University of Wisconsin–Madison

Yi-Fu Tuan Lecture Archive

Yi-Fu Tuan in a classroom

The Yi-Fu Lecture Series features a wide variety of U.S. and international guest lecturers from all geographic disciplines. Lecturers at these Friday seminars also often speak at brown-bag lunches, one-on-one student sessions, and breakfast meetings with student interest groups as part of their visit. Doctoral students are invited to present their final research. The lecture series was initiated by Dr. Tuan (pictured at left) and receives enthusiastic support as a department and campus tradition.

All lectures are presented on Friday at 3:30pm in Science Hall - Rm 180 unless otherwise noted. Alumni, friends and the public are always invited to attend.

Fall 2010 Lectures

September 10 - Land use change and the ecology of infectious disease transmission in western Uganda: insights from the Kibale EcoHealth Projec
Tony L. Goldberg
University of Wisconsin-Madison, Department of Pathobiological Sciences

The Kibale EcoHealth Project endeavors to understand how land use changes alter animal and human health in western Uganda. Data collected since 2004 have shown that anthropogenic forest disturbance and ecological overlap between people and wildlife are driving forces for cross-species transmission of pathogens. Human-to-primate transmission in particular is enhanced by forest fragmentation and interaction among species, due to such factors as human population expansion, encroachment into forests, and land use change driven by socioeconomic factors. Molecular studies indicate that non-human primates in this region have been exposed to previously uncharacterized pathogens, raising both conservation and public health concerns. Qualitative analyses of the attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs of local people indicate a keen awareness of the importance of health, but a relative under-appreciation of the interconnections between human and wildlife health. Identifying how patterns of behavior and ecological changes affect human and non-human primate health will facilitate targeted interventions that should lead to improved conservation planning and public health in western Uganda and elsewhere.

September 17 - Spatial Reasoning at Sea and Ashore: Directions and Challenges in Ocean Informatics
Dawn Wright
Oregon State University, Department of Geosciences

Informatics is a term that has been used with increasing frequency to represent the growing collaboration between computer scientists, information scientists, and domain scientists to solve complex scientific questions. Earth system science is based upon the recognition that the Earth functions as a complex system of inter- related components that must be understood as a whole. Examples range from understanding the complex interactions at seafloor spreading centers systems, to exploring the structure and evolution of continental earthquakes and volcanoes, to informing regional decision- and policy-making across several themes in coastal zone management and marine spatial planning. Successfully addressing these scientific problems requires integrative and innovative approaches to analyzing, modeling, and developing extensive and diverse data sets. The current chaotic distribution of available data sets, lack of documentation about them, and lack of easy-to-use access tools and computer modeling and analysis codes are still major obstacles for scientists and educators alike. This talk discusses some of the recent advances in ocean informatics that are providing practical means to overcoming such problems, as well as the research challenges that still remain. Examples are drawn from ongoing projects in Wright's seafloor mapping and marine GIS laboratory at Oregon State in the areas of marine data modeling, ocean metadata, vocabularies and ontologies, the geospatial semantic web, and applications for benthic habitat characterization, marine reserves, and integrated coastal zone management.

October 1 - Rhythm and Cadence, Frenzy and March: Music and the Geo-Bio-Affective Assemblages of Ancient Warfare
John Protevi
Louisiana State University, Department of French Studies

The French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari named at least one aspect of their work "geophilosophy." By this they mean that studying human history means studying varying "assemblages" which include not only biological, social, and technical factors, but also "terriorities" which link patterns of behavior to concrete geographical regions. These assemblages also include "affects," which are something like non-subjective emotions.This presentation will be a case study in geophilosophy: a study of geo-bio-socio-techno-affective assemblages at work in ancient Greek and Near Eastern warfare, specifically the recent claim that the defeat of plains-bound chariot armies by berserker "runners" from the hill country led to the 1200 BCE collapse of the Bronze Age kingdoms. The presentation will draw on research from a variety of fields, including cognitive science, biology, anthropology, military history, and bio-cultural musicology. Readings: Rhythm and Cadence, Frenzy and March: Music and the Geo-Bio-Affective Assemblages of Ancient Warfare Affect, Agency, and Responsibility: The Act of Killing in the Age of Cyborgs I explore the role of affect (rages and panics) and pre-cognitive reflexes in enabling killing in infantry combat. I examine Vietnam-era infantry training, which constructed a practical agent of killing which operated at an emergent group level, using the trained reflexes of individual soldiers as its components. I show that individual soldiers sometimes retrospectively took guilt upon themselves (a responsibility that is traditionally reserved for acts of individual conscious intention) even though the practical agent was the group activating the non-subjective reflexes of the individual soldiers. To explain this phenomenon, I explore proto-empathetic identification, which produces psychological trauma at the sight of the blood and guts of the killed enemy, despite the common practice of dehumanization of the enemy. I also examine cutting-edge digital and video simulator training for urban warfare of the "shoot / no shoot" type, which produces a very quick decision upon recognition of key traits of the situation - an act that is close to reflexive, but a bit more cognitively sophisticated. The same proto-empathetic identification and individual guilt assumption is in play in this training regime, even as the use of real-time communication technology forms ever more distributed group cognition.

