Andrew Hill Clark

1911 - 1975

By Chelsea Morse, Valparaiso University
and Dave Lashway, University of Missouri - Columbia

Life History

Andrew Hill Clark was a Canadian geographer who contributed significantly to the rise of historical geography in North America. Clark believed geography should be concerned with regions as wholes, whose essence could be realized through recovering their historical geography. This view of the discipline was a result of some of his past experiences.

Clark was born April 29, 1911, in Fairford, Manitoba, on an Indian Reserve where his father worked as a government surgeon. The family moved four years later to Brandon, where Clark grew up in close contact with recent Polish and Ukrainian immigrants. This experience fostered in Clark a deep curiosity about the cultural consequences of modernization.

Despite this exposure to geography in his childhood, Clark's early education offered little background in the field. Clark studied mathematics and physics at McMaster University, receiving a bachelor of arts degree in 1930. He then studied a year of statistics at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, which led to a four-year job as a statistician for a life insurance company in Toronto.

Clark continued his postgraduate education in 1935 at the University of Toronto, where he took up the study of economic history. He was soon appointed an instructor in the university's department of geography, which had recently been established by Griffith Taylor. After working closely with Taylor, Clark received a master's degree in geology, economic history and geography in 1938.

That year, Clark received a teaching fellowship to pursue a doctorate degree under Carl Sauer, one of America's leading historical geographers, at Berkeley. Although he began fieldwork for a thesis on Prince Edward Island, where his ancestors had settled, he was temporarily distracted from this when offered a two-year teaching post in geography at Canterbury University in New Zealand. Here Clark completed research for his dissertation (published at Berkeley in 1944) on the introduction, by Europeans, of plants and animals foreign to the South Island and their effect on the development of its rural economy.

Upon returning to Berkeley, Clark met his wife, Louise. The war soon interrupted academic work, and the two volunteered for service in the American Red Cross in Australia. In 1942 they returned to California where Clark took a position in Berkeley as a lecturer in meteorology for the Air Force, followed by another lectureship for the Army in Baltimore. He also spent two and one-half years in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in the Research and Analysis Branch of the Far East division as an expert on Australia, New Zealand and New Guinea.

In 1946, Clark began working at Rutgers University, and soon after was named chair of the school's first department of geography. During his time at Rutgers, Clark published his first book (based on his dissertation), called The Invasion of New Zealand by People, Plants and Animals: The South Island. He then finally began to resume his fieldwork in the Maritimes. He resigned in 1951, leaving behind a small but enthusiastic department.

Clark then took a position with the University of Wisconsin at Madison as a professor until his death in 1975. During this time, he continued in earnest his research on the Maritimes. In 1959 he published Three Centuries and the Island, which described the changing demography and economy of Prince Edward Island through an extensive series of maps. His last major work was Acadia: The Geography of Early Nova Scotia to 1760, which traced the history of land tenure, demography, use of resources and political shifts on the peninsula. At the time of his death, Clark was working on a second volume on Nova Scotia covering the time period from 1760 to 1867. He died on May 21, 1975 in Madison, Wisconsin.(1)

Clark's Influence

Clark's first mentor, T. Griffith Taylor, was one of the world's most highly renowned geographers and a leading exponent of "environmental determinism." This philosophy, which dominated North American geography in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, held that the physical environment was the overriding factor in shaping human behavior and settlement patterns. Clark was also influenced by the economic historian Harold Innis, who encouraged Clark to go to California to study under Carl Sauer at Berkeley.(2)

Sauer, as a strong believer in the power of humans to transform the natural environment and create a "cultural landscape," was no determinist, and he had a major influence on Clark's emerging philosophy. This would manifest itself during Clark's studies in New Zealand. Disputing the popular idea that New Zealand's "Britishness" was inevitable as a result of either the environment or cultural inheritance, Clark asserted that New Zealand's proximity to Australia encouraged a cultural diffusion that, under slightly different circumstances, might have made New Zealand culturally Australian.

