Nicholas Helburn

1918 - 2011

Nicholas Helburn, professor emeritus at the University of Colorado and a former President of the AAG, died recently at the age of 93.

Helburn was born in 1918 in Salem, Massachusetts, and grew up in Cambridge. He enrolled at Harvard University but left after one year to work in the New Hampshire mountains. He completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Chicago and later received an M.S. in Agricultural Economics at Montana State.

During World War II, Helburn was a conscientious objector who provided alternative service by participating in bridge building and other public works projects in Tennessee and by working as a “smoke jumper” in Montana, parachuting to reach and extinguish wildfires in their beginning stages. After the war, he earned a PhD in geography from the University of Wisconsin.

Helburn was known as an avid educator, mentor, outdoorsman, traveler, gardener, ecologist, peace activist and advocate for alternative life styles. At the beginning of his career, he moved to Bozeman to start the Department of Earth Science at Montana State College. While at Montana State, Helburn spent a year in Turkey in the early 1950’s on a Ford Foundation grant, the research from which resulted in a book about dry land agriculture and village culture in Anatolia.

In 1965, Helburn became director of the High School Geography Project, one of the “New Social Studies” curriculum projects sponsored by the National Science Foundation to develop a new approach for teaching geography in high schools. He also became the first director of the Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) for Social Studies.

Helburn joined the geography department at the University of Colorado in 1971 and chaired the department for three years. During its formative years he served on the senior faculty of the University of Phoenix, helping to develop a unique college curriculum for working adults.

In 2002, the Peace and Justice Center in Boulder, Colorado recognized him as “Peacemaker of the Year.”

Nicholas Helburn (Necrology). 2011. AAG Newsletter 46(8): 22.