon to his mouth!

Icy hinterland that Penn State may have been, Gould found there an intellectual home that he would happily enjoy for forty years, and he quickly established himself as a figure to be reckoned with. In the 1970s his name became synonymous with mental maps, a concept that proved fruitful beyond anyone's initial expectations. Diffusion, imagined in Gould's words as spilled wine spreading on a tablecloth, was also routinely, though not exclusively, associated with him. But there was more. For those who saw that the misnamed "quantitative revolution" was about much more than numeration and strange-sounding terms like "factor analysis" and "eigen values" and "autocorrelation," that it was really a sea change in how to look at the world and become theoretical and curious about new methodologies and alien ideas found in outland journals like General Systems Theory and Operations Research, Gould was without peer as a disciplinary instructor.

In an impressive number of articles Peter Gould informed us about the promises of decision theory, what information theory was not about, what to make of that elusive beast called "entropy," why we should care about payoff matrices, about what Monte Carlo simulation and Torsten Hagerstrand were all about. Gould's universe of curiosity was large and ever growing and fast stepping, catholic in the best sense of the term. And, in time, that universe served him well at the Social Science Research Council, in projects for the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council, and in no small additional number of posts he served in--above and beyond his position as Evan Pugh Professor of Geography at Penn State, a position he held until his death in January 2000.

His teaching skills, if not evident to those who kept up with his analytical demonstrations in pieces on wheat farmers on Kilimanjaro and space sitters and space searchers in Sweden, were legendary solely on the basis of his class lectures. One of the better undergraduate students I ever had I sent to Penn State. She continued to extol Gould's unique, if not enchanting, classroom talents long after she had moved on to a bohemian life outside academic geography. She was not alone in her high regard for his obvious love of teaching, his preoccupation with doing a great deal more than parroting facts or giving students what they could have read on their own.


My next memories of Peter Gould date to 1981, when I warred with the Association of American Geographers (AAG) over censorship of my book, The Immoral Landscape (1981). Although I had never met or corresponded with Peter, I wrote to ask him for support, for a letter protesting the abridgment of my First Amendment rights by the AAG. He was not only quick to recognize the weightiness of the issue, he was also among the very first of a score of geographers who vigorously came to my defense. Over the next nineteen years I was often the beneficiary of Peter's battleground courage, his savvy in matters of principle, what is right and what is just. I mention this because it is yet another dimension to Peter Gould, and one that I not only especially admire but feel compelled to draw attention to because it is a trait too seldom seen in the academy, and too infrequently highlighted when taking the full measure of an academic career. …

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