However, Clark was not derived from Sauer's mold. According to a later colleague, D.W. Meinig, Clark "was not engaged in an explicit examination of 'culture'...[His dissertation] gave much attention to cultural alterations of the landscape, but none of his studies is focused on 'the making of the cultural landscape' in any general sense."(3)

Instead, Clark's main focus was on applying rigid, detailed fieldwork and documentation -- traits common to both Taylor and Sauer -- to the study of area. His New Zealand experience would begin to establish his reputation as a premier regional geographer, and he would remain unapologetically so during the coming decades, when an increased emphasis on finding fundamental "laws" overshadowed regional approaches. Clark would declare in 1962, "If the topical specialist fails to make at least some small part of the world peculiarly, and as comprehensively as possible, his own, he will have missed one of the richest of all personal extra geographical dividends."(4)

But Clark was not just a regional geographer; he was an historical geographer as well -- one with a dynamic view toward the role of history in geography. Unlike the famous historical geographer Richard Hartshorne, Clark believed that their subdiscipline should not simply produce static geographies of the past, but should see geographies as constantly changing through time (a point which would be conceded by Hartshorne).(5)

Clark did see a distinction between historical geography and history. Finding himself in the middle between Hartshorne's restrictive approach and Sauer's "genetic" approach, which concentrated on processes, Clark laid down the principles of historical geography as the genetic study of "areal associations and differentiations," and as thus distinct from history, which is concerned with "human society in its various facets."(6) In this way he tried to preserve the disciplinary boundaries that Hartshorne had drawn, while at the same time allowing for the view taken by Sauer.

At the same time, Clark was very catholic in his views of who could qualify as a historical geographer -- anyone could make a contribution, however they defined themselves. Thus, for example, he includes such 19th-century determinists as Ellen Churchill Semple and Albert Perry Brigham: "Perhaps in part because their theory of predominant environmental influence could only be illustrated historically, both Brigham and Semple found their first interests in the North American historical record."(7) For Clark, "the concept of a separate field of 'historical geography' may be one of our esoteric taxonomic myths...almost any kind of geographical emphasis can be applied to the study of lands and peoples for any time or period for which satisfactory evidence can be determined...."(8)

For Clark, what really mattered was that historical research should study geography as a dynamic process, or "changing geographies through time": "The objects of [geographers'] study are not only the results of complex processes of past change but are, or were, in nature themselves ever-changing things, in process of metamorphosis even while being studied."(9)

Yet, to many, Clark's subsequent works seemed to have little to do with the process of change. His highly detailed, inductive approach in Three Centuries and the Island and Acadia were acknowledged to have been useful in compiling wonderful inventories, but these works seemed lacking in any organizing principles.

Acadia, in particular, provoked effusive praise and intense criticism. One reviewer wrote, "Clark's descriptive mode of treatment of social and economic phenomena has been obsolescing even in history since the middle 1950s.... The notion that all the facts must be ordered before generalization can begin has been pretty well exploded in the practice of geographical work in the 1960s; the process of generalization begins with the initial ordering of the facts."(10)

This was written during the "quantitative revolution," a time when there was a widespread feeling in the geographic community that (perhaps in order to be taken as seriously as the other sciences) geography had to be more "nomothetic"; i.e., research had to be conducted largely according to scientific principles or laws. Meinig writes that these critics were measuring Clark's work "in a very different context. For them geography was primarily part of a larger realm of social science, not of history."(11)

Meinig asserts that "the real issue in this wrangle was not Acadia so much as Andrew Clark. His very strength and stature in the field, his repeated pronouncements about major themes and methods and the role of the historical geographer, made him the obvious main target for those who saw things differently. That there was a growing number who did so was partly a result of the prosperity of the field for which he could take more credit than anyone else."(12)

Meinig contends that the criticisms were not completely unjustified; Clark, he feels, did unnecessarily shy away from generalization. "Clearly Clark was much more interested in area than in process," he says,(13) and notes that Clark, in the year before his death, admitted that his "heart never really was in" a concern for methodology.(14) But there was a "characteristic tolerance and generosity" in Clark's comments; he noted the importance of internal dialogue, saying, according to Meinig, that he would "permit his 'hackles to rise' only when enthusiasts demanded rigid narrow limits as to what geographers must teach and practise."(15)

Through all the praise and criticism, Clark's influence in the subfield of historical geography was profound. He supervised nineteen doctoral dissertations, pushing his students to apply their special interests and abilities as geographers. His works, and those of his students, had a remarkable impact on the changing perspectives of American historians. When cancer brought Andrew Clark's life to an untimely end, he had become "one of North America's best known geographers," according to professor R. Cole Harris in an obituary. "More than anyone else, he was the father of modern North American historical geography."(16)


1. Life history information from "Andrew Clark," David Ward and Michael Solot, in Geographers: Biobibliographical Studies (London: Mansell Publications, Ltd., Vol. XIV, 1993), pp. 13-25.

2. "Andrew Hill Clark, 1911-1975: An obituary," R. Cole Harris, Journal of Historical Geography, Vol. II, No. 1 (1976), p. 1.