October 8 - Place/Space, Ethnic/Cosmic: How To Be More Fully Human
Yi-Fu Tuan
UW-Madison, Department of Geography, Emeritus

What should be taught so that the young can grow up justifiably self-confident? The politically correct answer might be that, whatever else they are taught, they should be steeped first in the beliefs and practices of their own people. Such rooting guarantees them identity and self-esteem. My answer is the opposite. As I see it, children should, above all, be given the best that humankind has to offer, though, of course, that best may well include local treasures. To back up this conclusion, I will examine a set of paired terms that have a family resemblance in meaning. They are place/space, local/global, culture/civilization, and ethnicity/cosmos.

October 22 - The World's Most Enterprising Woman Explorer': The Louise Arner Boyd Arctic Expeditions of the American Geographical Society
Frederick E. Nelson
University of Delaware, Department of Geography

Polar exploration has been characterized as a "cult of masculinity." Unlike many societies and clubs concerned with exploration and field research, the American Geographical Society (AGS) welcomed women into its ranks, from its inception in the early 1850s. Perhaps the most extraordinary woman of long-standing AGS affiliation was Louise Arner Boyd, described by the historian of geography J.K Wright as "the world's most enterprising woman explorer." Boyd contributed substantially to scientific knowledge about the Arctic through her seven expeditions to the Arctic, most of them under AGS sponsorship. Several geographical features in East Greenland were named for her, including "Miss Boyd Land," "Cape Louise," "Louise Boyd Bank," and "Louise Glacier." "Geographical Society Land" was so-named because of Boyd's work in the area. Boyd's expeditions to East Greenland in the 1930s were predictive of the type of collaborative campaign that after World War II would characterize government-sponsored and international scientific efforts. "Planned as a unit," Boyd's expeditions were thoroughly integrated scientific enterprises that investigated a wide variety of natural phenomena within representative areas. The volumes resulting from this work, published as AGS Special Publications, contain a wealth of large-scale hydrographic and topographic maps, photomosaics, high-resolution glacier maps, and extended treatments of northeast Greenland's geology, glacial history, botany, and hydrology. Boyd's extensive correspondence and the journals of expedition participants leave no doubt about her ability to exercise authority over well-credentialed male scientists, a situation that led to severe tensions on several of the voyages. Her expeditions employed scientists who eventually became highly influential in their respective fields. Among others, Boyd employed the renowned earth scientists J. Harlan Bretz, Richard Foster Flint, A. Lincoln Washburn, and Noel E. Odell. Also on Boyd's expeditions were AGS cartographers O.M. Miller and W.A. Wood, who developed and applied innovative ground-based survey and photogrammetric techniques. Boyd was the first woman to serve as an AGS Councilor, was a signer of the Society's Fliers' and Explorers' Globe, and received the Society's Cullum Geographical Medal in 1938. In 1955, she became the first woman to fly over the North Pole. She was an elected member of the California Academy of Sciences, received an honorary doctorate from the University of Alaska, and was given high honors by several European nations. She died in 1972 in near penury, having exhausted her family fortune on expeditionary work and accompanying publications. Brownbag: "The Circumpolar Active Layer Monitoring (CALM III) Network: Long-Term Observations on the Climate-Active Layer-Permafrost System" abstract: The Circumpolar Active Layer Monitoring (CALM) program is currently in its third period of support from the U.S. National Science Foundation. CALM is a global-change monitoring program, established in the early 1990s to observe temporal and spatial variability of active-layer thickness, active layer dynamics, near-surface permafrost parameters, and the response of these factors to changes and variations in climatic conditions. The CALM network involves 15 participating countries and is comprised of nearly 200 sites distributed throughout the Arctic, parts of Antarctica, and several mountain ranges of the mid-latitudes. Groups of sites are used to create regional maps of active-layer thickness. Data obtained from the network are used to validate permafrost, hydrological, ecological, and climatic models, at a variety of geographic scales. In recent years considerable emphasis has been placed on obtaining records of frost heave and thaw subsidence from sites with ice-rich substrates. These observations are contributing to a reconceptualization of the role of the active layer in global-change studies. Northern Hemisphere sites in the CALM III program operate as part of the new Arctic Observing Network (AON) under development by NSF. CALM III is integrated closely with the TSP ("Thermal State of Permafrost") borehole-temperature measurement program, and considerable emphasis is being placed on obtaining borehole and active-layer observations in close proximity. CALM provides opportunities for field experience and educational participation at levels ranging from elementary school through postdoctoral studies. The circumpolar nature of the CALM network fosters extensive international collaboration between students involved in project activities. An outreach component of the project includes extensive involvement of local, predominantly indigenous population in observational programs at remote Arctic sites. Further information about the CALM III program can be found at

October 29 - How to get the most out of AAG (or any other professional meeting)
Panel Discussion

