UMass Amherst

Professor of Geography

B.A. 1960; M.A. 1963; Ph.D. 1968
University of Washington, Seattle

  • Environmental Perception & Behavior
  • Sense of Place and Spirit of Place
  • Visualization of Information
  • Migrant Lives
  • Urbanization in Latin America

Key publications
Image gallery (coming soon)

A number of overlapping research themes have dominated Professor Wilkie's research, teaching, and writing in recent years.  The first theme centers on the question of the role of “place” in the lives of individuals, and how human attachments to particular environments, ecologies and/or special places helps to give people a “sense of place” in their lives through direct physical interactions with the natural or built environments. This topic also involves looking at one’s present, past and future ties to places as one moves through the human lifecycle.  Questions to ask at a more aggregate level of understanding beyond individual preferences include, how do behavioral subgroups of communities, regions, and cultures develop what often amount to very different perceptions, attitudes, and behavior involving the natural environment?  How are these desires reflected in movements of people in the world, and what role do they play in the migration process of people when they must be balanced against the social forces of family and friends, economic forces tied to employment and job satisfaction, political or religious forces and of course--environmental, ecological and climatic factors found in the kinds of places people want to live?  For many people, the importance of specific places and the environment in general remain near the top of their list of where they want to live or travel, while for others these factors come behind social, economic, traditional, religious, and other factors that are considered more important in making life decisions. These topics are explored in several of Professor Wilkie’s courses — Geo444: Sense of Place, and a graduate seminar Geo626: Spirit of Place, and well as in aspects of his research and publications (view Spirit & Sense of Place model).

Secondly, Wilkie has explored the historical evolution of cultural landscapes and what role settlements of different sizes and complexities have played in history—see his Historical Atlas of Massachusetts (1991).   From the point of view of the migrant, there are quality of life issues in communities of different sizes and complexities within the urban-rural hierarchy of places that must be considered.   Some of his publications have looked at these issues for Latin America as a whole (see selected publications), and his book Latin American Population and Urbanization Analysis with data and maps on urbanization in the 20 Latin American republics between 1950 and 1982 provides a macro-level framework for understanding different kinds of migration processes within that region.  Professor Wilkie in other publications has explored the kinds of decisions rural migrants in Argentina made in each of their moves over more than a 30+ year period, as well as on other aspects of spatial and environmental behavior.  Other questions in this research focus on why some migrants adjust easily to unfamiliar and complex new environmental settings while others with similar backgrounds fail to adjust no matter how long they lived in a particular community.  Understanding these processes of adjustment and assimilation into new places in communities of different complexities and among migrants of different ages, gender, and backgrounds are important for helping make future migrants avoid the same pitfalls.  Furthermore, an understanding of how people sense and relate to place and how places themselves evoke a "spirit of place" are important when attempting to understand the historical evolution of cultural landscapes. 

Finally, Wilkie has an ongoing interest with visual and spatial thinking and how better maps, graphics and spatial models can help us to understand complex behavioral, ecological, contextual, and theoretical relationships.  He has taught several courses on this topic and has served as a cartographic editor on several textbooks and as the Cartographic Director for the Statistical Abstract of Latin America for many years. (top)

