Carl O. Sauer Biography

(American Geographer Who Has been Called 'the Dean of American Historical Geography')

Birthday: December 24, 1889 (Capricorn)

Born In: Warrenton, Missouri, US

Carl Ortwin Sauer was one of the most prominent geographers in America during the twentieth century. He was an advocate of the effect of human intervention in the formation of the landscape, cultures, societies, history and environment of various areas around the globe especially Latin America and less industrialized zones of North America. He was a fierce critic of environmental determinism though he had been a teacher of the subject at one point of time. He focused on the diffusion of animals and plants and the impact on the geography due to the conquest of the indigenous people in North America, the Red Indians, by the whites. He was extremely critical of the government for not providing any policy that could bring about a sustainable use of land and its resources. He started a new school of thought that the geography of an area is more dependent on the humans who have changed it rather than nature. He introduced the term ‘landscape’ into American geography which could be a ‘natural landscape’ or a ‘cultural landscape’. He suggested that landscape is a viable alternative to environmental determinism which describes the casual influence of the environment on humans, whereas, the landscape approach studies the impact of humans on the environment. In his opinion geography is ‘cultural landscape’ rather than ‘natural landscape’.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Carl Ortwin Sauer

Died At Age: 85


Spouse/Ex-: Laura Lorena Schowengerdt

father: William Albert Sauer

mother: Rosetta Johanna Hall

children: Jonathan

Geographers American Men

Died on: July 18, 1975

U.S. State: Missouri

Childhood & Early Life
Carl O. Sauer was born in Warrenton, Missouri, on December 24, 1889. His father was William Albert Sauer, a German immigrant and a teacher in a German Methodist college named ‘Central Wesleyan College’ which is now defunct, and his mother was Rosetta Johanna Hall, also a German immigrant.
He did his initial schooling from a school in Calur, Wurtemberg in Germany.
He returned to the United States and joined ‘Central Wesleyan College’ from where he graduated in 1908 shortly before turning nineteen.
He joined the ‘Northwestern University’ in Evanston, Illinois to study geology from 1909 to 1909 where he became interested in past history.
He shifted over to geography and studied the cultural activities and the physical landscape of the past.
He joined the ‘University of Chicago’ later and studied under various professors such as Rollin D. Salisbury and others. He received his PhD in geography from this university in 1915.
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Carl Sauer worked as an instructor in physical sciences at the ‘State Normal School’ at Salem, Massachusetts from 1913 to 1914.
He joined the ‘University of Michigan’ at Ann Arbor as an instructor in the newly formed department of geology and geography in 1915 and became an Assistant Professor in 1918, an Associate Professor in 1920, a Professor in 1920 and the Chairman of the department in 1923.
He taught environmental determinism, a part of geography, which stressed that the development of societies and cultures depended solely upon the physical environment.
While studying the reasons behind the destruction of the pine forests in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, he became convinced that humans control nature which determines the development of their cultures and not the way he believed till then. It was just opposite to what he had been teaching in environmental determinism and he became a fierce critic of the subject for the rest of his life.
In 1923 he joined the ‘University of California, Berkeley’ as a Professor and the Chairman of the department of geography. Here he developed the ‘Berkeley School of Geographic Thought’ which related the geography of a region to its landscape, history and culture. He held this position from 1923 to 1954.
He also was instrumental in aligning the geography department at the university with its anthropology and history departments.
While working at the U. C. Berkeley, he brought out his most famous paper ‘The Morphology of Landscape’ in 1925 that challenged the idea of environmental determinism and stressed on the fact that people and natural processes were actually responsible for the change in the landscape and geography of a certain area.
During the 1920s Sauer studied the landscape of Mexico which was the beginning of his life-long interest in the historical geography and the cultures in Latin America.
During the 1930s he worked with the ‘National Land Use Committee’ to study the relationship between soil, climate and landscape. He worked with one of his graduate students named Charles Warren Thornthwaite at the ‘Soil Erosion Service’ on soil erosion.
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He published a series of essays in 1938 on economic and environmental issues which were critical of the government for its inability to bring economic and agricultural reform which would be sustainable.
He earned national recognition with his involvement in the design of the ‘Michigan Land Economic Survey’.
He played an important part in the establishment of the ‘US Soil Conservation Service’ and the design of the land-use mapping service in the United States.
He became a consultant to the ‘President’s Science Advisory Board’ during the 1930s.
During the 1930s he also became interested in biogeography and wrote many articles on animal and plant domestication.
In 1955 he organized an international conference on ‘Man's Role in Changing the Face of the Earth’ at Pricenton, New Jersey, which discussed the impact created by humans on the organisms, water, landscape and atmosphere.
He also served as a member of the selection committee in the ‘John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation’ and oversaw the issue of American scholarships.
He became the President of the ‘Association of American Geographers in 1940 and was appointed an honorary president in 1955.
He retired from active teaching in 1957 but carried on with his research work. He was a ‘Professor Emeritus’ from 1957 till his death.
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Major Works
One of the major works of Carl O. Sauer was ‘The Morphology of Landscape’ which was published in 1925 where he introduced the concept of ‘landscape’ in geography. ‘The Road to Cibola. Berkeley and Los Angeles’ was published in 1932 while ‘Aboriginal Population of Northwestern Mexico’ was published in 1935.
His book ‘Destructive Exploitation in Modern Colonial Expansion’ was published in 1938 while ‘Agricultural Origins and Dispersals’ about the domestication of plants and animals was published in 1952.
Awards & Achievements
Carl O. Sauer received the ‘Charles P. Daly Medal’ from the ‘American Geographical Society’ in 1940.
He received the ‘Vega Medal’ from the ‘Swedish Society for Anthropology and Geography’ in 1957.
He received the ‘Victoria Medal’ from the ‘Royal Geographical Society’ in 1975.
He received a medal from the ‘Berlin Geographical Society’ also.
Sauer received four honorary doctorates which included degrees from the ‘Syracruse University, the ‘Heidelberg University’ and the ‘University of California’.
He received an ‘Honorary Fellowship’ from the ‘American geographical Society’ in 1935.
Almost fifty doctoral students studied under him during his entire career at the ‘University of California, Berkeley’.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Laura Lorena Schowengerdt and had a son named Jonathan and a daughter named Elizabeth from the marriage.
Carl O. Sauer died at the age of 85 in Berkeley, California, USA on July 18, 1975.

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