[Iag-list] Donald William Meinig, 1924-2020

BRUCE RYAN cincinnati5 at bigpond.com
Tue Aug 4 06:19:58 UTC 2020

Donald William Meinig, 1924-2020

	Geographers around the world will lament the death of Don Meinig, in Syracuse, NY, on 13 June 2020. He was 95. His career was one of the most illustrious and influential in the annals of geography. Meinig was Maxwell Research Professor of Geography at Syracuse University, where he pioneered research in historical, cultural and landscape geography. His fellowships, scholarships, and awards were legion. Not only did the Association of American Geographers present him with its pre-eminent Presidential Achievement Award, but Meinig became the first American geographer to be elected as a corresponding Fellow of the British Academy.

 	Don Meinig’s intersection with Australian geography was both serendipitous and seminal. As a graduate student at the University of Washington (Seattle), he was befriended and advised by Professor Graham Lawton, who later occupied the first chair of geography at the University of Adelaide. It was Lawton who introduced Meinig to the field of historical geography, which he was to cultivate so profusely and profoundly. It was Lawton who lured Meinig to Adelaide in 1958, during which he wrote On the Margins of the Good Earth—The South Australian Wheat Frontier, 1869-1884 (Association of American Geographers, 1962). This monograph broke the ice for the regional historical geographies that followed—including T. M. Perry’s Australia’s First Frontier (1965), R. L. Heathcote’s Back of Bourke (1965), and D. N. Jeans’s Historical Geography of New South Wales to 1901 (1972). 

	At a time when much Australian research was buried in its own back yard, Meinig also published an article in the Australian Geographer (Vol. 7, August 1959), on the colonization of wheatlands in Australia and North America. It demonstrated how Australian development was an integral part of global development. It encouraged Australian geographers to broaden their horizons. His South Australian monograph also demonstrated that Australian matters could interest and engage foreign scholars. What he did empowered many others.

 	Wilbur Zelinsky called Meinig “the Sage of Syracuse.” My department head at the University of Cincinnati, Robert B. McNee, egregiously described Meinig’s work as the “final flowering of a great tradition.” It was anything but final, as attested by a commemorative issue of the Geographical Review (Vol. 99, No. 3, July 2009). Meinig gave a series of lectures in Cincinnati in 1969. Before meeting him at the airport, I asked McNee how I might recognise him. “He looks like a Mormon banker,” I was told. In the event, he strode like any lanky Westerner through the gateway, holding aloft a battered brief case emblazoned with a Qantas sticker. 

	Don Meinig said that “Geography and History are rooted in the basic stuff of human existence.” He said that “Geography is my vocation . . . not what I do for a living, but what I do with my life.” That exemplary life of a dignified, gentleman-scholar extended around the world, from the rolling Palouse of western Washington to Goyder’s Line in arid South Australia.

Donald William Meinig, 1924-2020

Bruce Ryan, Ph.D., FIAG

Emeritus Professor of Geography

University of Cincinnati, USA

August 4, 2020


5 Minnamurra Street

Kiama, NSW 2533


Phone 61+2+4233 1525

cincinnati5 at bigpond.com <mailto:cincinnati5 at bigpond.com>

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