Gilbert F. White
serious attention to geography--than in the United States.
suppositions are wrong.
A: That was the case and that still is the case. I've lectured in the Moscow State
University where the geography faculty numbers 350. There's nothing like
it in the United States in terms of the amount of detail and sophistication of
The European influence on Chicago was modest. There was a much stronger
influence from American scholars. Edith Semple, who did historical
geography, had been a visiting professor there. In the days when I was an
undergraduate there was more interest in the work of Isaiah Bowman and
Semple and the application of Frederick Jackson Turner's theories of
occupation of semi-arid areas than there was drawing from European
geography, although we all studied Humboldt and Ratzel and the other major
Q: So you took a BA in geography, or was it a BS?
A: It was a BS. And then an MS.
Q: Did you write a master's thesis for your MS?
A: Yes, I wrote a master's thesis on an English estuary, Humberside. The
reason for this was that there was an opportunity to do field work in England
in 1931 during the summer. I took that opportunity and used material from
it for a master's thesis which I completed in 1934, two years after my
bachelor's degree. At that time I also completed all of the formal
requirements for a Ph.D. so that I had only a doctor's dissertation to write.
I then knew I wanted to write it in the field of natural resources. This was
the spring of '34. Barrows had been appointed to the Mississippi Valley
Committee of the Public Works Administration, which was headed by
Secretary of the Interior Ickes, a Chicagoan who had known Barrows and
Merriam. Charles E. Merriam, a leading professor of political science, had
just been appointed to the new National Planning Board. Barrows said to me,
in effect, "We have a six-months' job at most, working on preparation of a
report of the Mississippi Valley Committee. Why don't you come to
Washington for a few weeks or a few months and lend a hand?" I gladly