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Dec. 31, 2003 Press Contact: William Harms
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Chauncy D. Harris


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Chauncy D. Harris


Chauncy D. Harris, an esteemed professor of geography at the University of Chicago, was a pioneering geographer of the Soviet Union and a leader in other fields of the discipline as well, including political, economic and urban geography. Harris, 89, he died Friday, Dec. 26 in his home in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood.

Harris, the Samuel N. Harper Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, 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 first lieutenant 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 made 14 trips to the former Soviet Union and gained the respect of scholars and others there as a serious and objective researcher. This was particularly impressive as it was achieved across an ideological divide fraught with official suspicion and wariness about divulging geographical data. Harris succeeded through the force of his personality and his direct and fair-minded scientific approach, said Michael Conzen, Chairman of the Committee on Geographical Studies at the University of Chicago.

“The Soviet Union was just opening up in the late 1950s when Chauncy made his first trip to there. It was at the time of the Sputnik launch, and there was tremendous interest in the Soviet Union in the United States,” said David Hooson, professor of geography and Russian specialist at the University of California, Berkeley. “He was very well prepared when the opening came, could speak Russian well, and took advantage of the opportunity to meet with many Soviet academics in geography.

“When he went to the Soviet Union, he was a well established and well respected professor,” Hooson added. “I was just starting my career at the time, and Chauncy did quite a bit to help me and others of us in the field to get our start. ”

Alexander Murphy, President of the Association of American Geographers, said,“To my mind, he was geography's premiere ambassador during the second half of the twentieth century. He was an articulate and thoughtful spokesperson for geography during a period when over-simplistic understandings of the discipline threatened its position in American education. ”

Murphy, who received his Ph.D. in 1987 from the University of Chicago is professor of geography and holder of the Rippey Chair in Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Oregon. “I chose to study at Chicago because of the outstanding reputation of its Geography Department--a reputation that Chauncy Harris helped to build. I took the last class ‘Mr. Harris’ ever taught: the Geography of the Soviet Union. I learned a great deal in the class, but what stuck me the most was the sense of integrity and professionalism Chauncy brought to the class. Here was a man who had reached the height of his profession, yet who showed no hint of immodesty. Instead, he came across as an exceptionally thoughtful, humane individual who cared deeply about his students and his work. Even after I graduated, he was a unswerving mentor and friend. I feel privileged to have been one of his students. ”

In 1962, Harris was editor of the English-language edition of Soviet Geography: Accomplishments and Tasks, published by the American Geographical Society.

“The extraordinarily rapid urbanization of the USSR was the focus of many articles and his much acclaimed book, Cities of the Soviet Union, published in 1970,” said Marvin Mikesell, Professor in the Committee on Geographical Studies at the University of Chicago. “The ethnic complexity of the Soviet realm was an additional major subject of investigation for him. ”

Harris’ publications on the Soviet Union are in two broad areas: those on geography as a discipline in the Soviet Union and those dealing with its urban development and industrial and agricultural resources.

Harris made a persistent effort to bring the work of Soviet geographers to the attention of Western colleagues. He and Theodore Shabad of the New York Times launched and wrote extensively for the journal Soviet Geography: Review and Translation.

Harris was born in Logan Utah, and received a B.A. from Brigham Young University in 1933 at the age of 19. He entered the University of Chicago in 1933 and then studied as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, where he received B.A. and M.A. degrees at the London School of Economics. He received a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1940.

He served on the faculties of Indiana University and the University of Nebraska before returning to the University of Chicago, where he was appointed Assistant Professor of Geography in 1943. He went on leave to serve during World War II.

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 wrote an article with a former fellow student at Chicago, Edward Ullman, that became a seminal piece of scholarship: “The Nature of Cities. ” The paper, 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. One indication of its importance is that it was reprinted 10 times and translated into Russian.

“Chauncy Harris was a remarkable contributor to, and a singular international ambassador for, professional geography,” said Conzen, “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. ”

In addition to his research career, he also served in many senior administrative positions at the University. He was 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.

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 ability to speak French and German in addition to 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.

He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Edith (nee Young); a daughter, Margaret Harris, of Philadelphia; her husband, Philip A. Straus, Jr.; grandchildren Miriam Harris Straus and Peter Harris Straus; and sisters Leah Jensen of Pocatello, Idaho, and Mildred Bradley of Salt Lake City as well as numerous nieces and nephews.

A memorial service will be held at Montgomery Place, 5550 South Shore Drive, in Chicago on Sunday, Jan. 11 at 3 pm.

In lieu of flowers, contributions in his memory may be made to the University of Chicago Library, Chauncy D. and Edith Y. Harris Book Fund, 1100 East 57th St. , Chicago, IL, 60637.
Last modified at 10:17 AM CST on Friday, January 09, 2004.

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