Marvin W. Mikesell, Professor of Geography in the Committee on Geographical Studies, died unexpectedly Wednesday morning, April 26th, 2017 at the University of Chicago Hospital in Hyde Park, aged 88, in the midst of teaching his seminar on problems in the human geography of the Middle East this Spring Quarter. Marvin Wray Mikesell was born on June 16, 1929, in Kansas City, Missouri, attended high school in Los Angeles and received his BA (1952) and MA (1953) from UCLA. He earned his doctorate at the University of California–Berkeley in 1959 under the tutelage of the celebrated cultural geographer Carl Sauer. He joined the Department of Geography at the University of Chicago in 1958 and spent his entire 59-year teaching career, from instructor to professor, at the University.
Mikesell’s interests in research and teaching ranged over the whole orbit of global cultural geography, while his special concerns included the ethnic and environmental diversity of North Africa and the Middle East, the bases of ethnic conflict and self-determination worldwide, and the ominous trends in regional environmental degradation. He placed great emphasis on fieldwork in research. His books include Northern Morocco: A Cultural Geography (1961); Geographers Abroad: Essays on the Problems and Prospects of Research in Foreign Areas (1973); Perspectives on Environment (1974), and, most notably, Readings in Cultural Geography (published by the University of Chicago Press, 1962). This last volume brought together classic articles published by authorities around the world, many translated from their original language; the book quickly became a standard work that shaped the international field of cultural geography for more than a generation.
Mikesell was chairman of the Department of Geography (1969–74, 1984–86), among many University responsibilities. He was a member of the U.S. National Commission for Unesco (1973–78), an advisor to the National Science Foundation (1977–79), and president of the Association of American Geographers (1975–76). He and his wife Reine M. Mikesell, who survives him, have resided in the Hyde Park neighbohood of Chicago for almost six decades.
A memorial service for Marvin Mikesell will be arranged for early this coming fall.