Between Regions: Science, Militarism, and American Geography from World War to Cold War


Correspondence: Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z2, e-mail: (Barnes); Department of Geography, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON M5S 3G3, e-mail: (Farish).


Histories of American geographic thought and practice have sketched, but not critically explored, the relationship between war, intellectual change, and the production of spatial knowledge. This article sheds light on a crucial period, the middle decades of the twentieth century, when new modes of understanding and representing geography were being formulated at a variety of sites across the nation-state, from Princeton to the University of Washington. In particular, there emerged an altered conception of region, not as a descriptive but as a theoretical unit. This intellectual transformation, driven by an invigorated scientific imperative, was closely wedded to broader geopolitical conditions of war and militarism—to the demands for synthetic regional intelligence and new collectives of research that could adequately address complex technical and social challenges consistent with global influence. Moving from the formative hub of the Office of Strategic Services to the more diffuse but no less powerful structures of Cold War funding, we chart the emergence of a new regional model, inextricably linked and concurrent with the solidification of a world of strategic regions open to the exertion of American power, but also part of a remarkable emergent technoscientific complex at home.