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In Memoriam: Daniel W. Gade (1936-2015) – Geographer Extraordinaire

By Dr. Kempton E. Webb, Emeritus Professor of Geography, Columbia University

The death of Dan Gade left a big hole in the lives of those of us who were lucky enough to be his friends. We have learned that the loss of a beloved colleague can hit us harder than his living presence. But do not despair, because Dan and his wife Mary (cartographer and editor), worked furiously until his last days to complete his magnificent legacy to us and others who strive to know the world: Spell of the Urubamba: Anthropogeographical Essays on an Andean Valley in Space and Time (Springer 2016, 354 pps.)

This modern classic demonstrates (with abundant colored maps, photographs, graphics, and almost 1,000 references in five languages) how a broadly educated scholar uses his inherent curiosity to ask significant questions about a unique area in Peru as it changes through time and space. Dan makes the learning experience exciting and fun.

The sequence of topics in this veritable banquet of places, cultures, ideas, and personalities follows with specific chapter titles:

  1. The Urubamba in Perspective (Focus on the River; Physical Geography; Human Presence; Doing Fieldwork in the Valley)
  2. Urubamba Travelers and Generators of Knowledge (Tourists; Sojourners; Researchers)
  3. Urubamba Verticality (Reflections on Crops and Diseases)
  4. The Sacred Valley as a Zone of Productivity, Privilege, and Power
  5. Vilca in Andean Culture / History (Psychotropic Associations in the Urubamba)
  6. Mysterious Ucumari (The Andean Bear in Nature and Culture)
  7. Urubamba Ramble (Hiram Bingham (1875-1956) and His Artful Encounter with Machu Picchu)
  8. Vilcabamba (Fabled Redoubt of the Urubamba Region)
  9. Highland and Lowland Peoples in Contact with the Tropical Urubamba
  10. Conclusion (The Spell is Cast)
  11. Glossary (Quechua, Spanish, English)

Based on six different field seasons over the course of 50 years (1963-2013) of intense investigation of the Urubamba river valley, Dan has been introspective about the values that enhance a study beyond the basic facts of observable information. He highlights not only diligent observation but also imagination. He realizes that a lot of knowledge about places is interpretational. “Without an inquisitive spirit as its driving force, the research enterprise falters unless one substitutes for it the prospect of money or fame” (p. 338).

One of the most enlightening and enjoyable aspects of Dan’s book is the very strong emphasis on field work. He employs conceptualization, imagination, use of uncommon sources, intense probing of residents’ insights, deepest feelings, spiritual beliefs, and their historical land use practices. He also uses his own senses of sight, sound, taste and small, plus common sense to evaluate his experiences. We both recall the pungent smell of burning eucalyptus wood and animal waste.

Long before I met Dan in the 1970s I had been captivated by the Urubamba spell in 1952. A Harvard geology classmate and I drove his Model A Ford for six weeks from Venezuela to Peru where we worked as mining geologists for Cerro de Pasco. My last six weeks were spent on the Altiplano part of the Urubamba basin at 14,000 feet above sea level. The real high point of the summer season was visiting the spectacular mid-altitude section of the Sacred Valley and observing the landscapes and people that Dan’s remarkable book made come alive to me again. During my senior year, I applied to graduate school in geography.

The depth and breadth of Dan Gade’s publications are astounding, as are the many languages he spoke, read, and wrote, as are the different types of topics he has pursued and the many cultures he has explored around the world. He personifies the study of the significance of differences from place to place over the earth’s surface. He gives new meaning to the expression ‘liberal education’ and to the reputation of the field of geography. We are indeed honored to have known him and his winsome worldliness.