Chauncy Harris, noted geographer
Chauncy D. Harris, the Samuel N. Harper Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Geography, who was both a pioneering geographer of the Soviet Union and a leader in other fields of the discipline, including political, economic and urban geography, died Friday, Dec. 26, in his Hyde Park home. He was 89. A memorial service is planned for Sunday, Jan. 11.
In addition to his research career, he also served in many senior administrative positions at the University. He served as Dean of the Division of Social Sciences from 1954 to 1960, Chairman of Non-Western and International Programs from 1960 to 1966, Director of the Center for International Studies from 1966 to 1984, Assistant to the President from 1973 to 1975, and Vice-President for Academic Resources from 1975 to 1978.
Harris was born in Logan, Utah, and graduated at age 19 with a B.A. from Brigham Young University in 1933. That same year, he enrolled at Chicago and then studied as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University, where he received B.A. and M.A degrees at the London School of Economics. He received a Ph.D. from Chicago in 1940.
Harris began his career with a strong interest in cities. His doctoral dissertation, “Salt Lake City: A Regional Capital,” analyzed the service functions and extensive influence of the city.
Harris then turned his interest to the classification of cities and presented his first paper at the Association of American Geographers in 1941. That paper, “A Functional Classification of Cities in the United States,” is considered by many to be a classic paper in the field of urban geography. He also wrote a widely cited article on suburbs published in the Journal of Sociology in 1943. These papers helped establish his reputation as an important scholar in the field of urban studies.
In 1945, he and a former fellow student at Chicago, Edward Ullman, wrote a paper that became a seminal piece of scholarship: “The Nature of Cities.” The paper, published in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, looked especially at the multiple-nuclei pattern of urban development, which had prophetic relevance for understanding American cities in the later 20th century. This important work resulted in 10 reprints of the article and its translation into Russian.
“Chauncy Harris was a remarkable contributor to, and a singular international ambassador for, professional geography,” said Michael Conzen, Chair of the Committee on Geographical Studies. “His scholarship on the structure of cities and the ethnic mosaic of Eastern Europe remains fundamental to the knowledge of the discipline. He worked tirelessly for international understanding in geography and scientific contacts with the former Soviet Union.”
Harris developed his interest in the Soviet Union while studying Russian during World War II, working first in the Office of the Geographer in the U.S. State Department and then later in the Office of Strategic Services as a 1st Lt. in the U.S. Army. Harris’ interest was timely, as the coming of the Cold War would quickly close off most of Soviet society from Western view.
Despite limited data, he was able to publish two important papers on the Soviet Union in the Geographical Review in 1945. One paper examined both regional and functional aspects of the growth of cities in the Soviet Union and the other concerned the ethnic complexities of urban areas at the southern and western fringes of the country.
He edited Economic Geography of the U.S.S.R. and added valuable maps, appendices and numerous footnotes to the text, which was first published in 1949. He also made 14 trips to the former Soviet Union.
In 1962, Harris was editor of the English-language edition of Soviet Geography: Accomplishments and Tasks, published by the American Geographical Society.
In 1970, he published what is considered his most important work, Cities of the Soviet Union, which Conzen noted was “strikingly, very well received by Soviet academicians.”
He was very active in professional societies and served as president of the Association of American Geographers and the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies. He also was Secretary-General of the International Geographical Union, a position in which he was able to use his fluency in French and German as well as Russian.
He received numerous awards for his work, including medals from the American Geographical Society of New York, the Royal Geographical Society (London) and the Berlin Geographical Society.