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.

Spring 2009 Lectures

January 30 - Unpacking Economism and Remapping the Terrain of Global Health
Matthew Sparke
University of Washington, Geography and International Studies

Louis Pasteur once claimed that: The microbe is nothing; the terrain everything. So what, we should ask, is the terrain of global health in the context of growing global interdependency? How do different visions of globalization shape the way in which the global in global health is imagined and mapped? And what are the consequences for the ways in which the social determinants of health globally are understood and targeted for intervention? This talk outlines answers to these questions by exploring how four different socio-economic visions of globalization lead to four distinct mappings of global health problems, their causes and their susceptibility to different forms of local and global intervention. A copy of the paper on which this talk is based is available on the website of the People's Health Movement: Unpacking Economism and Remapping the Terrain of Global Health. Another version is also available, along with other publications by Professor Sparke.

February 13 - Environmental change at the desert margin in northern China, over decades to millennia
Joseph Mason
UW-Madison, Geography

Dunefields along the desert margin of northern China, near the limit of monsoon rainfall, are mosaics of vegetation-stabilized and mobile wind-blown sand. There is a widespread perception that the desert margin is threatened by "desertification" and increased dust production. At the same time, climate modeling suggests possible greening of the desert margin over the next century through a strengthened monsoon. Changes in the extent of mobile dunes over the last few decades can be investigated using remote sensing, while geologic evidence allows reconstruction of changes in dune mobility over millennial timescales. At the decadal scale, initial results reveal a complex pattern of changes in dune mobility rather than simple regional trends of mobilization or stabilization. The observed changes are difficult to explain as a response to a large regional decrease in the frequency of strong winds or other forms of climate change; instead, the best explanation may be spatially and temporally variable human impacts including both livestock grazing and dune stabilization projects. At millennial timescales, dune mobility was widespread between about 13,000 and 8000 years ago, followed by stabilization at many sites between 8000 and 2500 years ago. This is enigmatic, given growing evidence for a strong monsoon circulation around 11,000 to 8000 years ago. Possible mechanisms for dune mobility and aridity at a time of peak monsoon strength are offered by paleoclimatic modeling and modern observations of atmospheric circulation.

February 20 - Complexities in citizen participation and spatial knowledge production in inner-city neighborhoods of Milwaukee
Rina Ghose
UW-Milwaukee, Geography

Public Participation GIS (PPGIS) research agenda has explored the issue of equitable access and use of GIS and spatial data, among traditionally marginalized citizens, in order to facilitate effective citizen participation in inner-city revitalization activities. However, research indicates that PPGIS is a complex process, with uneven outcomes. This research presentation will explore the complexities embedded within the participation and spatial knowledge production process for inner-city neighborhood based community organizations. Using a theoretical framework drawn from political economy, this presentation explores the process of citizen participation within neoliberal collaborative planning process in inner-city Milwaukee. GIS is commonly used to produce spatial knowledge for neighborhood planning. Networks of association evolve to connect multiple actors from public and private sectors with community organizations, to provide opportunities of spatial knowledge production and participation. These networks contain structural inequities, hierarchical dominance and fluctuating resources. But these networks also transcend political boundaries and are dynamic and flexible. In trying to control the revitalization agendas and the material resources required for it, the actors and community organizations construct politics of scale. For some community organizations, such scalar politics and creative alliances with critical actors allow them to skillfully navigate territorially-scaled networks of power in order to gain an effective voice in decision-making activities. But other community organizations lag behind, and are not able to form relationships in order to secure their urban space.

February 27 - Why Place Still Matters — Hidden Assets and the Use of Geographic Information for Fundamental Change in the 21st Century
Scott Bernstein
President, Center for Neighborhood Technology, Chicago

