John Logan Allen

Fellow of the Society for the History of Discoveries


This year’s honoree, John Logan Allen, Emeritus Professor of Geography at the University of Wyoming and the University of Connecticut, is one of our country’s foremost authorities on the discovery and exploration of the American West.  During a distinguished academic career spanning more than 40 years he has introduced two generations of scholars and students to the geographical lore of the West and the exploratory process through publications and lectures.

Our honoree’s interest in western history and exploration began early.  John was born in Laramie, Wyoming on December 27, 1941. His grandfather, a former supervisor of the Shoshone National Forest who had moved to Cody, Wyoming when Buffalo Bill was still alive, sparked his interest with stories about mountain men and government hunters he had known, and he pointed out sites of nineteenth century trapper rendezvous during their travels together across the high plains of Wyoming and in the Central Rockies.  Summer vacations were spent retracing sections of the Lewis and Clark trail or tracking the various routes of John Charles Fremont with his father. And from his mother, a librarian who had taken western history courses at the University of Wyoming, John developed a love of western literature.

John attended the University of Wyoming in Laramie where he earned a BA degree in International Affairs (1963), and a MA in Political Science (1964).  Influenced by a geography teacher, he then enrolled in the Graduate School of Geography at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he obtained his PhD in 1969 and completed a National Science Post-Doctoral Fellowship two years later.  His dissertation, which reconstructed the contemporary geographical knowledge of the American Northwest on the eve of the Lewis and Clark expedition, was published as Passage through the Garden: Lewis and Clark and the Image of the American Northwest.  It was republished in paperback in 1991 in time to serve as the basic reference work for the research sparked by the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial.  Historian William H. Goetzmann described Passage Through the Garden as one of the three best books on Lewis and Clark, while Stephen E. Ambrose considered it “a seminal work.”

John’s other major publication is North American Exploration (1997), a remarkable three-volume work on the description and interpretation of the geographical discovery and exploration of North America that he conceived, assembled and edited.  It contains contributions from more than 20 leading authorities, including many SHD members. He also wrote two books for young adults, Jedediah Smith the Mountain Men of the American West (1991) and Explorers and Discoverers from Ancient Times to the Space Age, another three-volume work (1998).  In addition, John has prepared some 50 book chapters and articles, and numerous book reviews devoted to geographical discovery and exploration.  A sample reflects the scope and vision of his scholarship: “An analysis of the exploratory process” (Geographical Review, 1972), “The Garden-Desert Continuum: Competing Views of the Great Plains in the Nineteenth Century” (Great Plains Quarterly, 1985), “Horizons of Romance: Invention of the Romantic Tradition of the American West (Journal of Historical Geography, 1992), “Cabot to Cartier: Early Exploration of Eastern North America, 1497-1540” (Annals of the Association of American Geographers 1992), and “Jefferson, von Humboldt, and Zebulon Pike: Explorations into America’s Interior” (Essays on the Bicentennial of Zebulon Montgomery Pike, 2007).

John’s professional writing is not limited to the field of discovery and exploration.  His interest in maps, politics and the environment found expression in a series of popular student atlases for college courses that he began in 1991.  These include the Student Atlas of World Politics and Student Atlas of World Geography, which are in their ninth and seventh editions, respectively.  He is also the author of Atlas of Economic Development (1996); Atlas of Environmental Issues (1997); Atlas of Anthropology (with Audrey Shalinsky) (2003); and Atlas of World Events (2005).  A Student Atlas of American History is in preparation.  If this was not enough to keep him busy, he served as editor of Annual editions: Environment for 23 years.

John’s teaching career began as an instructor at the University of Connecticut in 1967 where he went on to become founding head of the Department of Geography and director of the Graduate Program in Geography.  Retiring in 2000 after 33 years at the University of Connecticut, John returned home to the University of Wyoming, where he served as Professor and Chair of the Department of Geography until his second retirement in 2007.  The University of Connecticut recognized him with an Outstanding Teacher Award in 1987.

From the beginning of our Society, one of its main purposes has been to stimulate and encourage interest in the history of geographical exploration beyond the academic community.  John has contributed significantly to this objective. He has been a lecturer at the Larom Summer Institute, Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming, for the past 18 years; a historian/interpreter for the Ambrose-Tubbs, Incorporated Lewis and Clark Tours; and a Scholar-in-residence at the National Lewis and Clark Trail Interpretive Center in Great Falls, Montana.

As a nationally recognized expert on Lewis and Clark, he was especially active during the National Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Celebration (2003-2006), presenting over 30 invited papers.  Additionally, he was on the advisory boards of the National Lewis and Clark Council, the National Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Great Falls, Montana, and the planning committees of the American Philosophical Society and the Missouri Historical Society.  He also served on the editorial advisory board of the Lewis and Clark Journals and the Maximilian Diaries for the University of Nebraska Press, and curated or co-curated major exhibitions at the Library of Congress, the University of Virginia, the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana, and the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, The Dalles, Oregon.  In one of his most interesting projects, he was an advisor to Florentine Films for the PBS Documentary Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery, produced by Ken Burns.  Its accompanying website includes a “Living History” section, which begins with a print and audio interview of our honoree.  John continues to carry a heavy lecture schedule, most recently describing the forgotten explorers of the early fur trade at the annual Fur Trade Symposium, held at Three Forks, Montana.

John’s association with our Society dates from 1966, when John K. Wright, one of the intellectual leaders of the American Geographical Society, invited John and his wife Anne to attend the only annual meeting that SHD held at the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, where many of the early Army explorers of the West were trained.  Since then, John has served on our council, contributed book reviews to Terrae Incognitae, and presented papers at annual meetings.  All who attended our 2004 meeting at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center and Yellowstone National Park in Cody and Mammoth, Wyoming, remember with fondness the two outstanding field trips that he led that retraced the routes of mountain men John Colter and George Drouillard in the vicinity of the Grand Tetons, and geologist Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden and other early government explorers in Yellowstone.

For his pioneering work on the Lewis and Clark expedition, his masterful trilogy on North American exploration, and a lifetime of scholarly contributions to our field, we honor John Logan Allen, and name him FSHD – Fellow of the Society for the History of Discoveries.

Fifty-first Annual Meeting of the Society for the History of Discoveries
Santa Fe, New Mexico
September 13, 2010

Prepared by Ralph E. Ehrenberg

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