He who devotes himself to geography inevitably finds his interests and attention being directed into a number of diverse channels. The eventual result of this multiplicity of claims on his energy and time may be to mould him into a mere dilettante, a jack of all trades and master of none. Equally, however, it may be the stimulus to a many-sided life of endeavour and service in an unusual variety of spheres. A shining example of such a rounded life, of diversity of interests and achievement informed by a unifying loyalty and competent strength of purpose, is afforded by J.N.L.B., scholar, teacher, and man of affairs. His work as a scholar in both geography and history, to which this book itself bears witness, as officer and president of three different learned societies ( Institute of British Geographers; Hakluyt Society; Section E of the British Association), as Bursar of Jesus College, as City Councillor and Alderman, has been remarkable indeed. Tribute to him for these great services, many of which still continue, has been and will be made. Here we simply record and stress our appreciation of him as a teacher of geography and above all as a tutor.
In June 1923, John Norman Leonard Baker, at the age of 29, was appointed assistant to the Reader in Geography at Oxford ( H. O. Beckit), and so began what was to be his life's work. He had come up in 1913 to Jesus College, as an exhibitioner, from Liverpool College, a school which was, on his own showing (p. 64), a fruitful nursery of geographers. The war interrupted, though it also enriched, his studies. It took him to France ( 1915- 16) where he was wounded on the Somme and learned to admire the French infantryman, to one of whom he owed his life. Two years in the Indian Army ( 1918-19) helped to determine one of his main regional interests. He came back to Oxford to take the Modern History School in 1920, the Diploma in Geography in 1921, and a B.Litt in 1922. He lectured for three terms at Bedford College, London, before returning finally to Oxford.
During the next eight years, as assistant to Beckit (for whose geographical work and teaching he has often voiced his respect), his multiplicity of duties at the School of Geography both ensured that many-sided competence which is the mark of the