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In Memoriam: Remembering Renowned Geographer Donald Meinig

July 13, 2020

Don MeinigPreliminary plans are forming to rededicate the spring 2021 edition of the Donald W. Meinig Undergraduate Lecture as a memorial celebration of the lecture series namesake. Meinig, a renowned figure in the field of cultural and historical geography, died on June 13 in Syracuse, at the age of 95.

Among his signature accomplishments, Meinig was the author of the four volumes of The Shaping of America: A Geographical Perspective on 500 Years of History, published by Yale University Press. Meinig spent 25 years of his scholarly life on this project, which provides a comprehensive perspective on the geographical development of the nation from Columbus’s arrival through the year 2000. When the final volume of these books appeared, in 2005, one of Meinig’s peers in the discipline called it “the most ambitious writing project of any American geographer, ever.”

Meinig was a veteran of the U.S. Army, serving in the Corps of Engineers, who then received his PhD in 1953 from the University of Washington. He taught first at the University of Utah, and then joined the Maxwell School faculty in 1959. He was named a full professor in 1962, chaired the department from 1968 to 1973, and finished out his career as Maxwell Professor of Geography; he retired from full-time teaching in 2004. During his time at Maxwell, he was the doctoral advisor of more than 20 PhD students.

In addition to The Shaping of America, Meinig was the author of The Great Columbia Plain: A Historical Geography, 1805-1910 (University of Washington Press, 1968), Imperial Texas: An Interpretive Essay in Cultural Geography (University of Texas Press, 1969), and Southwest: Three Peoples in Geographical Change, 1600-1970 (Oxford University Press, 1971), alongside other monographs and edited volumes. In the 1980s, a series of thematic regional maps developed by Meinig, titled “The Making of America,” were distributed to more than 10 million subscribers of National Geographic magazine.

Meinig was the recipient of numerous awards, including, from the Association of American Geographers, the Presidential Achievement Award (its highest honor); and, from the American Geographical Society, the Charles P. Daly Medal for distinguished service to geography. He had been a Fulbright Scholar, a Guggenheim Fellow, a fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities, a fellow of the British Academy, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2009, the Geographical Review produced a special edition dedicated to Meinig.

For more information on plans for the 2021 Donald W. Meinig Undergraduate Lecture, contact Thomas Perreault, chair of the Department of Geography, at

For more information on Donald Meinig:

Published in the Summer 2021 issue of the Maxwell Perspective

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