Williams, Michael 1935-

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Williams, Michael 1935-


Born June 24, 1935, in Swansea, Wales; son of Benjamin (a company salesman) and Ethel (a homemaker) Williams; married Eleanore Lerch (a high school teacher), June 25, 1955; children: Catherine Dilys, Tess Jane. Ethnicity: "European." Education: University College of Swansea, University of Wales, B.A. (with first class honors), 1956, Ph.D., 1960; St. Catharine's College, Cambridge, diploma in education, 1960; Oxford University, M.A., 1978; University of Wales, D.Litt., 1990.


Home—Harcourt Hill, Oxford, England. Office—School of Geography, Oxford University, Mansfield Rd., Oxford OX1 3TB, England; fax 01865-271929. E-mail—[email protected].


Writer, geographer, editor, historian, and educator. University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia, lecturer, 1960-65, senior lecturer, 1966-72, reader in geography, 1973-78; Oxford University, Oxford, England, lecturer, 1978-90, reader in geography, 1990-96, professor of geography, 1996, director Environmental Change and Management Unit, 1993-98, fellow of Oriel College, 1978—, lecturer in charge at St. Anne's College, 1978-96, vice provost, Oriel College, 2000-02. Part-time lecturer, South Australian Institute of Technology, 1963-70; visitor and lecturer, University College, London, 1966-67 and 1973; visiting fellow, University of Wisconsin—Madison, 1973-74, Flinders University of South Australia, 1984, University of Chicago, 1989, and University of California Los Angeles (UCLA); lecturer at universities in England, Australia, and United States, including University of California, Berkeley, Brandeis University, University of Michigan, Duke University, and North Carolina State University. Expert witness, Australian Federal Commission on Redistribution of Electoral Boundaries and State Commission on Electoral Boundaries, 1968; member of committee for landscape evaluation for the state, National Trust of South Australia, 1974-75.


British Academy (fellow), Royal Geographical Society (member of South Australia council, 1961-70; vice-president, 1974; president, 1975-76; chairman of Historical Geography Research Group, 1983-86), Institute of British Geographers (member of council and chairman of Publications Committee, 1983-88), Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science (honorary editor of publications, 1968-70; member of state organizing committee, 1969-73), Institute of Australian Geographers (member of council, 1968-72), Oriel Society, Forest History Society (judge for Weyerheauser Literary Prize, 1984-86; honorary fellow, 1990).


Grants from Australian Research Grant Commission, 1969-73, 1975-78, and 1976-79; John Lewis Gold Medal, Royal Geographical Society, 1974; Biennial Literary Prize, Adelaide Festival of the Arts, 1976, for The Making of the South Australian Landscape; grants from British Academy, 1986, 1988, 1995, and 1998; travel grant from Royal Society, 1988, for International Geographical Union; Hidy Award, Forest History Society, 1988; Weyerhauser Prize, American Forest and Conservation Society, 1990, for Americans and Their Forests, 2004, for Deforesting the Earth; Meridian Prize, Association of American Geographers, for most scholarly work in geography, 2004, and British Academy Book Prize runner-up, both for Deforesting the Earth.


(Editor) South Australia from the Air, Melbourne University Press (Melbourne, Australia), 1969.

The Draining of the Somerset Levels, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 1970.

The Making of the South Australian Landscape, Academic Press (London, England), 1974.

(With J.M. Powell) Australian Space, Australian Time: Geographical Perspectives, 1788-1914, Oxford University Press (Melbourne, Australia), 1977.

The Changing Rural Landscape of South Australia, Heinemann Educational (Melbourne, Australia), 1977, revised edition, State Government Printer (Adelaide, Australia), 1991.

(With B.A. Badcock and D.H. Jaensch) Adelaide at the Census, 1971 (monograph), Australian Political Studies Association, 1977.

The Americans and Their Forests: An Historical Geography, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 1989.

Wetlands: A Threatened Landscape, Basil Blackwell (London, England) 1990.

(Editor) Planet Management, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1993.

(Editor) Understanding Geographical and Environmental Education: The Role of Research, Cassell (New York, NY), 1996.

The Landscapes of Lowland Britain, Routledge (New York, NY), 1999.

Deforesting the Earth: From Prehistory to Global Crisis, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 2002.

(Editor, with Ron Johnston) A Century of British Geography, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 2003.

(Editor, with Graham Humphrys) Presenting and Representing Environments, Springer (Dordrecht, Germany), 2005.

