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Anne Knowles Receives Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award

December 28, 2012

Anne Knowles(Credit: Sharon Farmer for Smithsonian Enterprise)

Anne Knowles, chair of the geography department at Middlebury College, received one of nine American Ingenuity Awards presented by Smithsonian Magazine to recognize pioneers in fields ranging from education and the performing arts to the natural sciences and social welfare. Presented at a gala in Washington, D.C. in November, 2012, Knowles received the award for historical scholarship and was introduced by Richard Beschloss, an American historian specializing in the United States presidency.

Knowles’ work continues to bridge the divide between historical geography and GIS, and also has helped bring the fields of history and geography together. In an interview with the AAG Newsletter, Knowles recalled that she began her career as an English major. “I loved poetry; I loved metaphor.” But poetry also helped her understand the importance of place in the creation of meaning. She took to the use of GIS in research because “I wanted to grapple with the real spatiality of events happening on the ground that I felt were important for understanding historical events.”

Her new book, Mastering Iron: the Struggle to Modernize American Industry 1800-1868, to be published by the University of Chicago Press, fills an important gap in understanding the development of the economy and culture of the United States. Based on nearly two decades of research and the painstaking creation and development of a GIS database by Knowles, the book will be the first major study of the iron industry in the nineteen century.

“I think the book really shows how an empirical approach to the geography of historical processes can fill in so many blanks and complement existing studies,” Knowles told the AAG Newsletter. “GIS is allowing for a much finer-grained study. GIS helps get us closer to the empirical truth.”

All nine award recipients were profiled in the December issue of Smithsonian Magazine, with short videos about their lives and careers on the magazine website and the Smithsonian Channel.







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