Wes Dow

1929 - 2011

Maynard Weston Dow, professor emeritus at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, died on August 5, 2011.

Dow was born in 1929, close to Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. He took a BS degree from the U.S. Naval Academy (1952) and an MA degree from Rutgers University (1960). After earning a PhD from Syracuse University in 1965, Dow took a teaching post at the Air Force Academy, where he taught 1960-1962 and 1964-1972, before moving to Plymouth State University. He served 22 years in the U.S. Air Force, retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1972.

At the peak of the Vietnam War in 1966, Dow was recruited by the Department of Defense to travel to South Vietnam to conduct research, which resulted in the publication of his book, Nation Building in Southeast Asia. It was in the late 1960s, while developing a course on geographic thought at the Air Force Academy that Dow began to conceive of the project that would later become known as “Geographers on Film” – his signature contribution to the discipline. At that time, filming an interview with synchronous sound was a cumbersome process, necessitating the use of a heavy 16 mm camera and burdensome sound and lighting equipment as well as a great deal of technical expertise. Dow’s wife, Nancy, became an integral part of the filmmaking process, learning to help set-up and then handle the shoot while Wes conducted the interview.

Working together closely over a period of four decades, Wes and Nancy Dow created one of the richest oral history collections in any academic discipline. Comprised of over 300 interviews, the Dows produced and administered the series largely on their own for 45 years, distributing episodes of the series for use in geographic thought and history classes for the cost of shipping. “Geographers on Film” is currently held at the Library of Congress through the auspices of the AAG, which took stewardship of the collection in 2009 upon Dow’s donation of the material. The Library of Congress is in the process of converting and making the series available in high quality digital formats.

At the 2008 AAG Annual Meeting in Boston, the association recognized the Dows (Nancy was honored posthumously) for their unique contributions to the discipline by organizing several special sessions featuring the “Geographers on Film” series, and presenting them with the inaugural AAG American Geographical History Award. The following year, Plymouth State University recognized Wes Dow’s career contributions to geography and the university by naming the Geographic Information System Laboratory after him.

Dow died at his home in Camden, Maine. A 39-year resident of New Hampshire, he returned to his home state in 2010. His wife, Nancy Freeman Dow, died in 2005.

Wes Dow’s family has requested that contributions in memory of Wes Dow be made to the AAG Endowment Fund. Please indicate “M. W. Dow memorial contribution” on your donation.

Wes Dow (Necrology). 2011. AAG Newsletter 46(8): 44.