In Memoriam: Timothy Bawden (1965-2013), a “natural” geographer

TimBIn August, former graduate students, friends, and family gathered in room 550 Science Hall in memory of alumnus Tim Bawden who passed away unexpectedly earlier in the year. The following is the text and picture from the memorial plaque that now hangs on the dissertator’s office door. You can also view the actual poster here.

Tim Bawden grew up in the small industrial and resort village of Kohler, Wisconsin on the shores of Lake Michigan. Tim was active and popular in school. He attended the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh where he was a University Scholar, served as Student Association President, and gave the commencement speech for his graduating class. After one year at Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, Tim returned to Wisconsin in 1989 and entered the graduate program in Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Tim was a “natural” geographer. Of course he enjoyed maps, but he also had a profound, deep, and genuine interest in the uniqueness of places, in place-bound identity, and in uncovering the forces – historical, physical, cultural – that shaped the patterns he found so interesting. Born and raised in Wisconsin, Tim had a special geographic fascination with his home state. Tim was the expert on Wisconsin geography, history or culture, no matter how esoteric. Yet, what he found interesting about Wisconsin was contingent upon a complex array of intersecting forces operating at multiple scales, all of which needed to be understood.

Tim parlayed his expertise in Wisconsin’s geography into a class that was previously under hiatus at UW-Madison: The Geography of Wisconsin. Tim taught The Geography of Wisconsin with such passion, enthusiasm and attention to detail that the course took on legendary status for undergraduate and graduate students alike. The capstone to the course was a field trip to Milwaukee in which Tim found a way to elevate the bricks and mortar of the Milwaukee landscape so that it impressed upon the bigger questions, illuminated the course’s big themes, and engaged the students in ways they hadn’t been before. Whether it was illustrating the struggle to imprint an immigrant identity on the landscape or the importance of the local tavern to the city’s public culture, Tim’s big and gregarious personality brought the city to life.  At the end of the day, what most students found so exhilarating was how Tim gave them an intellectual curiosity about their own backyard – something only a “natural” geographer can do.

Tim was also the life of the department. In 1995 Tim co-organized the first “Wisconsin Party” at the annual meeting of the AAG in Chicago. Thanks largely to Tim’s efforts, the party became established as an essential departmental tradition. Tim also took it upon himself to introduce the first Beer & Loafing each year with a short history of the event, including the significance of moose.

Complementing his role as a teacher, Tim was a skilled researcher. On the faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, he used data from an ESPN sports survey of 40,000 respondents to engage students in collaborative research projects that resulted in poster sessions at professional meetings and publications. He took pleasure in seeing students stand in the limelight. While still in graduate school he served as the chief consultant to a 2003 documentary about summer camps in Northern Wisconsin.  He also served as Iconographic and Cartographic Research Coordinator of the Cultural Map of Wisconsin Project.  These last two projects especially fall into the grand old tradition of the Wisconsin Idea, that university research should benefit the citizens of the state.

From this dissertator office, Tim would often gaze out the windows, up Langdon Street toward the capitol dome, aware of the ways the landscape had changed since Science Hall was first built. The view encompassed much that was important to him: Memorial Union, where he often met friends on Friday evenings and recounted stories about the bands that had played on the Terrace before they became famous; the Wisconsin Historical Society building where he conducted much of his research; State Street; and the Capitol square, where he enjoyed Concerts on the Square. Beyond the horizon he could describe a perfect transect of the Eastern Ridges and Lowlands of southeastern Wisconsin, through the drumlins, Lake Mills, Aztalan, Johnson Creek (where his beloved wife Wendy once worked as a librarian), the small towns that were home to some of his students, on to Milwaukee and Lake Michigan. He could tell you stories about the landscape and each little town and tavern along the way.

Author: Geography Staff

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