Harm de Blij, Former Geography Chair, Dies at 78

One of America’s Most Distinguished Geographers Led UM Department to National Prominence

Harm J. de Blij, a giant in the geography community, passed away on March 25, 2014. He served as chair of the Department of Geography in the University of Miami College of Arts & Sciences for many years – and put the Department “on the map,” according to his longtime colleague, Senior Geography Professor Peter Muller.

de Blij brought geography to the masses, advocating for geographic education in schools, and serving as a consultant for National Geographic magazine, the National Council for Geographic Education (NCGE), and ABC and NBC television. He served as the Geography Editor for Good Morning America for seven years.

Muller said de Blij was a “terrific communicator,” adding, “When you were in his presence, it was time to sit back, and take it in – you were going to learn something.”

de Blij was an active member of the NCGE and the Association of American Geographers. In a statement issued at the time of his passing, the NCGE stated: “Harm de Blij was a tireless advocate for geography and spent his career as a professor, author, speaker, television personality, and public champion of the discipline.” The organization presented him with its highest honor, the George J. Miller Award, in 2006.

de Blij wrote more than 30 books, including Why Geography Matters, and Geography: Realms, Regions, and Concepts, one of several textbooks that are used in high-school and college classrooms across America today. He also penned the “Ask Dr. de Blij” column in Geography Teacher magazine.

A very knowledgeable wine enthusiast, and a talented violinist, del Blij was a Renaissance Man. Muller said, “Harm had a terrific, adventurous life. He had fun, did great things, and went everywhere.”

He was born in the Netherlands in 1935. He earned his B.Sc. from the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, in 1955, and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Northwestern University.

In addition to his tenure at UM, de Blij also taught at Marshall University, Rhode Island College, Colorado School of Mines, Grand Valley State University, North Carolina State University, and Michigan State University, where he was the John A. Hannah Professor at the time of his passing.

May 15, 2014