Bret Wallach (Ph.D. 1968, Berkeley) is a cultural geographer from the late Sauer years. His own work began with an interest in the descriptive economic geography of the rural United States, an interest that evolved into a focus on the impact of federal policy on the American landscape. One result of that focus was At Odds with Progress, which argued from a set of regional case studies-Maine, Tennessee, North Dakota, Texas, Washington State, and California-that the natural-resource policies of the federal government during the 20th century were often guided less by the utilitarian logic that the Conservationists proclaimed than by a romantic distrust of technology. Wallach continues to work on domestic topics, for example with a recent paper on the centripetal and centrifugal forces shaping Dallas, Texas, which, like most other American cities, finds itself balancing habitual sprawl with a new-found interest in smart growth. Over the last 40 years, however, his interests have spread overseas, primarily to Asia but secondarily to Europe and Africa. One result of this overseas work was Losing Asia. The book focused on India and the development of irrigation, agricultural research, and integrated village development during the British raj and early years of independence, but its theme was the esthetic toll taken by the European rationalism underlying rural development in the traditional world. Wallach continued to explore the diffusion of European ideas, working for example on the spread of architectural styles and town-planning ideas between Europe and Asia. The flow of these ideas was predominantly westward until about 1500--think columns from Egypt, pointed arches from the Middle East—but with the Portuguese and their successors it subsequently became overwhelmingly eastward. In other words, and despite the pagoda in Kew Gardens and the popularity everywhere of sushi and tofu, globalization in practice has been tantamount to westernization. Wallach turned at the same time to a descriptive economic geography that brought him back full circle to where he started.
Since retiring in 2018, he has been working on a book summarizing what he learned from fifty years or more of being a geographer. The theme is that the world created by industrial civilization is unfit for human beings. With each wave of technological advancement, people get less opportunity to exercise their natural gifts. It’s not as though those gifts flourish only in the wilderness. They flourish as well in landscapes that people have shaped, provided those people use intuitively understandable technologies. That’s the catch, because such technologies are too primitive to support eight billion people, let alone eight billion people at the standard of living we have grown to demand or hope for. There is no choice but to live in an engineered world while we struggle to retain as much contact as possible with the world where we belong. The book is a search for surviving bits of that world, and it is a reminder of the price we will pay if we lose all contact with it.
Wallach has been a grantee of the American Council of Learned Societies, ALO/USAID, and the Graham Foundation. He has also been a MacArthur Fellow and has held an Indo-American Advanced Research Fellowship, a Gilbert F. White Fellowship, and two Fulbrights.
A very large collection of his captioned photographs can be seen at greatmirror.com He has tried his hand at podcasting, too, with "The Places Where We Belong.".
His online world geography class, derived in large part from the same photographs, can be found here
A World Made for Money. University of Nebraska Press, 2015.
Understanding the Cultural Landscape. New York: the Guilford Press, 2004. [About the Author Link]
Losing Asia: Modernization and the Culture of Development. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1996.
At Odds with Progress: Americans and Conservation. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1991.
Book Chapters, etc.
"Designing the American Utopia: Reflections." In The Making of the American Landscape, 2nd edition, edited by Michael P. Conzen, New York: Routledge, 2010.
"Builders and Preservers," in Traversing No Man's Land: Interdisciplinary Essays in Honour of Professor Madduma Bandara, University of Peradeniya, 2008, pp. 265-272.
"Physical Environment of the Great Plains." In Encyclopedia of the Great Plains, edited by David Wishart. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004.
"Belief systems." In Encyclopedia of Global Change, edited by A. Goudie. Oxford University Press, 2001.
"Six Flags Over Norman." In Regional Geography of the United States and Canada, Second edition, by Tom McKnight. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1997.
"The Telltale Southern Plains." In Many Wests: Place, Culture, and Regional Identity, edited by D. Wrobel and M. Steiner. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1997.
"European Architecture in Asia," Geographical Review, 103:1, 2013, pp. 1-19.
"Works in Progress," The American Scholar, 79:3, Summer 2010, pp 12-13.
"Slow Learner," in J. of Cultural Geography, 27:2, 2010, pp. 111-127.
"Ambidextrous Dallas,"Geographical Review, 99:4, 2009, pp. 459-480.
"Continuity and Change in the Paddy Lands of the Kandy District" , Sri Lanka Journal of the Humanities , 31 (2005), pp. 35-54.
"A Window on the West Bank," Geographical Review, 91:1-2, 2000, pp. 26-33.
"Will Carl Sauer Make It Across That Great Bridge to the Next Millennium?" Yearbook of the Association of Pacific Coast Geographers 61 (1999), pp. 129-136.
"A Slightly Varnished History of the Department of Geography at the University of Oklahoma." Southwestern Geographer 3 (1999), pp. 59-82.
"In Memoriam: James J. Parsons, 1915-1997." Annals of the Association of American Geographers 88 (1998), pp. 316-328.
"Painting, Art History, and Geography." Geographical Review 87:1 (1997).
"The Evolution of an Idea." Focus 43:4 (Winter 1993), pp.17-22.
"Oklahoma: When the Jokes Wear Thin." Focus 42:4 (Winter 1992), pp. 32-37.