Jean Gottmann: French regional and political geographer extraordinaire

R. J. Johnston*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Jean Gottmann was a much-travelled, much-honoured and much-published geographer. He is best known among English-speaking geographers for his classic work on Megalopolis (1961) and most of them would probably characterize him as an urban geographer:1 indeed, the contributions to the Festschrift presented to him on the occasion of his retirement from the Chair of Geography at the University of Oxford (Patten, 1983a) concentrated solely on urban issues - which indeed occupied him for the last three decades of his productive career. Patten (1983b: xi) claims in his appreciation that 'Urban growth, urban expansion, the meaning of urbanism, and communications between and centrality within cities have always been his interest' but follows this with 'They have not been his only interests, however, and it would be surprising if the academic concerns of one of the olympian figures of twentieth century geography should have been so restricted'. Although Patten writes briefly of Gottmann's 'small treatise on political geography' (p. xiv) and of his 'regional studies', we learn little of the roots of Gottmann's geography or of his political geography and other writings; and yet, as his list of publications indicates, Gottmann wrote very little on cities until the 1950s (a list is given in Patten, 1983a): the first appeared in 1955 (Gottmann, 1955a) and two years later his seminal article on megalopolis (Gottmann, 1957b) marked a major watershed in his publishing career. This article explores Gottmann's geography prior to his work on megalopolis and its later development in the study of quaternary cities. By 1957 he had been publishing academic work for more than a quarter of a century. Analysis of that body of material throws light on Gottmann's general approach to geography, which helps in understanding his later urban studies. It also illuminates his other major roles, as regional and as political geographer, plus his seminal (and unfortunately largely ignored) contributions to spatial analysis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)183-193
Number of pages11
JournalProgress in Human Geography
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1996


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