From the 1850s through WWII, American cities were developed around relatively efficient infrastructure networks. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the streets came with the means of local transportation. The post- War rapid decentralization was accompanied by a sorting of real estate values in inverse proportion to convenience, producing what’s now known as the "Drive 'til You Qualify" real estate market, in which home seekers "chase" lower housing prices but pay for this with increased transportation costs. But is this a good deal? What if the roots of the current foreclosure crisis are as related to this trend as to the well-publicized questionable mortgage practices? Economic development is often defined as a strategy that results in increased income. But what good is increased income if the cost of living outpaces it? In addressing climate change and the need for greenhouse gas reduction, it’s become remarkably standard for scientists and planners to state unequivocally that the largest source of emissions is buildings, and also that we cannot reduce transportation emissions without a massive move toward cleaner cars and fuels. But what if it’s not buildings per se but settlement patterns and location that are the problems? And what if you could reduce emissions even more by more efficient use of space, and if the key to that more efficient use is the part of the "built environment" that’s tangible but only partly visible, such as our networked infrastructure, or intangible and invisible, such as the economic and administrative arrangements by which our infrastructure investments are guided? Well-publicized framing of climate change challenges, such as the film An Inconvenient Truth, asserts that the cost to mitigate carbon emissions will be high; but what if a more place-based approach actually saves money or pays? Geographic information systems can now help us answer these kinds of questions, but framing knowledge spatially flies in the face of public policies that have favored direct assistance to people over investment in communities and places. It’s been said that economic development depends on recognizing that communities have underutilized assets tht are too often hidden, scattered and poorly utilized. Scott Bernstein will present examples of newer uses of GIS for real-time application in the 21st Century and help "make the case for place" in emerging federal and state urban policies.
  • Center for Neighborhood Technology & Center for Transit-Oriented Development, The Affordability Index: A New Tool for Measuring the True Costs of a Housing Choice; Brookings Institution, 2006 at
  • Scott Bernstein; "The New Transit Town: Great Places and Great Nodes That Work for Everyone," concluding chapter, The New Transit Town: Best Practices in Transit Oriented Development, Hank Dittmar and Gloria Ohland (eds). Island Press 2004
  • C. Makarewicz, P. Haas, A. Benedict, S. Bernstein, "Estimating Transportation Costs for Households by Characteristics of the Neighborhood & Household," Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, No. 2077, National Academy of Sciences, November 2008
  • Center for Neighborhood Technology and Center for Transit-Oriented Development, Hidden in Plain Sight: Meeting the Demand for Housing Near Transit, U.S. Dept. of Housing & Urban Development and the Federal Transit Administration, 2006, at
  • Scott Bernstein and Joel Rogers, Re-Placing the Region: the Costs of Sprawl and the Benefits of Place-Based Infrastructure Investment to Local Economic Development, New York, the Century Fund, March 2009 (forthcoming)
  • Scott Bernstein, "Why Transit Options Help," Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, February 19, 2009 at

March 13 - Great Plains Aridity and Rates of Vegetation Response: A Paleoecological and Paleoclimatic Synthesis from the Early Holocene
Jack Williams
UW-Madison, Geography

The early-Holocene drying of the North American mid-continent is an important case study for understanding regional aridity, its drivers, and the sensitivity of local systems. Here I will present a synthesis of eolian, fossil pollen, d13 C, lake-level, and other paleohydrological proxies to document the spatial and temporal patterns in the onset and rate of drying. The timing of onset varies widely among sites, with some sites beginning to dry at 14,000 yr BP and others as late as 6,000 yr BP. Western sites begin to dry first, but the timing of local responses can depart considerably from the regional trend. Sites vary in the rate of response, with approximately one-third of sites showing rapid (<300 years) responses to early Holocene drying. A cluster of rapid responses at ca. 8,000 yr BP may be caused by accelerated rates of regional drying, in turn forced by the collapse of the Laurentide Ice Sheet and drainage of Lake Agassiz. Other rapid responses likely represent non-linear site responses to progressive drying. The 21st-century trajectory for the Great Plains is uncertain, because climate models differ over the direction of regional precipitation trends, but future drying likely would trigger threshold-type shifts in ecotone position. Local responses to future regional drying trends may vary widely in timing and rate, challenging detailed impact assessments.