November 12 - Rousseau as a Philosopher of Environmental History
Zev Trachtenberg
University of Oklahoma, Department of Philosophy

This paper is based on an appreciation of an idea that seems central to the discipline of Environmental History: the idea that, as a matter of historical understanding, nature is not something apart from human beings, but rather that the nature human beings inhabit is itself shaped by human habitation; that idea, that is, that humanity and nature are mutually conditioning. That idea, I suggest, is a point where the disciplines of Philosophy and Environmental History might intersect: a Philosophy of Environmental History, might (among other projects) explore the mutual conditioning of humanity and nature, with an eye toward articulating two things. It might spell out a compelling descriptive account of nature that foregrounds the interdependence of human life and the natural environment-as is found, for example, in critiques of the idea of pure wilderness and the promotion of the idea of "second nature." And, it might develop a persuasive normative view which allows for the moral evaluation of the changes human beings make to the land. I will argue that Jean-Jacques Rousseau can be read as a thinker who offers just such a philosophical view. This claim might be surprising in light of Rousseau's fame for romantic depictions of solitary walkers, who pass through the landscape leaving at most a negligible trace. But he also explores another feature of the human presence in the natural world: he emphasizes that as human beings come to live in social groups they must transform the landscape in order to survive. Thus, in the Discourse on Inequality, whereas "savage man" makes use of what nature puts into his hands without having to alter the source of those goods, Rousseau associates "civil man" with quite substantial alterations of the landscape, as human beings learn through their economic activities to exploit natural processes. It follows that the evolution of human nature and social life that Rousseau recounts in the Discourse can also be read as the story of humanity transforming its habitat from primordial wilderness into the "second nature" of an agricultural countryside. After tracking Rousseau's descriptive project of recounting the development of second nature through socially organized labor, I shall argue that he pairs it with a normative project of evaluating the condition of the transformed landscape in moral and political terms. In general his normative criteria are republican: the human interaction with the landscape is good to the extent that it contributes to maintenance of rough equality of property, relative autonomy, and self-government. Where the political and economic system conforms to republican values, the people and their land will flourish in tandem; injustice will poison the interaction between people and land, leading a cycle of impoverishment and tyranny. Thus, I will conclude, Rousseau advocates an agrarian political vision in which republican institutions and environmental quality are mutually sustaining.

December 3 - Northward Bound: Sugar maple seedlings under an experimental temperature and precipitation manipulation
Lesley Rigg
Northern Illinois University, Department of Geography

Both the ecological impact and nature of climate change are likely to be extremely complex and highly variable geographically. Given the significant status of sugar maple in the forests of North America, our project seeks to assess the status of young sugar maple given alterations in air temperature and soil moisture at the species' northern limit. In an undisturbed sugar maple forest near the deciduous/boreal forest ecotone in Ontario, Canada, we established an experimental temperature (0, 2.5, and 5 °C) and moisture manipulation (wet, average, dry) experiment. The aim of this experiment was to study the potential impact that climate change might have on many ecosystem functions, including leaf-level photosynthetic light response, carbon assimilation, seedling growth rates, mortality rates, microbial activity and soil respiration. We use life table data (demographic summary tables) and transition matrix modeling to estimate projected sugar maple population dynamics in Lake Superior Provincial Park (LSPP), Ontario, Canada through 2080.

December 10 - The Biopolitical Horizons of Islamism: Notes on Critical Ontology and the Metacolonial
Najeeb Jan
University of Colorado at Boulder, Geography Department

On February 26th, 2001, the Taliban leader Mullah Omar pronounced his infamous Bamiyan fatwa. The proclamation of a jihad against the fifteen hundred year old twin statues of the Buddha carved into sandstone cliffs in Afghanistan's Bamiyan province, was widely regarded as a perverse act of cultural barbarism. While Taliban apologists pointed to political rather than theological underpinnings, the Taliban leadership insisted on viewing their action as a pure expression of iconoclasm; as a resolute act of piety and fidelity to shari'a law. Through such violences the Taliban continue to evoke a sense of the reviled and the revolting, while simultaneously securing the biopolitical logics for the "war on terror." Contrary however to both the Taliban's self-regard as ministers for the enforcement of divine commandment and the left/liberal consensus of the Taliban as figures outside of time and reason, this paper will seek to disclose the ways in which 'ulama politics is symptomatic of what I am calling the "metacolonial state". Drawing on the critical ontology of Heidegger, Foucault and Agamben, I will attempt to read Taliban idol smashing, and other examples of 'ulama body politics, as gestures marking the effective indistinction between "Islam" and the "West". Within the framework of this cartography, which is marked expressly by the extreme convergence of law and life, we may be able to reveal a greater series of intimacies between the political spaces of Islam and liberal secular modernity - spaces which converge most concretely along the horizon of abandonment and biopolitical sovereignty. By extension then I will argue that the crisis in Pakistan/Afghanistan today is itself a manifestation of the biopoliticization of the Islamic life-world.