Geographer Hall of Fame – Waldo Tobler

June 19, 2012 at 3:13 pm  •  Posted in Geography by  •  26 Comments

One of the things in our culture that makes me sick to my stomach is the celebrity worship.  Everyone knows all the personal details and career history of all the top actors, actresses, musicians, models, athletes, and other performers.  But, no one knows the top minds in mathematics, science, engineering, medicine, law, the humanities, etc.  Same is true of key leaders and thinkers working in government, non-profit and industry.  People worship entertainers and ignore the “real” people who are responsible for building the society that facilitates entertainment.  To try to do my part to remedy this situation, I’m going to experiment with a series of posts that recognize a few of the greatest minds in Geography.  We’ll see how it goes.  If you have any suggestions please leave a comment or contact me via Twitter @justinholman.

For my inaugural Geographer Hall of Fame inductee I’ve decided to recognize one of my all-time favorite geographers, Waldo R. Tobler.  Dr. Tobler is probably best known for coining what’s known as the First Law of Geography: “Everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related to each other”.  To me, he’s the godfather of analytical cartography, a pioneer in computational geography and a leading contributor in the field of quantitative spatial analysis.  I think Tobler’s real genius lies in his creative approach to visualizing spatial data.  He’s produced some of the coolest maps of all time (see map of Swiss migration patterns below) using computer hardware and software that were barely up to the task.  I can’t imagine what Dr. Tobler might have done with Flash or SVG or Adobe Illustrator if he would have had modern computing tools at his disposal during the peak of his career.

If you’re interested in geography and/or GIS you should learn something about Waldo Tobler and his contribution to the field.  If you were a baseball player you would take time to learn something about Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron, right?  Well, why not do the same in your own field?

Here are a couple of links where you can learn more.

Want to nominate the next Geographer for Hall of Fame induction?  Leave a comment below or send me your suggestion via Twitter.



  1. Mark DeMulder / June 20, 2012 at 10:01 am / Reply

    Here’s a suggestion for your Geography Hall of Fame:

    Henry Gannett

    Born in Bath, Maine, in 1846, and educated at Harvard University, Gannett began his career in topographic mapping with the Hayden Survey in 1871. The USGS Geography Program was established under his direction, and he served as Chief Geographer of the Survey from 1882 to 1914. Under his command, the program’s first topographic map sheets were produced. Through his work as a geographer of the U.S. censuses of 1880, 1890, and 1900 and the Philippine, Cuban, and Puerto Rican censuses, Gannett became interested in place names. His efforts to resolve difficulties caused by the confusion and duplication of geographic names, especially in Western lands, contributed to the establishment of the U.S. Board of Geographic Names in 1890. Gannett was also one of the founders of the National Geographic Society (founding member, 1883; president, 1910-14), the Geological Society of America, and the Association of American Geographers.

    • Justin / June 20, 2012 at 10:16 am / Reply

      Mark – thank you so much for taking the time to nominate Henry Gannett, an excellent suggestion! Here’s a link to his profile for those interested in learning more: Thanks again!

  2. Justin / June 20, 2012 at 10:29 am / Reply

    I received a message from a reader who suggested Yi-Fu Tuan and David Harvey, two worthy nominees! Add your nominee here!

    • Elliot / June 24, 2012 at 2:49 am / Reply

      I nominate Lil B “The BasedGod”. He is a rapper from Berkeley, California, who is incredibly prolific at creating music that pays homage to times and places in rap culture. If you are unfamiliar with his work, this is a good place to start:

      • Justin / June 25, 2012 at 10:21 am / Reply

        Hi Elliot – very interesting nomination! Never expected to see a rapper as a nominee so thanks for thinking outside the box. I will definitely check out his work. Thanks again! -Justin

  3. John Nelson / June 20, 2012 at 4:37 pm / Reply

    Consider the adventurous Bill Bunge. Geo-thought innovator, shrouded in mystery…

    • Justin / June 20, 2012 at 8:40 pm / Reply

      Thanks for the nomination, John! I don’t know too much about Bill Bunge so I appreciate the opportunity to learn something new. Best, Justin

      • Sam Pepple / June 25, 2012 at 5:53 pm / Reply

        Bill Bunge was a talented yet enigmatic geographer with a generally under-told story.
        Zachary Forest Johnson wrote the most holistic and useful introduction of Bunge’s story.


