McColl, Robert W. (Robert William McColl)

views updated

McColl, Robert W. (Robert William McColl)


Education: University of Washington, Seattle, Ph.D., 1964.


University of California, Santa Barbara, lecturer, 1963, assistant professor of geography, 1964-66; University of Kansas, Lawrence, assistant professor, 1966-68, associate professor, 1968-78, professor of geography and East Asian studies, 1978-2003, professor emeritus, 2003—, department chair, 1996-2002. Nanjing University, professor, 2000; Mongolian Academy of Sciences, honorary member of Institute of Geography; lecturer at other institutions, including U.S. Air Force Academy, Northern Arizona University, Lanzhou University, and Peking University. Conducted numerous field studies throughout the world, particularly in Asia, the Middle East, and the Pacific islands; corporate consultant.


(With Glen Marotz) Coping with Natural Environments, Kendall-Hunt Publishing (Dubuque, IA), 1982.

(General editor and contributor) Encyclopedia of Geography, three volumes, Facts on File (New York, NY), 2005.

Author of training manuals and travel guides. Contributor to books, including Tension Areas of the World, edited by D. Gordon Bennett, Park Press (Delray Beach, NC), 1981, revised edition, 1997; Pluralism and Political Geography, edited by Nurit Kliot and Stanley Waterman, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1982; East Asia: Geographical and Historical Approaches to Foreign Area Studies, edited by Clifton Pannell, Kendall-Hunt Publishing (Dubuque, IA), 1983; Buffer States and World Politics, Westview Press (Boulder, CO), 1986; and Changing China, edited by Chiaomin Hsieh and Max Lu, Westview Press, 2004. Contributor to periodicals, including Arab World Geographer, GeoJournal, Geographical Review, Southeast Asian Spectrum, Human Behavior, Journal of Asian Studies, Journal of Conflict Resolution, Journal of Social and Political Ideas in Japan, and Professional Geographer.


Robert W. McColl told CA: "I have always loved language, words, and precise communication of ideas and the sharing of the wonder and elation of discovery. Even learning languages other than English has enhanced my sense of precision and the richness of words and communication.

"My overall academic interests began in high school with an interest in Egyptian archaeology. I then moved to physics and in college to medicine, Asian studies, and finally, in graduate school, to geography—which unified them all.

"Among the most unusual consequences of writing an article was the issuance of a set of Chinese postage stamps resulting from my article ‘Follow the Flowers,’ a study of itinerant beekeepers in China. Among the more profound consequences were some positive political changes that resulted from an article I did with the Israeli geographer David Newman dealing with the West Bank. These, and other consequences, proved that academics could in fact write material that resonated with the general public that even could have meaning and consequences in the real world. I find this very gratifying and encouraging.

"What I tried to accomplish in the Encyclopedia of Geography was to collect a group of writers who were knowledgeable and who could write simply, clearly, and with enthusiasm to provide information on the entire range of geographic topics from countries and cities to climate and topography. Geography is among the most interesting subjects because it requires an ability to integrate knowledge from the physical sciences of geology, climatology, vegetation, soil, oceanography, and even astronomy with a knowledge of all the human sciences from medicine to sociology to geopolitics.

"Often I am kidded for being too analytical. I always want to know the ‘why’ of something, actually of everything. Once I discover the answer, I like to share the sheer joy of that discovery with others. Most often that is done in teaching, but writing is a natural extension of the classroom. It is especially important for me to write in both a format and a forum that will be read (and enjoyed) by many—especially non-academic geographers. One key to such writing is to avoid pretentious jargon, but not to ignore effective words and concepts. I especially like analogies. For example, I once compared the complexities of dealing with security in the geography of urban centers, with their tall buildings, alleys, and roads, with the physical conditions common to a tropical jungle, especially at night. The city also can be viewed as a kind of human-created physical topography of hills, mountains, valleys, et cetera.

"Style? I recall the best writing advice I think I ever had. Write without clutter and so that the reader clearly understands what you want to say. Style is something that will emerge."

About this article

McColl, Robert W. (Robert William McColl)

Updated About content Print Article