April 3 - Land Use Transitions and Conservation
Ruth DeFries
Columbia University, Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology

April 15
Kren Kainer
University of Florida, Forest Resources & Conservation/Latin American Studies

  • 8:00-9:30 am: "Women and Careers in International Conservation and Development," discussion breakfast with Dr. Karen Kainer. (Memorial Union)
  • 10:00-11:30 am: Informal discussion opportunity. Students may sign up to speak one-on-one with the guest speaker. Contact Carol Enseki to reserve a 20-minute slot. (Room 15 Science Hall)
  • 12:00 noon-1:00 pm: "Partnering for Greater Success: Local Stakeholders and Biodiversity Research: A View From The Brazilian Amazon," lunch brownbag with Dr. Karen Kainer. (360 Science Hall)
  • 4:00-5:15 pm: "Seeking Sustainability in the Amazon: Shifting from Brazil Nut Exploitation to Conscious Management," Dr. Karen Kainer, public lecture (On Wisconsin Room, The Red Gym)

April 17 - Developing a GIS-based Modeling System for Integrated Watershed Management
Yongbo Liu
University of Guelph, Geography

In 2004, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Ducks Unlimited Canada established the watershed evaluation of BMPs (WEBs) project. The purpose of the WEBs project was to quantify the relative economic and environmental effects of BMPs in representative agricultural watersheds. This study developed a SWAT based integrated hydrologic-economic modeling system for WEBs using the MapWindow GIS platform. In this system, an "Information" sub-system was developed to display and summarize all available climate, hydrologic, economic and spatial data of the project. A "Scenario" sub-system was the core module to parameterize the SWAT and economic model for various BMPs combinations at a farm/field level or subbasin/HRU level. In the third step, a "Models" sub-system was developed to house available models including SWAT, on-farm model, farm behavior model, and integrated hydrologic-economic model. Finally, the "Display" module was a post-processing tool for displaying time series and distributed modeling results and for preparing a standard report. The integrated modeling system was empirically applied to the 75 km2 South Tobacco Creek watershed in South Manitoba, which was one of the seven WEBs project sites across Canada. The system was able to examine and visualize economic costs, water quality benefits and benefit to cost ratios of various BMP scenarios comprising small dam, holding pond, wetland restoration, riparian grazing management, forage conversion, zero tillage, and wetland restoration. Prior to this assessment, the model was calibrated and validated based available hydrologic, water-quality data at five stations within the watershed and crop management data from1991 to 2006. Various BMP combination scenarios were then created using a developed integrated hydrologic-economic modeling interface. The model selectively applied BMPs throughout the watershed on a field by field basis, estimated the associated costs, and predicted the relative water quality improvement. A pre-BMP scenario representing conditions of the watershed prior to the implementation of BMPs, and post-BMP scenarios representing the conditions of the watershed after implementation of BMPs were then simulated to estimate the reductions in sediment and nutrient yield due to the BMPs implementation. The results are presented as percentage reductions in sediment and nutrient loadings, at the farm level, subbasin level and the watershed level. The modeling system links field scale BMPs with watershed delivery and attenuation functions to predict the watershed effects of any combination of BMPs. The reduction rates in simulated pollutant loadings and the costs for BMP implementation were used to identify appropriate BMPs for the watershed. The system has a user friendly interface and provides a tool for conservation researchers and managers to study the economic and environmental effects of individual BMPs or a combination of multiple BMPs in agricultural watersheds. Traditionally, single disciplinary approaches have been employed to analyze specific aspects related to watershed study and management. These researches have provided valuable insights into various components and processes of watershed system. However, due to system complexities and interrelationships between bio-physical, ecological, socioeconomical and policy aspects, there is a wide acceptance of the need for an integrated approach to environmental assessment and modeling, as well as to environmental management more generally. This talk presents the WEB (Watershed Evaluation of Best Management Practice) project for integrated analysis of interrelationships between bio-physical, ecological, socioeconomical and policy aspects over a watershed system in the context of solving practical problems. The heart of this project was to quantify the relative economic and environmental effects of Best Management Practices (BMPs) at watershed, subwatershed, producer and field levels by developing an integrated hydrologic-economic modeling system. With this integrated modeling system, the economic and environmental effects of best management practices can be simulated and evaluated under different hypothetical scenarios. The integrated modeling system was empirically applied to the 75 km2 South Tobacco Creek watershed in South Manitoba, which was one of the seven WEBs project sites across Canada. The system is able to examine and visualize economic costs, water quality benefits and benefit to cost ratios of various BMP scenarios comprising small dam, holding pond, riparian grazing management, forage conversion, zero tillage, and wetland restoration, and is expected to be a valuable tool for conservation planning and management for agricultural watersheds.

