Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Harm de Blij

Geographers throughout North America were saddened to receive this notice earlier today. The writers are the executive director of the AAG and a frequent co-author of Dr. de Blij. In addition to the many accomplishments listed in this official obituary, he was a resident of Cape Cod and a friend of this department.

Dear Colleagues,

We are sorry to convey the sad news of the death of prominent geographer and of long-time AAG member Harm J. de Blij.

Harm de Blij was the John A. Hannah Professor of Geography at Michigan State University. He received his undergraduate education from the University of the Witwatersrand and his graduate degrees from Northwestern (Ph.D. 1959). Among his honorary degrees are those awarded by Michigan State (1999) and North Carolina State (2001). He was a long-time faculty member at both Michigan State and the University of Miami, and also taught at Georgetown, Colorado, Hawai’i, the Colorado School of Mines, George Washington University, and Marshall University. His prolific publications included more than 30 books and well over 100 articles.

He has been one of American geography’s most visible leaders for the past half-century. His specialties included political geography, African regional studies, and geographic education—as well as the spatial dimensions of viticulture, a thriving subdiscipline he helped to pioneer during the 1980s and 1990s. His numerous awards included those from AAG, NCGE, and NGS. He received AAG Honors in 1991, the AAG Presidential Achievement Award in 2004, and the AAG Media Achievement Award in 2008.

Over the past 40 years, de Blij was also one of the few academic geographers of his generation to make a major and lasting impact in the public arena. He was much in demand on the lecture circuit and his extraordinary communication skills were widely recognized (a generous legacy is available on YouTube). In this sphere, he probably will best be remembered for his seven-year stint as Geography Editor on ABC’s Good Morning America (1989-1996), whose contributions achieved a partial Emmy Award as well as a full-page profile in TV Guide. His many other accomplishments in this arena include his role as writer and commentator in the original PBS Series,The Power of Place. His successful trade-market book, Why Geography Matters . . . More Than Ever, has just been published in its second edition by Oxford University Press.

Harm de Blij’s record of service to the profession is monumental. At AAG, he held several positions and appointments during his 53-year membership. At NCGE, he edited the Journal of Geography. At NGS, he was the founding editor of the scientific journal, National Geographic Research, and a long-time member of the Committee on Research and Exploration.

Harm de Blij was also highly skilled in areas beyond the profession. His parents were both distinguished musicians and he remained a first-rate violinist and chamber-music participant through the end of his life. He was also an entirely-self-taught wine expert and collector as well as a masterful carpenter—with cellars and home workshops to prove it.

A memorial event in honor of Harm de Blij will be held during the AAG Annual Meeting in Chicago in early 2015.

Doug Richardson and Peter Muller

Dr. de Blij (left-rear, in red tie) was among the first to visit EarthView in 2009.
Dr. de Blij was well known as a public intellectual. His comments below were made -- ironically -- in the past. But his message about geography for the future is still a vital one. He has helped to inspire our own efforts to improve geography education in Massachusetts, one of his homes.

A very important message from Professor de Blij has to do with the importance of geographic literacy as a critical aspect of national security. In two brief minutes, he explains the strategic value of both human and physical geography at both global and regional scales.

One of the very last things published by Dr. de Blij is his homage to Malala.


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