Denis Cosgrove, one of the foremost cultural geographers in the world, died of cancer at his home in Los Angeles on March 21, 2008. Born in Liverpool, England in 1948, he was 59 years old.
In a narrow sense, Denis Cosgrove was a cultural geographer with research interests in the history of geographic representation, and particularly of that which finds expression in the visual medium. In a much broader sense, his research straddled a huge territory that linked critical scholarly work in the history of mapping and cartography with ideas of representation and knowledge, together with an understanding of landscape form and meaning through to the expression of geographic imaginations in art from the 16th century onwards. Without question, one of the shapers of the discipline of geography over the past three decades, Professor Cosgrove's reach was quite breathtaking, extending in significant and clearly identifiable ways into cognate fields such as cultural studies, art history and landscape architecture. Across these fields his impact was profound, reflecting the novelty and fecundity of his vision.
Denis Cosgrove’s formal post-secondary training in geography started and ended in St. Catherine’s College, Oxford University where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree and later his doctorate. Between those years in Oxford, Denis received a Master’s degree in geography from the University of Toronto. His first professional appointment in geography was at Oxford Polytechnic from 1972-1980. In 1980 Denis Cosgrove moved to Loughborough University where he progressed rapidly through the academic ranks before accepting the position of Professor in Human Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London in 1994. In 1999 Professor Cosgrove moved to the Department of Geography at UCLA becoming the inaugural Alexander von Humboldt Chair of Geography. Professor Cosgrove has held visiting appointments at the University of Oregon, the University of Texas at Austin, and at the University of Toronto. Since 2000 he has held a Visiting Chair at Royal Holloway, University of London.
Throughout his career, Denis Cosgrove remained a highly productive writer, a thoughtful and dedicated adviser of graduate students, a gifted and engaging teacher, and a warm and selfless colleague always there to assist, and most often to lead. His scholarly output remains as legacy to his love of geography, to the rigor of his work, and to its broad appeal. Over the last three decades, Professor Cosgrove authored or edited eleven books, more than 80 research articles and book chapters and a huge volume of commentaries, reviews, reports and related academic papers. At the core of this work is analysis of the nature and meaning of landscape in geographical writings, of the construction of geographical imaginations and geographical knowledge, and their representation in maps and other media. Foremost among these works are the following books: Social Formation and Symbolic Landscape (1984), The Iconography of Landscape: Essays on the Symbolic Representation, Design and Use of Past Environments (1988, co-edited with Stephen Daniels), Water, Engineering and landscape: Water Control and Landscape Transformation in the Modern Period (1990, co-edited with Geoff Petts), The Palladian Landscape: Geographical Change and its Cultural Representations in Sixteenth Century Italy (1993), Durability and Change: The Science, Responsibility and Cost of Sustaining Cultural Heritage (1994, co-edited with Wolfgang Krumbein, Peter Brimblecombe and Sarah Staniforth), Mappings (1999, edited collection), Apollo’s Eye: A Cartographic Genealogy of the Earth in Western Imagination (2001), Geographical Imagination and the Authority of Images (2006), Geography and Vision (to be released in June 2008), High Places: Cultural Geographies of Mountains, Ice, and Science (co-edited with Veronica della Dora, to be released in August 2008), Photography and Flight (co-authored with William Fox, forthcoming in 2009).
Much of Professor Cosgrove’s research was closely connected to the world of art and its representation of geography. Denis presented a number of public lectures at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, at the National Gallery of Canada, at the Caixa Foundation in Barcelona and at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. In 2000/2001 he conceived and curated the exhibition, ‘John Ruskin and the Geographical Imagination’ at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
As some testimony to the impact of his scholarly work, Professor Cosgrove was a recipient of the Back Award for contributions to Human Geography from the Royal Geographical Society. He was also honored by an invitation to deliver the Hettner Lecture at the University of Heidelberg in 2005. The invitation to deliver the annual Hettner Lecture series is reserved for only the most well-known geographers whose scholarship extends far beyond the boundaries of the discipline. In February 2008, Professor Cosgrove was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Tallinn. He was named Getty Distinguished Scholar for the year 2008-2009 within the Getty Research Institute Scholar Program Networks and Boundaries, where he planned to work on a project entitled ‘Geography and Art in Los Angeles’. In support of his research, Denis received research grants from the British Academy, the Royal Society, the Leverhulme Foundation, ESRC and the Commission of the European Communities Environmental Programme.
From Loughborough University, through Royal Holloway to UCLA, Denis Cosgrove was a champion and devoted supervisor of a large number of incredibly talented doctoral students, many of whom have developed successful academic careers of their own at universities around the world. His PhD students include Trevor Pringle (Loughborough), Pyrs Gruffudd (University of Wales – Swansea), David Atkinson (Hull University), Jonathan Nix, Jeremy Foster (Cornell University), Luciana de Lima Martins (Birkbeck, University of London), Rebecca Preston (Kingston University), Jessica Dubow (University of Sheffield), Paul Kelsch (Virginia Tech), Sarah Cant (University of Plymouth), Tariq Jazeel (University of Sheffield), Aya Sakai (University of Yokohama), Susan Digby (Olympic College), Jin Jong-Heon (Korea Env. Inst.), Veronica della Dora (Bristol University), David Ralston (Merritt College and City of Oakland), Begum Basdas (Open University).
Within the university and his discipline, Professor Cosgrove offered unusual levels of service. He was joint founding editor of Ecumene: a geographical journal of environment, culture and meaning (now retitled as Cultural Geographies) and was a member of seven other editorial boards of the top journals in human geography. His regular academic appointments were always but a small part of his university service. At Oxford Polytechnic he served as Chair of the Geography Section, at Royal Holloway he was Director of the Social and Cultural Geography Research Group and Dean of the Graduate School, and at UCLA he was Vice-Chair of Geography and Graduate Advisor, about to become Chair when his illness was diagnosed.
Denis Cosgrove is survived by his wife Carmen, by his daughters Emily and Isla, by his son Leon, mother Gwen, brothers Anthony and John, sisters Angela Punaks, Susan Cosgrove, Alison Griffiths and two granddaughters Ella and Lauren.