Gary S. Dunbar

1931 - 2015

Gary Dunbar, Professor Emeritus of the University of California at Los Angeles, who made notable contributions in the history of geography, passed away on August 16, 2015, at the age of 84.

Gary Seamans Dunbar was born on June 8, 1931 in Clifton Springs, New York. By 1948 he was valedictorian of Avon Central School graduating class. Further academic credentials came from the University of Virginia where he earned a bachelor’s degree with distinction (1952) and a master’s degree (1953).

In 1956 he completed his doctorate at Louisiana State University with a thesis entitled “Cultural Geography of the North Carolina Outer Banks.” This was later published as a book: Historical Geography of the North Carolina Outer Banks (1958).

After a year teaching at Longwood College in Farmville, VA, he returned to the University of Virginia where he remained from 1957 to 1967. He began as assistant professor, later becoming chairman of the geography department. During this time he also taught at the University of Dacca in East Pakistan (now Dhaka in Bangladesh) as a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar (1962-1963), and spent two years at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria (1965-1967). In the summers he taught at various Canadian universities: University of Manitoba (1961), Queen’s University (1962), McMaster University (1963), and York University (1968). In 1967 he joined the department of geography at the University of California, Los Angeles, remaining there until retirement in 1988.

Dunbar published considerably with special reference to intellectual history. He was particularly interested in the history of both U.S. and French geography. His books included: Elisée Reclus, Historian of Nature (1978), The History of Geography: Translations of Some French and German Essays (1983), The History of Modern Geography: An Annotated Bibliography of Selected Works (1985), Modern Geography: An Encyclopedic Survey (1991), A Biographical Dictionary of American Geography in the Twentieth Century (1992; second edition 1996), and Geography, Discipline, Profession and Subject since 1870: An International Survey (2001).

Additionally, he published a number of articles relating to the history of geography, including essays published in Geographers: Biobibliographical Studies. Other articles related to historical geography, history of exploration, and cultural geography. He also gave a number of lectures in both the U.S. and abroad, and provided notes and reviews in several geographical periodicals.

He was a member of several professional societies including the Association of American Geographers, which he joined in 1953. From 1981 to 1992 he served as President of the Association of Pacific Coast Geographers. He also served on several editorial boards.

During his career, Dunbar traveled through North and South America, the West Indies, Europe, Africa, and Asia, often involving his wife and children in his adventures.

On early retirement at the age of 58, he moved to Cooperstown, NY, an area he had first visited in 1952 as a graduate student. While researching the cultivation of hops for his Master’s thesis, he was captivated by the village, Otsego Lake and the surrounding countryside. It became his home for the last 27 years of his life and he much appreciated the quietude of offered by the Cooperstown environment, where he was involved in various local community organizations.

Gary Dunbar was a kindly person, quite given to helping others, and happily productive in the genre of the history of geography. He leaves behind his beloved wife of 62 years, Elizabeth, their three children, Emily, Elihu, and Esther, and four grandchildren.

Contributed by Geoffrey Martin, and with thanks to the Dunbar family for the photograph