Roosevelt’s Geographer and the Prelude to Globalization
March 2003, Available worldwide
Categories: Geography; American Studies; Anthropology; United States History; International Relations
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“More than a biography, this is an intellectually invigorating challenge to the assumption that globalism is a process that can be divorced from specific territorial and political objectives.”—Ronald Steel, The Nation
“Important, far-reaching and unsettling book.”—Baltimore Sun
“Neil Smith’s book stands as an exemplar of the quality of scholarship that the best of biographies represent, giving us a fascinating wealth of insights into not only the work of one prominent geographer but also the geopolitical history of the United States during the long climb towards its goal of world hegemony.”—Environment and Planning
“This is a very good book…. It should become a major work not only of reference but also for reflection on how foreign and commercial policy got shaped in the United States in the first half of the twentieth century.”—David Harvey, author of Spaces of Hope
The story unfolds through a decisive account of the career of Isaiah Bowman (1878–1950), the most famous American geographer of the twentieth century. For nearly four decades Bowman operated around the vortex of state power, working to bring an American order to the global landscape. An explorer on the famous Machu Picchu expedition of 1911 who came to be known first as “Woodrow Wilson’s geographer,” and later as Frankin D. Roosevelt’s, Bowman was present at the creation of U.S. liberal foreign policy.
A quarter-century later, Bowman was at the center of Roosevelt’s State Department, concerned with the disposition of Germany and heightened U.S. access to European colonies; he was described by Dean Acheson as a key “architect of the United Nations.” In that period he was a leader in American science, served as president of Johns Hopkins University, and became an early and vociferous cold warrior. A complicated, contradictory, and at times controversial figure who was very much in the public eye, he appeared on the cover of Time magazine.
Bowman’s career as a geographer in an era when the value of geography was deeply questioned provides a unique window into the contradictory uses of geographical knowledge in the construction of the American Empire. Smith’s historical excavation reveals, in broad strokes yet with lively detail, that today’s American-inspired globalization springs not from the 1980s but from two earlier moments in 1919 and 1945, both of which ended in failure. By recharting the geography of this history, Smith brings the politics—and the limits—of contemporary globalization sharply into focus.
AAG Globe Book Award, Association of American Geographers
Henry Adams Prize, Society for History in the Federal Government