Harvard: Geography Sucks

Geography in Exile,” by Briant Berry, Foreign Policy, No. 124, May-June 2001, http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0015-7228%28200105%2F06%290%3A124%3C6%3AGIE%3E2.0.CO%3B2-S.

Amid another angle on the ignorance and blindness of the modern university:

Those of us who have spent time in the Cambridge environment are well aware that insularity breeds arrogance; competence is perceived to decline sharply at the banks of the Charles River. If there are “Prisoners of Geography,” it is those who, confined to their tight academic island, make claims of discovery because they are separated from the larger intellectual enterprise by screens of self-congratulatory misperception.

A letter writer to Foreign Policy magazine relates Harvard’s hostility to geography (this should get Catholicgauze riled up!)

Ricardo Hausmann claims that development specialists have neglected geography because the discipline fell into disfavor as was excised from Harvard University in the 1950s (“Prisoners of Geography”, January/February 2001). He also asserts that a new group of Harvard economists have “rediscovered” economic geography and reversed decades of neglect, a peculiar view of intellectual history.

Economic geography has grown and thrived in the last half century, not withered. Geography was forced out of Harvard not for intellectual reasons, but for a series of interpersonal conflicts and embarrassments among faculty and administrators. The “new economic geographers” of Harvard find novelty only because of their insularity: They quote mostly each other, and rarely (if at all) the scholars on whose contributions they rely.

When I held a chair at Harvard, the then dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government told me there was no room for geography or geographers.” The time has come for that to be corrected. As Hausmann properly notes, economic geography should be at the forefront of the development debate. I would only add that it should be the real thing.

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