Childhood & Early Life
He was born on October 23, 1915, in Kharkov, Ukraine, Russian Empire in a Jewish industrialist family to Elie Gottmann and Sonia-Fanny Ettinger as their only child. His parents were assassinated in February 1918 after the 1917 ‘Russian Revolution’.
He was adopted and raised by his aunt Emily Gottmann and uncle Michel Berchin, with whom he fled to Paris in 1921.
He studied in the Sorbonne and during his student life came under the guidance of French geographer Albert Demangeon and remained one of the latter’s closest collaborators.
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In 1937 he became a research assistant in economic geography at the ‘University of Paris’ under the supervision of Albert Demangeon. However in 1941 his career in France was suddenly impeded by the ‘World War II’ and he had to give up the position following the invasion of Nazis in France and the 1940 Statute of Jews that prevented him from holding public job.
On December 7, 1941, the day when the Japanese conducted surprise aerial attack on the United States’ Pearl Harbor naval base on the Oahu Island, Hawaii, Gottmann landed in the United States.
For the next thirty years he relocated himself in several cities in America and Europe holding various research, teaching and political positions.
After receiving a fellowship from the ‘Rockefeller Foundation’ he attended the ‘Institute for Advanced Study’ in Princeton, New Jersey. From 1942 to 1965 he remained an associate researcher at the institute.
He joined the ‘La France Libre’, the government-in-exile, which was led by French military general and statesman Charles de Gaulle during the ‘World War II’. During that time he also joined the ousted academic community of France who were teaching at the private research university in New York City, the ‘New School for Social Research’.
While the war was going on he was also consulted for the ‘Board of Economic Warfare’ in Washington and other organisations.
Meanwhile in 1943, American geographer and the then President of the ‘Johns Hopkins University’, Isaiah Bowman inducted him in the university as a lecturer and researcher. He served the university till 1948.
In 1945 he came back to France where he served as an advisor to the ‘Ministry of Economy’.
From 1946 to 1947 he remained director of research at the ‘United Nations’.
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Post war he began to travel between United States and France in an attempt to elucidate the human geography of America to the French populace and that of Europe to the Americans.
Three of his works that included ‘La politique des Etats et leur géographie’ (1952), ‘Eléménts de géographie politique (1954-55), and ‘The Significance of Territory’ (1973) and many of his articles brought out the concept of political geography. He suggested a re-conceptualisation of geography, the main concept of which was division of geographical space.
After receiving a grant from the American philanthropist Paul Mellon he studied from 1953 to 1955 and produced the first ever regional analysis of Virginia.
With the financial aid of the progressive think tank ‘The Century Foundation’ headquartered in the New York City, Gottmann analysed the megalopolis of the North-Eastern seaboard of US. In this regard he published a book titled ‘Megalopolis: The Urbanized North-eastern Seaboard of the United States in 1961 that include a geographical analysis of the east coast of the US covering Boston, Baltimore, New York, Washington, D.C. and many other cities and urban regions. The word ‘megalopolis’ was used by him to define the concept of an emerging urban development in the region that stretched from Boston to Washington, D. C.
He accepted invitation of Alexandre Koyré, Claude Lévi-Strauss and Fernand Braudel and joined the ‘École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales’ (‘School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences’) in Paris in 1961 and served as a senior lecturer till 1983.
In 1968 he was inducted by the ‘University of Oxford’ as Professor of Geography and Head of Department at the School of Geography. He became professor emeritus of the university in 1983 and remained associated with the university till his death.
He received financial support from renowned foundations like the ‘Twentieth Century Fund’ for his research and analysis, which he carried on along with his teaching and political responsibilities.
He travelled extensively attending lectures and conferences and while doing so created a network of friends, colleagues, associates and followers around the world.
Some of his other notable books and papers are ‘L'homme, la route et l'eau en Asie sud-occidentale’ (1938), ‘De la méthode d'analyse en géographie humaine, Annales de Géographie’ (1947), ‘Virginia at mid-Century’ (1955), ‘Les marchés des matières premières’ (1957), ‘Etudes sur l'Etat d'Israel’ (1958), ‘Essais sur l'amenagement de l'espace habité’ (1966), ‘La città invincibile’ (1983), ‘Since Megalopolis’ (1990) and ‘Beyond Megalopolis’ (1994).