James C. Knox died suddenly of heart failure on October 6, 2012.
Longtime Professor of Geography and the Evjue-Bascom Professor-at-Large at the University of Wisconsin, Madison (UW-Madison), Jim Knox is widely regarded as having transformed the subdiscipline of physical geography. In the process, he became one of the most recognized, honored physical geographers of his generation. During 43 years as a faculty member at UW-Madison, Knox’s research forever altered the field of fluvial geomorphology and opened new directions in scholarship that linked his field to broader environmental issues.
Knox grew up among the hills and valleys of southwest Wisconsin’s “Driftless Area”—a landscape he turned into a laboratory that provided far-ranging insights into the responses of river systems to climate variability and human intervention on time scales ranging from the Quaternary to the historical. Employing methods ranging from stratigraphy to geochemical analysis to the extraction of information from early land surveys—an approach he pioneered—Knox helped advance process-based approaches in geomorphology, even as he demonstrated how studies of earth-surface processes could yield insights into climate change—past, present and future.
Knox’s impact on physical geography and geography in general goes far beyond the extraordinary contributions of his scholarship. There is likely no living physical geographer who has produced more students who have gone on to assume positions of influence in the discipline than Jim Knox—so much so that one often hears reference to the “Knox School.” His pedagogic influence extends well beyond graduate education: he is widely known as an enthusiastic, demanding, and caring teacher who has sparked the interests of countless undergraduates through the years, including many who went on to pursue graduate work in geography.
Knox had significant success in efforts to advance his discipline, university, and department. He served as AAG National Councillor and was an Associate Editor of its flagship journal, the Annals of the AAG. He played important leadership roles in the geomorphology subsections of two different disciplinary associations: the AAG and the Geological Society of America. In addition, he chaired the Department of Geography at his home institution and assumed many other responsibilities on the University of Wisconsin campus. Knox served as a councilor for the American Quaternary Association and was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He also served on numerous panels and advisory boards of the National Science Foundation.
Knox was born in Platteville, Wisconsin on November 29, 1941. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Wisconsin State University in 1963 and a PhD from the University of Iowa in 1970.
In 2011, the AAG conferred one of its highest honors—AAG Lifetime Achievement Honors—on Knox, recognizing his extraordinary achievements in research, service, and disciplinary leadership.
James C. Knox (Necrology). 2012. AAG Newsletter 47(10): 22.