*3. "Prologue: Andrew Hill Clark, historical geographer," D.W. Meinig, in European Settlement and Development in North America: Essays on Geographical Change in Honour and Memory of Andrew Hill Clark, James R. Gibson, ed. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1978), p. 13.

4. "Praemia Geographiae: The Incidental Rewards of a Professional Career," Andrew H. Clark, Annals of the Association of American Geographers (Vol. LII, No. 3, September 1962), pp. 234-235.

5. "Geographical Writing on the Canadian Past," Graeme Wynn, in A Scholar's Guide to Geographical Writing on the American and Canadian Past, Michael Conzen, Thomas A. Rumney, and Graeme Wynn, eds. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), p. 110.

6. "Historical Geography," Andrew H. Clark, in American Geography: Inventory & Prospect, Preston E. James and Clarence F. Jones, eds. (Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1954), pp. 72-73.

7. Ibid., p. 82.

8. "Praemia Geographiae," op. cit., pp. 229-230.

9. Ibid., p. 230.

10. Acadia book review by William A. Koelsch, Economic Geography, Vol. XLVI, No. 2, April 1970, p. 202.

11. "Prologue," Meinig, op. cit., p. 19.

12. Ibid., p. 20.

13. Ibid., p. 22.

14. Ibid., p. 24.

15. Ibid., p. 25.

16. "Andrew Hill Clark," Harris, loc. cit.

* Photo source.

Selected Writings of Andrew Hill Clark

"The South Island of New Zealand: A Geographic Study of the Introduction and Modification of British Rural Patterns and Practices Associated With the Exotic Plants and Animals of the Island" -- 1944 doctoral dissertation, University of California - Berkeley

"The Historical Explanation of Land Use in New Zealand," The Journal of Economic History, Vol. V, No. 2, November 1945, pp. 215-230.

When historians and geographers note the cultural similarity between the South Island of New Zealand and its "mother country" of Great Britain, many assert that this was inevitable, for reasons of either direct cultural inheritance or environmental determinism. But Clark argues that cultural diffusion, as a result of relative location, played a much more important role than realized. Although British settlers planned to turn South Island into an English-style agrarian society, a combination of a large sheepherding industry in nearby Australia with drought there in the 1840s caused South Island's economy to turn to sheep. Clark speculates that the Island would have become more like New South Wales, not Britain, had it not been for the counterbalancing influences of cattle farming and an 1850s gold rush.

"Field Research in Historical Geography," The Professional Geographer (Old Series), Vol. IV, 1946, pp. 13-22.

"South Island, New Zealand and Prince Edward Island, Canada: A Study in 'Insularity'," New Zealand Geographer, Vol. 3, No. 2, October 1947, pp. 137-150.

Compares the physical characteristics and social and economic institutions of these two areas from pre-European times to the present, with a critical look at the geographical use of the word "insularity."

The Invasion of New Zealand by People, Plants and Animals (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1949).

Based on Clark's doctoral work on the South Island of New Zealand, this book -- Clark's first -- offers his fullest expression of the dramatic effects on the local ecology as a result of human interaction, and of changing settlement and social patterns as a result of settlers' historical ties to Great Britain and physical proximity to Australia.

"Contributions to Geographical Knowledge of Canada Since 1945," The Geographical Review, Vol. XL, No. 1, January 1950, pp. 285-308.

After World War II, geographic publications involving Canada began to appear in great quantity. Clark provides an overview of these books and periodicals, covering both regional and systematic geography.

"The Rationale of Historical Geography." Address to the University of Toronto History Department, 1951(?), Clark Papers, MG1, Vol. 1517, No. 10, Public Archives of Nova Scotia.

"Historical Geography," American Geography: Inventory & Prospect, Preston E. James and Clarence F. Jones, eds. (Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1954), pp.71-105.

In one of his more influential essays, Clark defines historical geography and discusses the history of the field, from classical Greece to the present day. He gives particular attention to the North American works that might not have been strictly defined as "historical geography," but nevertheless contributed substantially to the field. Clark calls for more specific attention to the development of this subdiscipline, stating that it is necessary to achieve a better understanding of problems occurring in both the past and the present.

"Careers for Geographers in Higher Education," The Professional Geographer (New Series), Vol. VI, No. 3, May 1954, pp. 19-28.

"Titus Smith, Junior, and the Geography of Nova Scotia in 1801 and 1802," Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. LIV, No. 4, December 1954, pp. 291-314.

A description of the first survey of Nova Scotia, made by Titus Smith, Jr., "a farmer by occupation; a surveyor by avocation; a scientist, philosopher, and writer for recreation."