Biographical Information

Richard Wilkie was born in Idaho .  His family lived in Boise during the school year and at Warm Lake on the headwaters of the South Fork of the Salmon River during the summer, where his parents owned North Shore Lodge.  It was in that remote mountain environment that he first took an interest in how humans relate to the natural world, and this was later intensified through his experiences fighting range and forest fires for the BLM during his high school and college years (1954-1963).  A desire to explore the world led him to college in Mexico ( Mexico City College ) for three years in the late 1958s. [He wrote about his Mexico City College years in a chapter, “Dangerous Journeys: Mexico City College Students and the Mexican Landscape, 1954-1962” in Adventures Into Mexico: American Tourism beyond the Border, Edited by Nicolas Bloom, Rowman & Littlefield Publ., 2006.] Upon graduation from the University of Washington with a B.A. in Geography in 1960, Wilkie conducted research for his Masters (Washington, 1963) back in Mexico, and his Ph.D. from the Geography Department at the University of Washington (1968) included two years of research in Argentina as a Fulbright Scholar.  Since coming to the University of Massachusetts in 1968, Wilkie has conducted research in a number of places in the world. He has continued a longitudinal study of Argentine migrants and their assimilation into new environments with funding from the National Institutes of Health (1973-1976), the UN (1978), and the University of Massachusetts (1983, 1991, 1995, 2002).  Major field work projects elsewhere included seven months in Mediterranean Europe (1971) funded by a Smithsonian/Colgate University project, five months in Guatemala (1979) studying the periodic market system of the highlands, three months at the East-West Center Population Institute (1982) in Hawaii and Malaysia, and 18 months in Ecuador (1983-85) helping direct a study of highland rural marketing systems on a USAID/Clark University/Ecuadorian Government agreement. Between 1985 and 1991, Wilkie directed research, design, and writing of the Historical Atlas of Massachusetts.  Research and travel in recent years included extended trips to Bali and Indonesia (1982 and 1993), Grenada (1994), the American West (1994, 1995, 1996, 2000), Andean South America (1998), Spain (2000), France (2003), Argentine and Chilean Patagonia (2005), Switzerland (2005) and Singapore (2005 and 2006). (top)

Recent Courses Taught

GEO 102: The Human Landscape
GEO 102H: The Human Landscape (for the Honors/Commonwealth College Program)
GEO 292H: Envisioning Information: The Population Dilemma (taught twice with UMass Professors Robert Hallock (Physics) & Copper Giloth (Art/Academic Computing) and Hampshire College Professors Mark Feinstein (Cognitive Science) & Lee Spector (Communications)
GEO 420: Latin America
GEO 444: Sense of Place (Environmental Perception & Behavior)
GEO 492A: Geographic Films
GEO 498: Practicum: Exploring the New England Landscape (6 to 9 cr.)
GEO 352: Computer Cartography
GEO 692W: Spatial and Graphic Thinking (Grad. Seminar)
GEO 604: Geographic Theory and Analysis (Grad. Seminar)
GEO 626: Spirit of Place (Grad. Seminar) (top)

Directing Graduate Students:

Currently 2005 : Chair of 4 PhD and 4 Master’s committees in Geosciences and Geography, and serving on 11 PhD committees in 7 Departments--Geosciences (5), Anthropology (2), and Communications, English, History, Regional Planning, and Sociology (1 each). Member on one Master’s committee in Regional Planning and one in Geography. (top)

Selected Honors and Special Recognition:

• Fulbright Fellow to Argentina , Sept.1965 through Feb. 1967.
• American Advisor to Raksha, a study of the performing arts in India, directed by Colgate University and the Smithsonian Institution, 1971-72.
• Chair, Five-College Latin American Studies Council, 1972-73.
• Rapporteur on Human Settlements for the New England Habitat Conference, sponsored by the U.S. Dept. of State and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, a position paper for the United Nations Habitat Conference in Canada, 1976.
• Elected in 1981 (and again in 1984) to back-to-back 3-year positions on the Board of Directors of the Conference of Latin Americanist Geographers (550 members). Served 6 years as the Chair of the Honors Committee (1981-1986).
• Elected 3-year term, Executive Board for New England Council of Latin American Studies, 1992-94.
• Member, Best Article Award Committee, New England Council of Latin American Studies, 1994.
• Member, Board of Trustees, Historical Research Foundation, Pacific Palisades , Calif. , since 1993.
• Member, International Advisory Board for the Statistical Abstract of Latin America , at (UCLA) University of California , Los Angeles , since 1995-2005.
• Director, Statistical Abstract of Latin America Cartographic Production (UCLA), 1999-2005.
• Social Science Advisor, Massachusetts Council for the Arts, Oversight of Film Award, 1996-2002. (top)

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