Grappling with Geography's Existential Dilemma: The Legacy of William Torrey Harris

Roger M. Downs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Geography's existence as a school or college subject has never been a given. While geographers make cases for geography's importance, acceptance of those cases rests not on impassioned rhetoric but on the social and intellectual contexts into which disciplines fit. Contexts are contested and they change. From a seemingly secure position at the beginning of the twentieth century, geography's role in American schools has been eroded and diminished by corrosive forces. Geographers need convincing answers to the existential question lest the subject disappear entirely. Geography's enviable position was in large measure the work of William Torrey Harris. Harris made a compelling existential case for geography and his vision, its implementation, its rejection, and its fate offer a model from which geographers can learn. Understanding how to respond to a social and intellectual context is crucial to geography's future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)660-679
Number of pages20
JournalGeographical Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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