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Journal Article

"Academic War over the Field of Geography": The Elimination of Geography at Harvard, 1947-1951

Neil Smith
Annals of the Association of American Geographers
Vol. 77, No. 2 (Jun., 1987), pp. 155-172
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2562763
Page Count: 18
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"Academic War over the Field of Geography": The Elimination of Geography at Harvard, 1947-1951
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Abstract

After modest but optimistic expansion in the 1940s, the geography program at Harvard University was suddenly terminated in 1948, touching off a widely publicized "academic war over the field of geography." It was a severe blow to the discipline, not only because of Harvard's position in American education but because in the course of the closure the President of Harvard University suggested that geography was not an appropriate university subject. The disciplinary history of the Harvard episode is dominated by oral accounts and discussions of personalities, but a more detached archival reconstruction of events is necessary today, if only to reclaim what actually occurred and thereby to allow us to understand it less defensively. For whatever the role of specific personalities, and Isaiah Bowman appears to have been more instrumental than is generally realized, there is a larger question concerning the vulnerability of geography, at Harvard and elsewhere. In the course of the termination and reconsideration of geography at Harvard, several key issues emerged concerning the efficacy of the discipline, and these are still relevant today. While this is mainly a historical reconstruction, therefore, it also touches on themes of contemporary relevance. For it may be that today as well as in Harvard in 1948, the discipline itself bears some responsibility for the failures that occur.

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