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Reopke Lecture in Economic Geography: Notes from the Underground: Why the History of Economic Geography Matters: The Case of Central Place Theory



This article is corrected by:

  1. Errata: Erratum Volume 88, Issue 2, 107, Article first published online: 15 March 2012


The discipline of Anglo-American economic geography seems to care little about its history. Its practitioners tend toward the “just do it” school of scholarship, in which a concern with the present moment in economic geography subordinates all else. In contrast, I argue that it is vital to know economic geography's history. Historical knowledge of our discipline enables us to realize that we are frequently “slaves of some defunct” economic geographer; that we cannot escape our geography and history, which seep into the very pores of the ideas that we profess; and that the full connotations of economic geographic ideas are sometimes purposively hidden, secret even, revealed only later by investigative historical scholarship. My antidote: “notes from the underground,” which means a history of economic geography that delves below the reported surface. This history is often subversive, contradicting conventional depictions; it is antirationalist, querying universal (timeless) foundations; it seeks out deliberately hidden and buried economic geographic practices, relying on sources literally found underground—personal papers and correspondence stored in one subterranean archive or another. To exemplify the importance of notes from the underground, I present an extended case study—the 20th-century development of central place theory, associated with two economic geographers: the German, Walter Christaller (1893–1969), and the American, Edward L. Ullman (1912–76).