Norman J.W. Thrower

Fellow of the Society for the History of Discoveries


When Professor Norman Thrower retired in 1990 from his faculty position in the geography department at the University of California, Los Angeles, no one who knew him believed that he would ease up from his incredibly active academic regimen.  They were correct, because in 1999, he was presented the Constantine Panunzio Award for being the most productive emeritus professor in the nine-member campus of the University of California.

Not only has he been productive, Norman Thrower has been highly honored. Being elected Fellow of the Society for the History of Discoveries is only the latest distinction he has received in his more than forty-year career as a scholar-teacher.  He was awarded the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship in 1962. In 1993, he received the Cross 1st Class of the Orden del Merito Civil from H. M. King Juan Carlos of Spain. The International Map Collector’s Society presented him the Helen Wallis Award in 1997, and the following year, the Association of American Geographers gave him its Lifetime Achievement Award.

Born in England in 1919, Professor Thrower had an early interest in art, and as a young boy won several prizes for his work.  During World War Two, he served in India, and after passing an examination for training in the Survey of India, he was assigned to Simla in the Himalayas.  After the war, he joined the Directorate of Colonial (later Overseas) Surveys. Desiring an academic experience, he was accepted at the University of Virginia, where in 1953, he received the BA degree in geography.  He then moved to the University of Wisconsin, earning the Ph.D. degree in geography in 1958. His dissertation concerned cadastral survey systems, and later was published by the Association of American Geographers as Original Survey and Land Subdivision: A Comparative Study of the Form and Effect of Contrasting Cadastral Surveys (1966).  While a student in the United States, he studied with this country’s most distinguished and imaginative cartographers: Armin Lobeck, Richard E. Harrison, Erwin Raisz, and Arthur Robinson.

Norman Thrower joined the geography faculty at UCLA in 1957, and with the exception of the years he spent on sabbatical and research leave, he remained there until retirement.  During that time, he authored, co-authored, and edited eleven books and over 150 other contributions on cartography and geographical discoveries. In addition, he chaired ten doctoral and seventeen MA committees.  Several of his students have themselves earned distinguished careers in their chosen professions.

Of the many books he has written, perhaps his best known is Maps and Man (1972), enlarged as Maps and Civilization: Cartography in Culture and Society (1996), published by the University of Chicago Press, and since 1999 in its second edition.  It is considered to be the premier one-volume history of cartography. This book will be re-published shortly in both a Spanish and Japanese edition.  His other major books (several which he edited), The Compleat Plattmaker: Essays on Chart, Map, and Globe Making in England in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (1978); The Three Voyages of Edmond Halley in the ‘Paramore’, 1698-1701, published by the Hakluyt Society in 1981; Sir Francis Drake and the Famous Voyages, 1577-1580 (1984); A Leaf From the 1619 French Edition of the Mercator-Hondius World Atlas (1985); Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: A Longer View of Newton and Halley (1990); and A Buccaneer’s Atlas: Basil Ringrose’s South Seas Waggoner (with Derek Howse) (1992), all have received high praise from the academy.

He has written chapters for some of the most prestigious volumes in the discipline of exploration and discovery, and his articles have graced the pages of the major journals in his field.  Such titles as “The Art of and Science of Navigation in Relation to Geographical Exploration Before 1900” (The Pacific Basin, 1966), “Edmond Halley and Thematic Geo-Cartography” (Annals, Association of American Geographers, 1969), “Edmond Halley: The Man, his life, his Scientific Achievement” (Studies in Eighteenth Century Culture, 1987), “William H. Emory and the Mapping of the American Southwest Borderlands” (Terrae Incognitae, 1990), and “Longitude in the Context of Cartography” (The Quest for Longitude, 1996) are only a few examples of his superior scholarship.  In recent years, Professor Thrower has developed a strong interest in Samuel Pepys, and his article, “Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) P.R.S. and the Royal Society,” will be published early in 2003 in Notes and Records of the Royal Society.

If teaching and research were not enough to consume all of his time, his service to his profession, university, and the State of California is meritorious.  From 1975 to 1981, he was President of the Sir Francis Drake Commission of the State of California, and from 1989 to 1992, he was Director of the (Columbus) Quin-centenary Program at UCLA.  For six years beginning in 1981, he served as Director of the Clark Library at UCLA, and during that time, he was a major force in the university when it acquired a very rare set of Sir Joseph Bank’s Florilegium.  Further, the UCLA Center for Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Studies was founded during his tenure as Director of the Clark Library.  He was President of The Society for the History of Discoveries in 1973-1975, and in 1979, he was the founding President of the California Map Society.  Although “retired” for more than a decade, Professor Thrower still teaches courses in the geography department at UCLA.

In addition to being a legendary scholar and teacher, Norman Thrower is a genial friend who loves to tell long, wonderful stories.  Those who attend annual conferences consider their time with him a high point of the meeting. Norman J.W. Thrower is a loyal member of our learned society, and it is honored to name him FSHD – Fellow of the Society for the History of Discoveries.

Forty-third Annual Meeting of the Society for the History of Discoveries
Zapopan, Jalisco, Mexico
October 26, 2002

Prepared by Sanford H. Bederman


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