Norton Ginsburg, a University of Chicago professor who was a leading authority on urban and political geography as well as the economic development of East and Southeast Asia, died Monday at his home in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. He was 85.
Ginsburg, Professor Emeritus in Geography, was the leader of a team that produced the Atlas of Economic Development, a 1960 reference tool on ways to aid developing countries. The atlas, funded by the Ford Foundation, was reprinted three times.
Ginsburg was co-author of The Pattern of Asia (1958) and co-editor of seven multi-authored works on the economic development and urbanization of East and Southeast Asia from 1960 to 1992.
In 1990 the Chinese University Press of Hong Kong published a series of lectures he gave as “The Urban Transition: Reflections on the American and Asian Experiences.” His interest in editing led to oversight of Southeast Asian volumes of the area handbooks published for the Human Relations Area Files in the 1950s, editorial consulting for the Aldine Publishing Company and the Denoyer-Geppert map company in the 1970s, and the publication of the Ocean Yearbook in the 1980s and 90s.
“Norton Ginsburg developed a nuanced view of the geographical complexity of Asia and integrated that into the broad sweep of the region’s history,” noted Michael Conzen, Chairman of the Committee on Geographical Studies at the University of Chicago. “He won the admiration of his students,” Conzen continued, “for all the support he gave them.”
Ginsburg received a B.A. in 1941 from the University, an M.A. in 1947 and a Ph.D. in 1949.
He served as a geographer in the U.S. Army Map Service 1941-42, and in the U.S. Naval Reserve 1942–46.
After serving as a Fulbright Research Scholar at the universities of Hong Kong and Malaya from 1950 to 1951, he was named an assistant professor in geography. He was named a full professor in 1961.
Ginsburg served as Assistant Dean of the University’s Division of Social Sciences from 1954 to 1956, Associate Dean of the Division from 1967 to 1969 and Associate Dean of the undergraduate division of the University from 1963 to 1966. He was Chairman of the Department of Geography from 1978 to 1985.
He also served as Director of the Association for Asian Studies from 1958 to 1961, acting editor of the Annals of the Association of American Geographers from 1961 to 1962, Secretary of the Joint Committee on Contemporary China of the American Council of Learned Societies from 1959 to 1963 and Chairman of the Committee on Social Science Personnel of the Social Science Research Council from 1967 to 1970.
Ginsburg was also elected President of the Association of American Geographers in 1970.
At the invitation of former University of Chicago Chancellor Robert Maynard Hutchins, Ginsburg took a leave of absence in 1970 from the University to join The Center for the Study of Democratic Instititions, where he was a Senior Fellow and served as Dean of the Academic Program from 1971 to 1974.
He also wrote articles for Encyclopedia Britannica and consulted on the initiative of a Chinese edition.
Following his retirement from the University in 1986, he became director of the Environment and Policy Institute of the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, for five years. He held a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1983.
Survivors include his wife, Diana; sons Jeremy and Alexander; daughter-in-law Cheryl; and a brother, Gilbert.