Harley E. Johansen

1941 - 2014

Photo of Harley Johansen

Harley E. Johansen, Chair of the Geography Department at the University of Idaho for 30 years, will be both remembered for his scholarly work on rural development and departmental accomplishments which culminated in 2010 with the National Academy of Sciences ranking the graduate program among the top 20 geography doctoral programs in the nation, and as the top small department program.

He was born and raised on his parent’s dairy farm in Wisconsin, lived in state until the completion of his PhD from the Geography Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1974. He accepted a position at West Virginia University and in 1981 he was hired as Chair at the University of Idaho.

Harley proceeded to slowly and deliberately build the department, hiring new faculty, and over the span of his tenure encouraging the department to change and adapt with the times. He encouraged the early addition of GIS courses, adding support faculty necessary in that area, then the creation of the first Certificate Program at the university, which was in GIS.

The department had a Master’s Program when Harley arrived. He spearheaded the development of a PhD program which was reviewed and recommended by an outside committee of eminent geographers, and graduated its first PhD student in 1991. The next major shift in the department initiated by Harley was the hiring of physical geographers with a specific focus on climate change.

Harley’s own research work expanded geographically, though he remained rooted in understanding and expanding our knowledge of the process of rural development. Later his focus expanded to, at first, the Post-Soviet transition, and then most recently the impact of climate change on communities in the northern latitudes of Europe and Russia. In carrying out his evolving research agenda he was awarded a variety of grants over the years, notably nine from the National Science Foundation. Harley’s research and teaching was rewarded with four Fulbright Scholar or Senior Specialist Awards to Finland, Russia, and Macedonia. In Macedonia he developed a curriculum for a new university-level school in Skopje. He also conducted research in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the Baltic countries, especially Estonia.

In 1984 he co-published a now classic book, The Changing Rural Village in America: Demographic and Economic Trends Since 1950 with rural sociologist Glenn Fuguitt, who had been one of his major PhD advisors at Madison. In 1987 he was the lead co-editor of the book Mineral Resource Development: Geopolitics, Economics, and Policy. He continued to publish book chapters and articles, individually and with colleagues, in diverse journals such as Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Business Geographics, Environment and Planning A, Eurasian Geography and Economics, Geografiska Annaler, Journal of Balkan and Near East Studies, Rural Development Perspectives, Rural Sociology, Western Wildlands and most recently Polar Geography in his expanding interests. Harley also attracted the attention of the international press for his work on the Post-Soviet transition and was invited to publish periodically in the Financial Times of London.

His most recent Barents Project initiated in 2012 was on climate adaption policies in Murmansk above the Arctic Circle, published in 2013 with Liza Skryzhevska in Polar Geography as “Adaption Priorities in Russia’s High North: Climate Change vs Post-Soviet Transition.” Harley believed strongly in field research and amazed us with the enthusiasm and obvious joy with which he would go to the coldest northern reaches of Norway or Finland in January or February, where he would drive around in a rental car interviewing people in communities undergoing climate change.

This past summer, even with illness, he joined another Finnish based group to do similar research for a diverse set of regions in Russia. A week before he died at 73 he was talking about developing another NSF grant and an article. Unfortunately, he contracted pneumonia when he was receiving treatment for myelodyplastic syndrome (MDS) after having had a full bone marrow transplant in Seattle, and for which he was dealing with myriad after-affects.

He is sorely missed by his colleagues, students and a multitude of friends around the world. There will be special sessions at the Chicago AAG meetings this April in his honor. Harley is survived by his wife, Nancy; his sister, Amy; his brother, Harry; his son, Peder; his daughter, Ingrid; and his young granddaughters, Johanna and Klara.

This article was reprinted with permission from the Department of Earth and Spatial Sciences, University of Idaho.