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  • Exhibition of unreleased pictures from the Jean Gottmann legacy, 7/18/ 2022 – september 2022
    Event sponsored by the IGU Commission on the History of Geographical Thought
    Inauguration : Tuesday, July 19th, 2022 17h
    Sorbonne Artgallery
    Gallery Soufflot, Université Paris 1 - Centre Panthéon 
    12 Place Du Panthéon, Paris 75005 (plan)

    At the beginning of 1995, the French National Library welcomed with enthusiasm the offer of a donation of the archives of geographer Jean Gottmann (1915-1994) made by his widow, Bernice Adelson Gottmann. Located in Oxford and New York, the archives were transferred in March of the same year to the Département des Cartes et Plans of the French National Library (BNF-DCP).

    The inventory by BNF curator Jean-Yves Sarazin (1967-2016)[1] made it possible to organize the material into several categories: personal papers, correspondence, working dossiers, maps, books and iconographic documents. This bequest was the keystone of the 2005 conference “The Orbit of Jean Gottmann’s Geography” organized jointly by the Société de Géographie, the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the University of Paris IV-Sorbonne[2].

    In 2019-2021, a partnership between Pacte – Laboratoire de Sciences Sociales (National Center for Scientific Research - CNRS and Univ. Grenoble Alpes) and the BNF-DCP, launched a project aimed at the creation of a detailed inventory, digitalization and evaluation of the slide collection.  Comprising 4,400 items, and spanning the years 1953-1979, this is the largest set of photographs by Jean Gottmann in existence in any archive in which his work is held.

    A description of each slide in the collection was provided by visual anthropologist Louise Hantson, at the time an EHESS student, Olivier Labussière (CNRS-Pacte), Olivier Loiseaux (BNF-CPL), and Luca Muscarà (Università del Molise). Anne-Laure Amilhat Szary (UGA-Pacte) and Jean-Paul Hubert (Université Gustave Eiffel) joined the team for the analysis of the corpus.

    Half of the photographs were shot in North America, a third in Europe, while Latin America and Asia accounted for 10-15%, with the remaining 5% consisting of diagrams, maps, and paintings. Gottmann made the field shots while working in the United States, Europe, Israel, Latin America and Japan. The collection also includes personal portraits of colleagues, friends and family. 

    A certain number of photos were taken on field trips linked to editorial projects in the United States, such as those for the regional monographs of Virginia and Megalopolis; others are of regions previously researched for his books L’Amérique and A Geography of Europe, or for his early studies on Palestine. 
    A crossover analysis of the places portrayed in these field trips and the travel notes jotted in his diaries (also held at the BNF-CPL) allows these images to be placed in the extraordinarily dense weave of Gottmann’s professional life and his incessant travels, an intermingling of field work, teaching, lecturing, meetings and exchanges with prominent scholars of the time.

    Overall, the collection not only documents the Transatlantic landscapes that constituted his geography in the decades of his long ‘Atlantic transhumance’,[3] but also and more especially it makes visible Gottmann’s intellectual transition from French regional monograph to his innovative understanding of territory: a multiscalar geography of nodes and networks, informed by the cultural and psychological projection of the peoples sharing it as their common habitat.

    While Jean Gottmann’s international reputation has long been associated with Megalopolis and urban geography, the American landscape of the 1950s casts a revealing light upon his French background in rural studies and his early discovery of the symbiosis between rural and urban in the northeastern seaboard of the United States. From the 1960s onwards his photographic subjects are increasingly urban landscapes and urban change, skylines and skyscrapers, residential suburbs, university campuses, as well as industrial wasteland.

    Jean Gottmann’s contribution to geography was revolutionary: he introduced a major innovation to the discipline by positing the region as the hinge of a complex network. Through the idea of urban networks, he pioneered the overcoming of the limits of national frameworks in political geography. In the spirit of the scientific internationalism to which he was exposed in the interwar period and at the United Nations, Gottmann also wondered about the possibility of a world community in the future. He considered that a planetary political organization could only work on condition that it respected the world’s cultural variety. It is for this reason that his photographs are so interesting – and so necessary – in our troubled times.

    Many of his landscapes, shot ‘on the road’ or on the street, offer lively glimpses of people and places, emphasizing how this attraction for the cultural diversity of human settlements is key to his unique approach to geography: landscapes are never simply an empty stage, but are rather a living theatre. Through his studies of territorial dynamics, he saw human geography as based on communities before states, their main differences consisting in the greater orientation of one community, compared to the greater resistance of another, towards change. In the context of the present acceleration of history, it is with this – our relationship with time – that Jean Gottmann’s geography is ultimately concerned.  

    [1] Directeur du département des Cartes et Plans de 2010 à 2016 ; en 1995, conservateur chargé du fonds Gottmann.
    [2] Jean-Yves Sarazin, « Le don de jean Gottmann à la Bibliothèque nationale de France : des sources pour éclairer ses travaux et sa personnalité », La Géographie, n° spécial : L’orbite de la géographie de Jean Gottmann, janvier 2007, n° hors série 1523 bis, pp. 17-28.
    [3] [3] Pour exemple, Luca Muscarà, « Transatlantic landscapes : Gottmann and the roots of Lowenthal’s intellectual heritage », Landscape Research, 2022, doi: 10.1080/01426397.2021.2021162 ; Luca Muscarà « The Atlantic transhumance of Jean Gottmann and the development of his spatial theory », Finisterra, 1998, Vol. 33, n. 65, p. 159-172.


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