Anne Buttimer-Broberg (1937-2017)

Anne Buttimer on the occasion of receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association of American Geographers, 2014

Anne Buttimer made a major contribution to academic Geography. An obituary in the Irish Times correctly remarks upon her internationalism, her work across several languages, her interdisciplinary ambition, and her work for many geographical institutions. I knew her only slightly but was one of many to have been gifted her hospitality and I also enjoyed several conversations with her at conferences in Geography and beyond. She was probably the Irish geographer whose work I spent most time studying when I was a student at Cambridge.

The Earth as Our Home
I admire many things about Professor Buttimer and her work but let me recall three of them as one more small tribute to her memory. I learned a lot from Anne’s work in the history of geographical ideas and particularly her championing of the work of Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859). In Humboldt she found many of the themes that her own geographical scholarship likewise espoused. Humboldt was a humanist, which for Anne meant that his work had an explicit concern with human emancipation. [1] Humboldt worked on topics in human geography, in biogeography and in physical geography and on the connections between. Anne relished Humboldt’s celebration of the integrity of nature, his cosmos, on one occasion quoting Humboldt from a letter of 1806: ‘In the forests of the Amazon River, as on the edges of the high Andes, I got the feeling—that, as if animated by a spirit from pole to pole, one single life has been infiltrated into stones, plants and animals, as well as in the swelling breast of mankind.’ [2] This biogeographical viewpoint informed Anne’s own concern with ecological sustainability. [3] Finally, Anne celebrated the literary quality of Humboldt’s work. She liked his integration of analytical science with empathetic observation. [4] Anne’s Humboldt is one that I find admirable in many ways and it gives me an understanding of the grandeur of Geography as a world-view.

Bodies and Geography in the Life-World
In describing her early work in Human Geography, Anne spoke of her interest in social space, people’s ‘everyday life experiences’. [5] In her doctoral research and many early publications, Anne explored the European bases for Humanistic Geography. She worked first with the French tradition that found one focus in the regional geographical scholarship of Paul Vidal de la Blache (1845-1918). [6] At a time when Human Geography was seeking a more naturalistic, scientistic or positivist approach, Buttimer found in the French concern with attitudes and lived-experience an alternative focus for geographers. She next extended this humanistic concern to incorporate the Time Geography perspectives of a Swedish geographer, Torsten Hägerstrand (1916-2004) and this took her to the philosophical ideas of Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) and of Edmund Husserl (1859-1938). In this way she developed a new way of talking about the Home that was her central concern as a geographer. She would now talk about dwelling and about our own individual or shared lifeworlds. [7] This gave her a new understanding of the intentionality of scientists and Anne helpfully summarized this as a concern with meaning (the preferences of the scientists), metaphor (the organizing picture of the world that the scientist uses), and milieu (the influence of the political, social and intellectual environment). [8] In this work, I found particularly inspiring Anne’s insistence upon understanding ‘bodysubject and world as reciprocally determining one another,’ because bodies have rarely been a focus in geographers’ understanding of how we all make the Earth our home. [9]

Values in Geography
My favourite among Anne’s many publications is her explication of Values in Geography. [10] It was published in 1974 and I read it in my first year as an undergraduate in 1975. It was the best account I found of the limitations of the positivist turn in Geography. Anne showed the irreducibility of value choices in academic work. This was a period when many within Geography were hoping that a purely objective social and environmental science could be achieved, or at the very least that values could be put to one side and treated as a purely private matter. Anne convinced me that our choice of subjects to study and our approach to what would count as good explanation were always matters for self-conscious reflection. This powerful insight inspired me to attempt my own explanation of the relations between facts and values in geographical study and that paper would literally have been unthinkable without the towering example of Anne’s earlier scholarship. [11]

Thank you Anne.

Gerry Kearns

[1] Anne Buttimer, ‘Geography, Humanism, and Global Concern’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers 80:1 (1990) 1-33.

[2] Anne Buttimer, ‘Bridging the Americas: Humboldtian Legacies’, Geographical Review 96:3 (2006) vi-ix, p. vii.

[3] Anne Buttimer, ‘Humanism and Relevance in Geography’, Scottish Geographical Journal 115:2 (1999) 103-116.

[4] Anne Buttimer, ‘Beyond Humboldtian Science and Goethe’s Way of Science: Challenges of Alexander Von Humboldt’s Geography’, Erdkunde 55:2 (2001) 105-120.

[5] Avril Maddrell, ‘An Interview Anne Buttimer: An Autobiographical Window on Geographical Thought and Practice, 1965-2005’, Gender, Place and Culture 16:6 (2009) 741-765, p. 746.

[6] Anne Buttimer, Society and Milieu in the French Geographic Tradition (Chicago: Association of American Geographers, 1971).

[7] Anne Buttimer, ‘Grasping the Dynamism of Lifeworld’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers 66:2 (1976) 277-292.

[8] Anne Buttimer, Geography and the Human Spirit (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993).

[9] Buttimer, ‘Grasping the Dynamism of Lifeworld’, p. 283.

[10] Anne Buttimer, Values in Geography (Washington DC: Commission on College Geography, 1974).

[11] Gerry Kearns, ‘The Virtuous Circle of Facts and Values in the New Western History’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers 88:3 (1998) 377-409.


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