        • Justin / June 25, 2012 at 5:56 pm / Reply

          Sam – thanks for your nomination and for sharing this link! Cheers, J.

  4. Colin MacLaren / June 21, 2012 at 1:41 am / Reply

    Hey, huh? 2 more nominees for the geog. hall of fame:

    M. Gordon Wolman
    Grove Karl (GK) Gilbert

    • Justin / June 21, 2012 at 1:47 am / Reply

      Happy to include 2 nominees from a Hall of Fame friend! Thanks, Colin! Cheers, J.

  5. Jesse Piburn / June 25, 2012 at 1:37 pm / Reply

    On more of the quantitative side of things how about some of these guys…

    Way Way Back:
    Eratosthenes (Invented the discipline as we know it)
    Gerardus Mercator (Mercator Projection)
    René Descartes (Cartesian coordinate system)

    Way Back:
    Walter Christaller (Central Place Theory)
    Johann Heinrich von Thünen (The Isolated State)
    Alfred Weber (Industrial Location Theory)

    Walter Isard (Founder of Regional Science)
    Michael Goodchild (GIS)
    Luc Anselin (Spatial Stats)

    • Justin / June 25, 2012 at 5:38 pm / Reply

      Thanks, Jesse! I was thinking of several of these names as well so we’re on the same page. Best, Justin

  6. Martin von Wyss / June 25, 2012 at 5:55 pm / Reply

    Justin, I second your nomination. And I offer my eternal gratitude to whoever can locate, digitise and share what might be the first animated map, Dr. Tobler’s animation of Detroit. It’d be fascinating to watch now that we’ve all seen so many animated maps.

    • Justin / June 25, 2012 at 5:58 pm / Reply

      Martin, thanks for the second! Do you have any further information on the animation of Detroit – is there a publication date for an article or something along those lines? Best, Justin

  7. Don Cooke / June 28, 2012 at 12:55 pm / Reply

    Every time I hear about a “Hall of Fame” (And I’m in at least one of them ), I can’t help picturing a dusty adobe building somewhere along old Route 66 in Arizona, with waxwork dummies of Tobler, Goodchild, etc. Sorry; just my demented mind working overtime.

    • Justin / June 28, 2012 at 2:34 pm / Reply

      Don – funny! Even if it’s in the middle of the desert at least there’s somewhere to go for those who are interested. Thanks for reading!

  8. Steve Gushue / June 28, 2012 at 2:50 pm / Reply

    Is the primary goal to nominate only analytical geographers? Two people that were influential in my thesis studies were J.B. Jackson and Carl O. Sauer, both of whom spawned a litany of geographers and devotees.

    • Justin / June 28, 2012 at 2:54 pm / Reply

      Steve – no real goal other than to recognize key contributors to the discipline. Thanks for suggesting Sauer and Jackson, two worthy nominees. Cheers, J.

  9. Pingback: Geographer Hall of Fame – Submit Your Vote | Geographical Perspectives

  10. Pingback: Geographer Hall of Fame – Gerardus Mercator | Geographical Perspectives

  11. Peter C Burley / October 10, 2013 at 12:52 pm / Reply

    Waldo was on my committee in the early 1980s. A brilliant man and fun to work with. Thanks.

    • Justin / October 10, 2013 at 4:43 pm / Reply

      Thanks Peter! Great to see that the NAR has a good geographer on staff! All best, JH

  12. Rich Quodomine / December 27, 2014 at 9:24 pm / Reply


    Great topic!

    I’ve a few nominations.


    August Loesch (in addition to being requisite reading for economic geographers, he stood up to the Nazi regime and paid the ultimate price)

    At the risk of polishing my alma mater’s apple, Dr. Vince Ebert (Charles HV Ebert), who founded Buffalo’s Geography Department, taught for 50+ years and received both SUNY Distinguished Teaching and Research awards.His research work in disasters and human effects thereof is first rate, but he also taught a class called “The Art of teaching” from which future generations of geography professors throughout the world learned effective teaching methods. Full disclosure; I took the class, and still use its principles.


    PS Dr. Tobler sat in on my AAG talk in 2013 in LA. Most nervous I’ve ever been giving a talk.

  13. Rich Quodomine / December 27, 2014 at 9:35 pm / Reply

    And of course, since it was not seen elsewhere, Dr. Tomlinson, for sure – as reminded to me by @GlobalangMtl

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