(Editor, with John Chi-Kin Lee) School Improvement: International Perspectives, Nova Science Publishers (New York, NY), 2006.

(Editor, with John Chi-Kin Lee) Environmental and Geographical Education for Sustainability: Cultural Contexts, Nova Science Publishers (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to books, including Settlement and Encounter: Essays Presented to Sir Grenfell Price, Oxford University Press (Melbourne, Australia), 1969; The English Medieval Landscape, Croom Helm, 1982; The Earth as Transformed by Human Action, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 1991; Ecology and Empire, Edinburgh University Press (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1997; Encyclopedia of American Forest and Conservation History; Methods and Approaches in Forest History, edited by M. Agnoletti and S. Andersen, CABI Publishing (Wallingford, England), 2000; The Relations of History and Geography: Studies in England, France, and the United States, by H.C. Darby, University of Exeter Press, 2002; Culture, Land, and Legacy: Perspectives on Carl O. Sauer and the Berkeley School of Geography, Geoscience Publications (Baton Rouge, LA), 2003; Managing the Forest on Both Sides of the Atlantic: One Hundred Years of the USDA, edited by A. Sample, 2005; and World System History and Global Environmental Change, edited by A. Hornborg, Altamira Press (New York, NY), 2005.

Contributor to academic journals and periodicals, including Environment and History, History Today, Journal of Historical Geography, Geographical Review, and Antipode.

Editor of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 1983-88, Global Environmental Change, 1993-96, and Progress in Human Geography, 1990—; honorary editor of Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society (South Australia), 1962-70; member of editorial board of Encyclopedia of American Forest and Conservation History; member of editorial advisory board of Journal of Historical Geography, 1975-79, Geographical Journal, 1984—, Environmental History (US and UK editions), 2001—; and Progress in Human Geography, 2001—.


Writer, editor, and educator Michael Williams is a British Geographer whose expertise centers around human-applied processes that profoundly change the landscape in which they live, such as wetlands drainage, agricultural clearing, and deforestation. The Draining of the Somerset Levels is a "masterly and exhaustive technological study" of the draining and reclamation of the marshlands that once existed in the geographical areas around Britain's Somerset Levels, noted reviewer D.E. Mullins in Journal of Applied Ecology. Williams looks at some of the earliest known settlements in the Somerset Levels area, including Iron Age Brythons whose villages had little effect on the regional ecosystem. The first residents to actively participate in drainage and reclamation were early Celts and Anglo-Saxons, which Mullins called "enterprising pioneers of land drainage." Williams describes how ecosystems changed with the draining, how natural resources such as fish, fowl, and peat became more and more scarce, and how other attempts were made at reclamation over long periods of time. "The climate and geology of the Somerset Levels are exceedingly complex, but Dr. Williams guides us unhesitatingly through all their intricacies and makes us understand the practical problems which the men of Somerset had and have to face," observed H.E. Hallam in Economic History Review.

The Americans and Their Forests: An Historical Geography provides a historical perspective on the relationship between Americans and the dense forests of America that have provided a considerable bounty of lumber, paper, and other products for centuries. Williams notes that Americans had to shift their attitudes toward forests, from one of "forest as mine," in which resources are stripped away and the remnants abandoned, to "forest as crop," in which forests are renewable resources that must be cultivated, cared for, replanted, and eventually harvested. Williams notes how the use of trees was widespread and largely unchecked during the first three centuries after American colonization, but that concerns about forest supply and sustainability began to arise in the middle of the nineteenth century. "In a synthesis requiring considerable courage, Williams covers this whole vast story," noted Patricia Nelson Limerick in American Historical Review, from Native American uses of timber, to the gigantic lumber mills that harvested vast numbers of trees, to the economic power of the lumber industry, to the timber industry in the Pacific Northwest. He describes techniques, equipment, and procedures used in the timber industry and for transporting logs. Williams also reassesses the reputations of a number of early governmental forest officials as being genuinely concerned with forest depletion and timber usage. In consideration of modern conservation efforts and organizations, Williams also examines changing attitudes towards harvesting of old-growth woodlands, and relates the dissatisfaction many feel with the loss of so many deep, primeval forests. In total, Williams's book "addresses a serious gap in American environmental history: the relationship between one of the most significant biotic features of the American landscape and its human inhabitants over the last four centuries," commented James D. Proctor in ISIS: Journal of the History of Science in Society.

