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Kharkov, Ukraine
Birth Sign
Kharkov, Ukraine

Jean Gottmann was a remarkable French geographer best known for his seminal study of the Northeast Megalopolis (also known as the Boston–Washington Corridor). He coined the term’megalopolis’ to refer to the surge in urban development in the zone extending from Boston to Washington, DC. He was a unique geographer, cognizant of global developments as well as the influence of English geographers. While defending geographical tradition, he also worked to modernize it and eliminate the associated theoretical and methodological flaws. His work on human geography included subfields such as historical, political, urban, regional, and economic geography. He concentrated his efforts on France, the United States, Japan, Israel, and the Mediterranean. He was a prolific writer who wrote on a variety of subjects, including capitals, central cities, and urban development from both a political and spatial perspective. Among his most notable works are ‘Megalopolis: The United States’s Urbanized Northeastern Seaboard’, ‘A Geography of Europe’, and ‘Centre and Periphery: Spatial Variation in Politics’. He was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the ‘American Geographical Society’ in 1956 and the ‘Charles P. Daly Medal’ by the ‘American Geographical Society’ in 1964. He maintained his membership in the ‘British Academy’ and the ‘American Academy of Arts and Sciences’. In 1980, he was also presented with the ‘Victoria Medal’ by the ‘Royal Geographical Society.

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Childhood & Adolescence

He was born on October 23, 1915, in Kharkov, Ukraine, Russian Empire, to Elie Gottmann and Sonia-Fanny Ettinger as their only child into a Jewish industrialist family. In February 1918, following the 1917 ‘Russian Revolution,’ his parents were assassinated.

His aunt Emily Gottmann and uncle Michel Berchin, with whom he fled to Paris in 1921, adopted and raised him. He studied at the Sorbonne and came under the tutelage of French geographer Albert Demangeon during his student years, becoming one of the latter’s closest collaborators.

Career of Jean

In 1937, he joined the ‘University of Paris’ as a research assistant in economic geography under the supervision of Albert Demangeon.

However, in 1941, his career in France was abruptly halted by ‘World War II,’ and he was forced to resign as a result of the Nazi invasion of France and the 1940 Statute of Jews, which prohibited him from holding public office.

Gottmann arrived in the United States on December 7, 1941, the day the Japanese launched a surprise aerial attack on the United States’ Pearl Harbor naval base on Oahu Island, Hawaii.

He spent the next thirty years in various cities throughout America and Europe, holding various research, teaching, and political positions.

He attended the ‘Institute for Advanced Study’ in Princeton, New Jersey, after receiving a fellowship from the ‘Rockefeller Foundation. He remained an associate researcher at the institute from 1942 to 1965.

He became a member of ‘La France Libre,’ the government-in-exile led by French general and statesman Charles de Gaulle during ‘World War II.’

During that time, he also became a member of France’s exiled academic community, teaching at the ‘New School for Social Research’, a private research university in New York City.

He was also consulted during the war for the ‘Board of Economic Warfare’ in Washington and other organizations.

Meanwhile, in 1943, Isaiah Bowman, an American geographer and the then-President of ‘Johns Hopkins University,’ inducted him as a lecturer and researcher at the university. He remained on the university’s faculty until 1948.

In 1945, he returned to France and worked as an economic advisor to the ‘Ministry of Economy’. He remained director of research at the ‘United Nations’ from 1946 to 1947.

Following the war, he began traveling between the United States and France in an attempt to educate the French populace about the human geography of America and the Americans about the human geography of Europe.

Three of his books, ‘La politique des États et leur géographie’ (1952), ‘Eléménts de géographie politique’ (1954-55), and ‘The Significance of Territory’ (1973), as well as numerous articles, introduced the concept of political geography. He proposed a re-conceptualization of geography, with the division of geographical space as the central concept.

Between 1953 and 1955, he studied and produced the first regional analysis of Virginia, thanks to a grant from American philanthropist Paul Mellon.

Gottmann analyzed the megalopolis of the US’s North-Eastern seaboard with the assistance of the progressive think tank ‘The Century Foundation’ based in New York City.

In 1961, he published a book titled ‘Megalopolis: The Urbanized North-eastern Seaboard of the United States,’ which included a geographical analysis of the east coast of the United States, which included Boston, Baltimore, New York, Washington, D.C., and a number of other cities and urban regions. He coined the term’megalopolis’ to refer to an emerging urban development in the region extending from Boston to Washington, D.C.

He joined the ‘École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales’ (‘School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences’) in Paris in 1961 on the invitation of Alexandre Koyré, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Fernand Braudel and served as a senior lecturer until 1983.

He was appointed Professor of Geography and Head of Department at the School of Geography at the ‘University of Oxford’ in 1968. In 1983, he was appointed professor emeritus of the university and remained affiliated with it until his death.

He received financial support for his research and analysis from renowned foundations such as the ‘Twentieth Century Fund’ in addition to his teaching and political responsibilities.

He traveled extensively for lectures and conferences, establishing a global network of friends, colleagues, associates, and followers.

Among his other notable works are ‘L’homme, la route, et l’eau en Asie du Sud-Est’ (1938), ‘De la méthode d’analyse en géographie humaine, Annales de Géographie’ (1947), ‘Virginia at the Mid-Century’ (1955), ‘Les marchés des matières premières’ (1957), ‘Etudes sur l’État d’Israel’ (1958), (1994).

Personal History and Legacies

In 1957, Gottmann married Bernice Adelson. On February 28, 1994, he died of cancer at the age of 78 in his Oxford, England, home.

Estimated Net Worth

The net worth of Jean is unknown.