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Books Year : 2022

Jean Gottmann: an Iconography of Movement


At the beginning of 1995, the French National Library (BnF) welcomed the donation of the archives of geographer Jean Gottmann (1915-1994) made by his widow, Bernice Adelson Gottmann. Located in Oxford and New York, the archives were transferred in March of the same year to the Département des Cartes et Plans (BnF-DCP). The inventory by BNF curator Jean-Yves Sarazin (1967-2016) made it possible to organize the material into several categories: personal papers, correspondence, working dossiers, maps, books and iconographic documents. This bequest was the keystone of the 2005 conference “The Orbit of Jean Gottmann’s Geography” organized jointly by the Société de Géographie, the BnF and the University of Paris IV-Sorbonne. In 2019-2021, a partnership between Pacte – Laboratoire de Sciences Sociales (National Center for Scientific Research – CNRS, SciencePo Grenoble and Univ. Grenoble Alpes) and the BnF-DCP, launched a project of inventory, digitalization and study to increase the usefulness of the slide collection. Comprising 4,400 items, and spanning the years 1953-1979, this is the largest set of photographs by Jean Gottmann in existence in any archive. A description of each slide was provided by visual anthropologist Louise Hantson, then an EHESS student, Olivier Labussière (CNRS-Pacte), Olivier Loiseaux (BnF-DCP), and Luca Muscarà (Università del Molise-Pacte). Anne-Laure Amilhat Szary (UGA- Pacte) and Jean-Paul Hubert (Université Gustave Eiffel) joined the team for the analysis of the corpus. Half of the photos were shot in North America, a third in Europe, while Latin America and Asia accounted for 10-15%, with the remaining 5% consisting of diagrams, maps, and art works. Gottmann made the field shots while working in the United States, Europe, Israel, Latin America and Japan. The collection also includes personal portraits of colleagues, friends and family. Some photos were taken on field trips linked to editorial projects in the United States, such as those for the regional monographs of Virginia and Megalopolis; others are of regions previously researched for his books L’Amérique and A Geography of Europe, or in his early studies on Palestine. A crossover analysis of the places portrayed in these field trips and the travel notes jotted in his diaries (also at the BnF-DCP) allows these images to be placed in the extraordinarily dense weave of Gottmann’s professional life and incessant travels, intermingling field work, teaching, lecturing, meetings and exchanges with prominent scholars of the time. Overall, the collection not only documents the Transatlantic landscapes that constituted his geography in the decades of his long ‘Atlantic transhumance’, but also and more especially it makes visible Gottmann’s intellectual transition from French regional monograph to his innovative understanding of territory: a multiscalar geography of nodes and networks, informed by the cultural and psychological projection of the peoples sharing it as their common habitat. While Jean Gottmann’s international reputation was long associated with Megalopolis and urban geography, the American landscape of the 1950s casts a revealing light upon his French background in rural studies and his early discovery of the symbiosis between rural and urban in the northeastern seaboard of the US. From the 1960s onwards his photographic subjects are increasingly urban landscapes and urban change, skylines and skyscrapers, residential suburbs, university campuses, as well as industrial wasteland. Jean Gottmann’s contribution to geography was revolutionary: he introduced a major innovation to the discipline by positing the region as the hinge of a complex network. Pioneering the idea of urban networks, he overcome the limits of national frameworks in political geography. In the spirit of the scientific internationalism to which he was exposed in the interwar period and at the United Nations, Gottmann also wondered about the possibility of a world community in the future. He considered that a planetary political organization could only work on condition that it respected the world’s cultural variety. Also for this reason his photos are so interesting – and so necessary – in our troubled times. Many of his landscapes, shot ‘on the road’ or on the street, offer lively glimpses of people and places, emphasizing how this attraction for the cultural diversity of human settlements is key to his unique approach to geography: landscapes are never an empty stage, but rather a living theatre. Through his studies of territorial dynamics, he saw human geography as based on communities before states, their main differences consisting in the greater orientation of one community, compared to the greater resistance of another, towards change. In the context of the present acceleration of history, Jean Gottmann’s geography is ultimately concerned with our relationship with time. This book relates the process of the discovery itlself, and gathers contributions from Olivier Loiseaux (curator and map librarian, French National Public Library), geographers (Anne-Laure Amilhat Szary, Jean-Paul Hubert, Olivier Labussière, Luca Muscarà), a social anthropologist (Louise Hantson) and an artist (Yann Toma) for contributing to the development of a fresh and lively sight on Jean Gottmann's work. This book had been distributed as a catalogue during the original photographic exhibition "Jean Gottmann : an Iconography of Movement" organized for the centenial congress of the International Geographical Union, at the Center Pantheon, Paris, 18-22th July 2022.
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Dates and versions

halshs-03763177 , version 1 (29-08-2022)




  • HAL Id : halshs-03763177 , version 1


Olivier Labussiere, Luca Muscarà (Dir.). Jean Gottmann: an Iconography of Movement. Editions Jannink, 2022, 978-2-37229-049-4. ⟨halshs-03763177⟩
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