Denis Cosgrove died recently at the age of 59. He did much to enlarge and enrich cultural geography as a field of enquiry through wide ranging studies of geographical knowledge and imagination. Known for having little affinity with the positivistic approaches of spatial science, Cosgrove’s increasingly cosmopolitan vision had moved geography firmly toward the center of the humanities in recent years. His emphasis on interdisciplinary approaches helped broaden the scope of human geography and deeply informed the journal he cofounded, Ecumene.
Since joining the Department of Geography at UCLA in 2000, Cosgrove had served in the prestigious role of Alexander Von Humboldt Chair of Human Geography. This appointment followed positions at Royal Holloway, University of London (1994-2000), Loughborough University (1980-1994), and Oxford Polytechnic University (1972-1980). Cosgrove graduated from Oxford with a degree in geography in 1969. He later obtained a master’s degree in geography from the University of Toronto (1971) before returning to Oxford to earn a PhD (1976). He was about to become Chair of the Geography Department at UCLA in 2006 when he was first diagnosed with the cancer that would eventually take his life.
Cosgrove published a series of influential books exploring the manifold power of landscape in various historical and geographical settings, particularly in the design and engineering schemes of Renaissance Italy. Titles include The Palladian Landscape (1993) and an important collection of essays which he co-edited with Stephen Daniels, The Iconography of Landscape (1988). His most recent book, Apollo’s Eye (2001), was an ambitious exploration of visions of the Earth in the western imagination from antiquity to the present. He also authored Social Formation and Symbolic Landscape (1984), Water, Engineering, and Landscape (1990), and Mappings (1999).
Cosgrove was deeply engaged with art history, landscape design, and visual culture studies. He conceived and curated an exhibition on John Ruskin at the Ashmolean Museum in 2000, and was a key participant in the AAG’s Geography and the Humanities Symposium, which took place at the University of Virginia in June of 2007.
Cosgrove received the Back Award from the Royal Geographical Society in 1988 for contributions to human geography. He delivered the prestigious Heidelberg Hettner Lectures in 2005 and was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Tallinn in February of 2008. Cosgrove would have been Getty Distinguished Scholar at the Getty Research Institute in 2008-09.
Denis Cosgrove (Necrology). 2008. AAG Newsletter 43(6): 10.