Sanford Bederman

Fellow of the Society for the History of Discoveries


The Society for the History of Discoveries was founded in 1960 by a small group of scholars interested in all aspects of geographical discovery and exploration.  Sanford H. Bederman, known to all of us as Sandy, was among those who found the Society an intellectual home, and he joined in its infancy, in 1965.

When Sandy does something, as one of his colleagues has described it, “he’s a dynamo.  He puts his teeth in and goes!” And go he did. His service to the Society is long and deep.  Between 1987 and 2006 he served variously as Vice-President/Program Chairman, President, Secretary-Treasurer, and Executive Secretary.  In his capacity as Program Chairman, at the meeting in Minneapolis in 1988, he organized a memorable session to honor Hildegard Binder Johnson, distinguished Society member, fellow Africanist, and outstanding woman geographer in the days when that was still a rarity.  As a Council member in 1984-1985 and again 1995-1996 he helped steer the Society to reach its stated goals, and he has for fifteen years been one of the judges for the SHD Student Prize Essay Competition. As Secretary-Treasurer he edited the Society’s annual newsletter 2002-2006 and changed it from ordinary to original by renaming it Terra Cognita, a nice play on the title of our annual journal Terrae Incognitae.

As anyone who has worked with Sandy can testify, he is not only indefatigable but collegial.  He can zero in on a crucial point succinctly but never adversarially, making pertinent suggestions and additions to questions which come his way.  His incisive mind, forthright approach to problems, and warm personality made it always a joy to work on a committee with

Sandy’s active involvement in our Society is but one part of his scholarly life.  He began his college studies as a history major with a minor in geography, but soon realized where his real interest lay, and once he made the decision to be a geographer, there was no looking back.  He was an enthusiastic advocate of his discipline. As a teaching assistant at the University of Minnesota, where he obtained his Ph.D., one of his students was so inspired by Sandy’s teaching that he changed his major, eventually becoming a geography professor himself.  He had an undergraduate psychology major in his exploration course who changed her major to geography, later earned the Ph.D., became a distinguished cartographer, and now is an authority on women explorers. Other former students who became professors have instituted their own courses in geographical exploration.  While scrolling through the numerous entries under Sanford H. Bederman in Google, I came upon a statement from another former student, now a professor at Central Washington University, reporting on the many courses she took from her “favorite professor, Sanford H. Bederman.” His enthusiasm was not only infectious, it was effective.

Sandy is not only an inspiring teacher, he is a prolific author with articles in the major geographical journals on African, urban, and agricultural geography, articles on discovery and exploration in Terrae Incognitae, Imago Mundi, Mercator’s World and elsewhere.  One colleague has written that Sandy’s 1989 TI article on the 1876 Brussels Geographical Conference will remain a standard for years to come.  He was sought out for his perceptive book reviews. For over six years, 2000-2007, he was Section Editor for the Oxford Companion to World Exploration, being responsible for most of the entries relating to Africa, Australia, and woman explorers, as well as many others.  The list of papers he has presented at professional association meetings—ten of which he gave at SHD annual meetings—is long, varied, and impressive.

Does this sound like a very full plate?  It has not been enough for Sandy. In addition to all the work he has done for our Society, he has long been active in the Association of American Geographers, and served as president of its Southeastern Division from 1977-1979, and he was elected to the National Council, the governing board of the AAG in 1988.  Sandy has also lent his expertise and time to non-professional projects, working on a local planning commission, serving on a library planning committee, on PTA, and several other civic activities. And in his “retirement” he has been teaching classes to inquisitive and eager retired professionals at Senior University of Greater Atlanta.  He has offered courses on the geography of Africa, weather and climate, and, naturally, exploration and discovery. One year saw 160 students enrolled in his course on geographical exploration.

While Sandy began his academic career in 1959 as an instructor at Georgia State University in Atlanta, from which he retired after thirty-four years as Professor Emeritus in 1993, this did not limit his teaching.  He held visiting positions at the London School of Economics, the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, and Queen Mary University in London, and he was visiting professor at the University of Oregon and the University of Georgia.  During his career, he was awarded both a National Science Foundation and a Rockefeller Foundation research grant. He has traveled widely, for research to Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, and Morocco and just for fun to Canada, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Jamaica, the Bahamas, and Ireland.

Sanford H. Bederman was born on May 2, 1932, in Cincinnati, Ohio, grew up in Lexington, Kentucky, graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1953 and, after a sixteen month stint with the Army Signal Corps in Heidelberg, Germany in 1954-1955, returned for graduate work to Louisiana State University, from which he earned his Master’s degree in Geography in 1957. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in 1973.  He took not only a degree from Minnesota. He took a wife. Sandy likes to say he picked Jolayne up on a train, and there is a grain of truth in that, because they did meet on the train to Minneapolis from Chicago, where they had both spent the weekend. They have just celebrated forty-seven years together. Their son David, whom many of us in the Society remember marveling at as he raced through Princeton, the London School of Economics, the University of Virginia Law School, and the University of London where he received his Ph.D., is now Professor of International Law at Emory University in Atlanta, author of seven books, and an authority on Admiralty Law.  He and his wife, Lorre, have one child, Annelise, who is now in the 11th grade.

For his years of dedicated service to our Society, and for his outstanding professional accomplishments, it is fitting that we honor Sanford H. Bederman and name him FSHD – Fellow of the Society for the History of Discoveries.

Forty-eighth Annual Meeting of the Society for the History of Discoveries
Chicago, Illinois
November 12, 2007

Prepared by Barbara McCorkle
Photo (2014) by Katherine Hinson


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