Williams turns his attention to Great Britain with A Century of British Geography, edited by Williams and Ron Johnston. Williams and his contributors chart the history of geography as an academic discipline in England. He tells how the discipline was established about a century ago, first at Oxford then at the London School of Economics. The authors represented in the collection look at British geography in historical terms and discuss the contributions that geography has made to Britain academically, socially, and culturally. The book "offers detailed—and often lengthy—contributions from leading scholars. It is well edited and nicely produced. It presents British geography in a broadly positive light, while lamenting some of its failures," reported Simon Batterbury in the Geographical Review. Topics and themes covered include Environment, Place, Scale, Geography in Action, and the future and development of geography within British universities and educational institutions. "One comes away from reading the book with a sense of just how far British geographical ideas have evolved over the twentieth century," Batterbury observed.

In Deforesting the Earth: From Prehistory to Global Crisis, Williams examines the long history of human interaction with forests, and how and where humans felled trees for use in homes, as fuel, to clear land for agriculture, and for other uses geared to ensure human survival. The book is structured in three parts. In the first, Williams looks at forest clearing in the far past and ends his consideration with the state of deforestation in medieval times, when agriculture and rapid expansion led to considerable use of timber and forest products. In this section, Williams "introduces a theme to which he returns time and again throughout the course of his inquiry: the myth of nature as pristine and untouched by human beings before the dawn of the industrial age. This is still a powerful myth today, and Williams devotes many pages of his book to dispel it," noted Judith Tsouvalis in the Geographical Journal. The second part of the book covers the use of trees and timber in Europe and other parts of the world from 1500 to 1920. Williams notes how expansion, technology, and economic concerns led to expanded use of forest products during this time. In part three, he concentrates on the period from 1900 to 1995, with a focus on the United States. What Williams "does do admirably well is tell us in great detail about how people did interact with their forests, and how they used trees and the various products they provided," Tsouvalis commented. Tsouvalis concluded that for "those who care about nature in general and forests in particular, and for whom history and geography matter," Williams's thorough study "constitutes essential reading."

Michael Williams once told CA: "I have always had a fascination with understanding what we see around us—the visual landscape that more often than not is the product of centuries of human endeavor and transformation. Hence, my earlier work concentrated on specific landscape forming processes, such as draining of wetland environments, forest clearing, and agricultural change. Opportunities to work in Australia and the United States have broadened the range of my work, so that Americans and Their Forests is continental in scale and straddles transformations from pre-Indian times to the present. Currently, I write about the global experience in deforestation from antiquity to the current concerns in the tropical rain forests. Too often the mistake is made that environmental change is a product of the present world, when it has been going on since humans inhabited the earth."

Williams added: "Particularly influential in my early work was the writing of H. Clifford Darby and Donald W. Meinig, who taught me a respect for accuracy and clarity of expression."



American Historical Review, October, 1991, Patricia Nelson Limerick, review of Americans and Their Forests: A Historical Geography, p. 1276.

Annals of the Association of American Geographers, March, 1976, J.M. Powell, review of The Making of the South Australian Landscape, p. 149; December, 2004, review of A Century of British Geography, p. 1006.

Conservation Biology, December, 2004, Donald J. Leopold, "A Seamless Blend of Science and History," review of Deforesting the Earth: From Prehistory to Global Crisis, p. 1693.

Economic History Review, August, 1971, H.E. Hallam, review of The Draining of the Somerset Levels, p. 485.

Geographical Journal, June, 2006, Judith Tsouvalis, review of Deforesting the Earth, p. 173.

Geographical Review, January, 2005, Simon Batterbury, review of A Century of British Geography, p. 145.

ISIS: Journal of the History of Science in Society, June, 1991, James D. Proctor, review of Americans and Their Forests, p. 352.

Journal of Applied Ecology, August, 1971, D.E. Mullins, review of The Draining of the Somerset Levels, p. 623.

Journal of the History of Science in Society, December, 2004, Karen Jones, review of Deforesting the Earth, p. 685.

Professional Geographer, November, 1990, Conrad T. Moore, review of Americans and Their Forests, p. 518; November, 2005, review of A Century of British Geography, p. 617.


Economic History Services,http://www.eh.net/ (August 4, 2003), Gary Libecap, review of Deforesting the Earth.

Oxford University School of Geography Web site,http://www.geog.ox.ac.uk/ (December 10, 2006), biography of Michael Williams.

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