Blanchard, Raoul

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Blanchard, Raoul

b. Orléans, France, 4 Septemper 1877; d. Paris, France, 24 March 1965)


Blanchard graduated from the École Normale Supérieure in 1900 and passed the concours d’agrégation in history and geography. At the time, geography was still mainly in a descriptive stage and an adjunct to history. His thesis on Flanders, presented at the University of Lille in 1906, was one of the first important works of regional geography based on research done in situ.

At the time of his appointment as lecturer in 1905, there was not a single student of geography at Grenoble. Through perseverance, teaching ability, and the novelty of his subject, he turned the university into one of the most active centers for geography in France. He later became a professor. In 1940 he was appointed dean of the Faculty of Liberal Arts and taught there until his retirement in 1948.

Blanchard was the creator of French Alpine geography, founding the Revue de géographie alpine, which published the first works on the French Alps. For the study of mountains he instituted field observation (he was an indefatigable hiker) together with rigorous arguments for studying structure, to which he gave priority (instead of erosion surfaces).

His twelve volumes on the French Alps are considered his chief work, but his range of interests was much greater. In human geography he produced important studies of cities, works that were novel at the time because they combined a study of the site with that of the development of the city. He prepared the volume on western Asia for the series Géographie Universelle (1929), and later published a general study of North America (1933). He knew North America well. He had been appointed instructor at Harvard in 1917 and was a full professor from 1928 to 1936. He also taught at Chicago, Columbia, and other schools in the United States as well as the universities of Montreal and Laval in Canada.

Blanchard was representative of his epoch in French geography. In time, of course, concepts and methods changed, and he was reproached by some for not having advanced his morphology beyond a somewhat oversimplified determinism.


I. Original Works. Blanchard’s writings include La Flanfre… (Dunkerque, 1906), his thesis; Geography of France (Chicago-New York, 1919), written with M. Todd; Les Alpes françaises (Paris, 1925); L’Asie occidentale, in the series Géographie Universelle, directed by P. Vidal de la Blache and L. Gallois (Paris, 1929); L’Amérique du Nord: États-Unis, Canada et Alaska (Paris, 1933); Grenoble: Étude de géographie urbaine (Grenoble, 1935); Les Alpes occidentales, 12 vols (Grenoble, 1941–1958); and A Geography of Europe (New York, 1944), written with R.E. Crist.

II. Secondary Literature. Biographies of Blanchard are J. Blache, in Revue de géographie alpine, 7 (1965), 361–370; P. Dagenais, in Revue de géographie de Montréal, 18 1964), 133–135; D. Faucher, in Revue de géographie des Pyrénées et du Sud-Ouest, 13 (1965), 157; and A. Perpillou, in Acta geographica (Paris), no. 5 (1965), 1. See also In Memoriam Raoul Blanchard, prepared by the Association des Amis de l’Université de Grenoble (Grenoble, 1966).

Juliette Taton