Carl Ortwin Sauer

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Carl Ortwin Sauer

Carl Ortwin Sauer (1889-1975) was an American geographer and anthropologist with a strong interest in historical fieldwork and other forms of geographical research.

On December 24, 1889, Carl Sauer was born in Warrenton, Missouri. His father taught at the Central Wesleyan College, a German Methodist enterprise, since closed. His parents sent young Sauer to a school at Calur, Württemberg, and he gained his first degree from Central Western College before his nineteenth birthday. In 1915 he earned a doctorate of philosophy from the University of Chicago, and from 1915 to 1922 he served on the staff at the University of Michigan. In 1923 he went to the University of California, Berkeley, where he remained to his retirement in 1957.

Sauer's first paper was an "outline for fieldwork" in geography, published in 1915 and developed further in 1919 and 1921 in the Geographical Review and the Annals of American Geographers. Physical geographers in America already had a long and distinguished record of field survey, but Sauer, with a few other vigorous young men in the University of Chicago, saw the potential of land-use mapping, possibly with a view to evaluation of the most suitable use. In time he saw the fascination of human settlements and other patterns in relation to the culture of the people who established them.

Sauer recognized the difficulty of reconstructing past landscapes, even in America, where some areas had been settled only for a very few generations, and he turned with admiration to such studies as the 10-volume Corridors of Time series (1927-1956) of H. J. E. Peake and H. J. Fleure. Perpetually concerned with the human imprint on the landscape, he said in 1956 that the geographer need not fear the expression of a value judgment, for the use of resources will influence the lives of future generations for good or evil. He also organized the international Symposium on Man's Role in Changing the Face of the Earth, held at Princeton, New Jersey, in 1955.

Agricultural dispersals, the origins of various cultures, the destruction of plant and animal life, the strivings of man for life under adverse conditions, and the effects of climatic change all attracted the scholarly attention of Carl Sauer. Apart from a school text, Man in Nature: America before the Days of the White Man (1939); the Bowman Memorial Lectures, published as Agricultural Origins and Dispersals (1952); and The Early Spanish Main (1967); and Seventeenth Century North America (1971), virtually all his writing was in the form of articles, scholarly, fascinating, persuasive, and well documented, if at times arousing the opposition of readers. He died on July 18, 1975 and was interred in his hometown of Warrenton, Missouri.

Further Reading

Sauer's Land and Life, edited by John Leighly (1963), was a selection of his papers with an introduction by Leighly. Sauer's work was briefly discussed in Richard J. Chorley and Peter Haggett, eds., Models in Geography (1967), and Robert E. Dickinson, The Makers of Modern Geography (1969). □

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Carl Ortwin Sauer

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