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What Do Geographers Do After They Graduate?

Anthony Keogh
1951 - 1954

I welcome this opportunity to express my appreciation – and indeed gratitude – for what I gained from my three-year course in 1951 to 54. I might mention that I am a Religious Brother in a teaching order and had already taught for five years and followed a teacher-training course before coming up at the age of 27. I am afraid my contemporaries, if they remember me at all will only recall a dog-collared rather uncommunicative character, which was not me at all! (We were not encouraged to socialise in those days lest we should be tainted! Things are very different now.)

My supervisor was J H Paterson. He was very good as a supervisor and one of the best of the lecturers, his speciality being North America. Years later I suggested to the Liverpool branch of the Geographical Association that he be invited to give us a lecture. I forget the subject but it was an excellent presentation and I had the privilege of giving the vote of thanks.

Of the lecturers I remember there was Professor Steers on physical geography, especially coastal Britain. He was reputed to have walked the whole coastline of England – or was it Britain? W W Williams was good on cartography and surveying; Bruce Sparks, C T Smith, B H Farmer, and W V Lewis "did" physical; Jean Mitchell and Harriet Wanklyn, the Prof's wife "did" historical and human geography. Other names were A T Grove and W G V Balchin. There was little in the way of fieldwork, though many generations of First Years must have delved into the Gog Magogs looking for fossils and faint memories return of a visit to Wicken Fen. Practical work in surveying was interesting, though to speak of plane-tabling, chaining and compass-traversing sounds antediluvian in these days of satellite mapping. Miss Mitchell led a very interesting "excursion" (more like a picnic because for some reason it was after the exams) around the "wool churches" of East Anglia. I still have photos taken then. A "fieldwork" of sorts but not academic took the form of assistance in filling breaches in the dykes of the Fenlands in the floods of 1952. Many students volunteered and I can assure you it was hard work; there was not a sound on the returning coaches. I was invited to join a group too do some meteorological fieldwork in the Cairngorms but unfortunately was unable to go.

Another outing of a non-academic nature was a hockey match against our opposite department in Oxford. The team consisted of hockey, soccer and rugby players of both sexes. I don't remember who won but it was a bit of fun. My achievement of a 2ii proved to be a good preparation for life of geography teaching in grammar schools, and twenty two years lecturing in a teacher-training college, which eventually became a college of Higher Education. I would hope I passed on to pupils and students some appreciation and understanding of the physical and human world around them besides helping them to pass their exams.

PS As those who attended will remember with pleasure, there was a Jubilee gathering at Girton in 2004 of a number of the Geography Department's graduates of 1954. it proved to be a very enjoyable occasion.

Barry Floyd

Barry Floyd

I first came up to Cambridge (Gonville & Caius College) from London in 1943, courtesy of the RAF. For six months we had lectures in the Geography Department in the mornings and military training with the University Air Squadron in the afternoons. This was a life-changing experience for me, having left school at 16 and begun work as a trainee cost accountant in a Ponders End factory. I hope the following commentary will reveal how much I owe to the Department for opening up a wonderfully satisfying career.

After aircrew training as a navigator in South Africa, and operational experiences with Bomber Command in the Middle and Far East – with the rank of F/Lt – I was able to return to Cambridge in 1947 to complete an Honours BA degree in Geography (upper second) in 1949. Clearly the instruction in map-reading and map projections in the Department was of great help to my future navigational training. But lectures in physical geography (geomorphology) were also useful in helping to identify terrain patterns from the air. I also enjoyed classes featuring meteorology and climatology, historical geography and African studies. My post-Cambridge career involved graduate studies in the USA with a Fulbright Scholarship and introduction to Isaiah Bowman at Johns Hopkins University, thanks to Professor Debenham. I later undertook fieldwork in Southern Rhodesia for a PhD from Syracuse University and, henceforth specialised in African studies, with particular focus upon rural land use in the tropics. An American wife and five children were to accompany me on a subsequent, somewhat nomadic, academic life-style!

I was appointed acting head of the Geography Department at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, in 1962, but obliged to leave the country in 1966 on the eve of the Biafran War. From 1966 to 1972 I was head of the Geography Department at the University of the West Indies, Jamaica. My first British post was with the Department of Geography, University of Durham, 1972-84. On a leave of absence, I was able to return to West Africa to become Head of the Department of Geography & Regional Planning, and dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, at the University of Calabar, 1978-82.

On retirement from university life, I have spent much of the last 23 years in Malaysia, where my wife served as an English-language specialist for a programme, which brought several thousand Malaysian students to study at universities in the UK. For a while I served as Director of the Centre for British teachers, prior to making an aerial photo study of market gardening around Kuala Lumpur, attached to the Department of Geography, at the University of Malaya.

Now in old age and back in East Sussex, my hobby is stamp collecting and I enjoy writing books and articles on philately – as much, if not more so – than previously producing so-called learned papers and publications in Geography, trying to impress one's superiors!

Heartfelt thanks again to the Cambridge geographers of an earlier generation for providing such inspiration and guidance towards an academic career for a working class lad.

David Wright

In our previous issue (1) we featured David Wright in our section 'What Do Geographers Do After They Graduate?'

We are pleased to announce the further news that David R Wright received the Ness Award 2008 from the Royal Geographical Society for 'the popularisation of geography among young people'.

Further information, and a list of past recipients, may be seen at

'Philip's Children's Atlas' by David & Jill Wright bears the RGS logo and has sold over a million copies worldwide - and David has written many other books and articles to enthuse children and teachers.