April 24 - Treacy Lecture: "The Landscape Context for Paleoindian Colonization of the Midwest, USA"
Catherine Yansa
Michigan State, Geography

A landscape reconstruction for earliest human occupation of the Upper Midwest during the late Pleistocene is provided by the integration of archaeological records with pollen and plant macrofossil data obtained from the investigation of wetland sediments in archaeological context. Collaborative research between archaeologists David Overstreet and Dan Joyce and myself, a paleoenvironmentist and biogeographer, reconstructs the environmental setting of three Paleoindian sites in Wisconsin and sets this work within the broader context of initial Native American settlement of North America. Evidence so far indicates that Early Paleoindians butchered mammoths (Mammuthus cf. M. jeffersonii) along the edge of an intermoraine lake at two nearby locales, the Schaefer and Hebior sites in Kenosha County, at about 14,700 to 14,300 calendar years ago. This paleolake no longer exists, but during the late Pleistocene it was situated ~12 km east of the larger glacial Lake Chicago (Lake Michigan basin). Analysis of pollen and plant macrofossils from the mammoth bone beds indicates a spruce parkland-sedge wetland environment. Key taxa at the Schaefer and Hebior sites included the trees Picea glauca (white spruce) and P. mariana (black spruce), with lesser amounts of Fraxinus nigra-type (black ash) and species of Populus (aspen/poplar) and Betula (birch). Herbs that inhabit shoreline (e.g., Chenopodium spp.) and shallow aquatic (e.g.,Potamogeton filiformis) habitats were also abundant. The plant fossils and archaeology of these two sites suggest that Early Paleoindians probably traveled by boat along water ways, many of which no longer exist; an interpretation previously proposed by some other archaeologist working in the region. A similar paleoenvironment is reconstructed for the younger Fabry Farm site situated in Door County. Here there are three Paleoindian occupations bracketed by the ages 13,000 and 10,200 calendar years BP, with only the youngest one having diagnostic artifacts identified as Agate Basin (Late Paleoindian). The vegetation reconstructed for the Fabry Farm site is the same as interpreted for the Schaefer and Hebior sites, a swampy spruce parkland. And the location of Fabry Farm site along the shore of glacial Lake Algonquin provides further evidence for Paleoindians engaging in a more "maritime" strategy for transportation, resource extraction, and settlement than one would expect for the people who colonized the Midcontinent of North America.

May 1 - Trewartha Lecture: Going beyond the sea-level hockey stick: Early and late Holocene sea level/climate connections"
Torbjorn Tornqvist
Tulane University, Earth and Environmental Sciences

This presentation will focus on natural sea-level changes worldwide, prior to the post-industrial sea-level acceleration. First, it will be shown that this acceleration (the “sea-level hockey stick”) is comparatively well documented and possibly more striking than its temperature counterpart. However, important questions about natural sea-level variability earlier during the Holocene remain unresolved. Two case studies will be presented, both based on research in the Mississippi Delta. The first explores the eustatic response of sea level to the atmospheric warming that occurred during the Medieval Warm Period (~900 to ~1200 AD) and the subsequent transition into the Little Ice Age (~1400 to ~1900 AD). The new findings suggest that the maximum rate of sea-level rise occurred around 1100 AD, which slightly postdates peak Medieval warmth according to most Northern Hemisphere paleotemperature records. Although a tantalizingly close coupling between elevated surface temperatures and accelerated sea-level rise is suggested, the considerable errors inherent to the data compared to the resolving power needed, warrant caution. Second, a new record of sea-level change is presented that focuses on the time interval around 8200 BP, a period that features a century-scale abrupt climate cooling in the North Atlantic region. Evidence is provided in support of an abrupt sea-level rise that occurred between 8200 and 8270 cal yr BP and appears to represent the final drainage of proglacial Lake Agassiz. The sudden release of freshwater from this giant water body that has so far not been well dated, is therefore the likely culprit of the so-called “8.2 ka event” as it caused weakened North Atlantic ocean circulation and reduced northward heat transport.