The lost legacy of Robert DeCourcy Ward in American geographical climatology


Robert Rohli

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As a charter member of the Association of American Geographers and a well-respected scholar in academic meteorology, Robert DeCourcy Ward was an important figure in the earth sciences tradition of early American academic geography. The purpose of this paper is twofold: (1) to elaborate on the contributions of Ward to modern geographical climatology; and (2) to examine some of his writing beyond scientific topics as likely cause for the lack of attention to his geographical work today. Ward’s work across a range of spatial scales from local thunderstorm events to sea breeze circulations to global climatic classification represented a ‘bridge’ between scholars in the meteorology and geography communities. His emphasis on the conceptual understanding of climate as a dynamic rather than static entity represented a paradigm shift for which he has not been credited. He was a true and early advocate for study of the relationship between people and the environment. A thorough review of Ward’s works suggests that his environmental deterministic philosophy and writings on topics outside of physical geography, particularly immigration reform and eugenics, may have contributed to his current obscurity as an important early practitioner of our discipline. We suggest that, in general, the lessons of history, both triumphant and tragic, should never be forgotten, and it is in this framework that we believe that Ward should be remembered.

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Progress in Physical Geography: Earth and Environment

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