"The Impact of Exotic Invasions on the Remaining New World Mid-Latitude Grasslands," Man's Role in Changing the Face of the Earth, W.L. Thomas, ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1956), pp. 737-762.

"Canada and Australia: A Comparison," Geographical Review, Vol. XLVI, No. 3, July 1956, pp. 421-423.

"Geographical Diversity and the Personality of Canada," Readings in Canadian Geography, Robert M. Irving, ed. (Toronto: Holt, Rinehart and Winston of Canada, Ltd., 1965), pp. 3-16.

This article, originally written in 1959, offers a region-by-region examination of Canada.

Three Centuries and the Island: A Historical Geography of Settlement and Agriculture in Prince Edward Island, Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1959).

A detailed look at the economic history of maritime Canada. This work makes extensive use of census materials and other primary sources, a method which was heavily used in later works regarding Nova Scotia. Like his earlier book on New Zealand and his later book on Acadia, Clark shows his fascination with rural people who are far from their ancestral homelands.

"Old World Origins and Religious Adherence in Nova Scotia,"The Geographical Review, Volume L, No. 3, July 1960, pp. 317-344.

This study examines demographic changes in Nova Scotia as determined from the censuses of 1871 through 1941. Clark illustrates how claims of origin are sometimes ambiguous (e.g., as a result of political circumstances), but concludes that the claims of origins and especially of religious preferences in these censuses are generally valid.

"Geographical Change: A Theme for Economic History," The Journal of Economic History, Vol. XX, No. 4, December 1960, pp. 607-613.

Clark discusses communication between geographers and economic historians, the uses and limitations of economic models as applied to geography, and what historical geography has to offer to the field of economic geography.

"Land Use Pattern," in Great Lakes Basin, H.J. Pincus, ed. (Washington, D.C.: American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1962), pp. 141-155.

"The Sheep/Swine Ratio as a Guide to a Century's Change in the Livestock Geography of Nova Scotia," Economic Geography, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 1, January 1962, pp. 38-55.

A quantitative approach to this subject.

"Praemia Geographiae: The Incidental Rewards of a Professional Career," Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. LII, No. 3, September 1962, pp. 229-241.

As Honorary President of the Association of American Geographers, Clark delivered this speech at the 58th annual meeting on April 25, 1962. Written in a literary style, this speech exalts a geographer's inquisitiveness, imagination, and unique fascination with place.

"New England's Role in the Underdevelopment of Cape Breton Island During the French Regime, 1713-1758," Canadian Geographer, Vol. IX, No. 1, 1965, pp. 1-12.

"Acadia and Acadians: The Creation of a Geographical Entity," in Frontiers and Men, John Andrews, ed. (Melbourne: Cheshire, 1966), pp. 90-119.

"The Roots of Canada's Geography," co-authored with Donald Q. Innis, in Canada: A Geographical Interpretation, Canadian Association of Geographers, John Warkenton, ed. (Toronto: Methuen, 1968), pp. 13-53.

A study of Canadian human geography from the late Pleistocene to the 1867 Confederation.

Acadia: The Geography of Early Nova Scotia to 1760 (Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1968).

A highly detailed look at Nova Scotia and New Brunswick from early settlement until the expulsion of French-speaking peoples in the mid-18th century. This book was regarded as a major contribution to the factual history of the area, and it won recognition by the American Historical Association as the best historical study published in Canada in 1968. Some reviewers, however, felt that Clark's highly inductive methodology caused more obscurity than illumination.

"The Canadian Habitat," Man and His Habitat, R.H. Buchanan, Emrys Jones, and Desmond McCourt, eds. (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1971), pp. 218-246.

"Suggestions for the Geographical Study of Agricultural Change in the United States, 1790-1840," Agricultural History, Vol. XLVI, No. 1, January 1972, pp. 155-172.

Clark's comments on this subject are discussed by Roger N. Parks, Director of Research at Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, in an article immediately following this one.

"Historical Geography in North America," Progress in Historical Geography, Alan R.H. Baker, ed. (Newton Abbot, 1972), pp. 129-143.

An update of Clark's earlier contribution to American Geography: Inventory & Prospect (op. cit.).

"Contributions of Its Southern Neighbours to the Underdevelopment of the Maritime Provinces Area of Present Canada, 1710-1867," in The Influence of the United States on Canadian Development, Richard A. Preston, ed. (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1972), pp. 164-184.

"First Things First," Pattern and Process: Research in Historical Geography, Ralph E. Ehrenberg, ed. (Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1975).

"The Great Plains: Perception by Any Name." Foreword to Images of the Plains, Brian W. Blouet and Merlin P. Lawson, eds. (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1975), pp. ix-xiv.

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