"He was driven by his social consciousness"

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Mon Nov 20 13:26:08 MST 2000


By Diana Strzalka
Tribune Staff Writer
November 16, 2000

His academic research sent him exploring the history and political
geography of India, Thailand, Puerto Rico and other lands. And his passion
for social justice steered him toward national independence movements,
anti-war protests and rallies against discrimination.

James M. Blaut, 73, a professor of geography and anthropology at the
University of Illinois and the author of five books on world history, died
of cancer Monday, Nov. 13, in Norwegian American Hospital in Chicago.

He was driven by his social consciousness, said a long-time friend, Esther
Nieves. He was a compassionate and humble man who devoted his life's work
to international issues, particularly the injustices in Third World
countries. His geography theories focused on how land impacted the way
people live and learn, she said.

Mr. Blaut was born and raised in New York City and graduated from an
alternative high school, the Little Red Schoolhouse, said his daughter,
Gini Blaut-Sorrentini. He was only 16 when he was admitted to the
University of Chicago. He then attended the Imperial College of Tropical
Agriculture in Trinidad and went on to earn his doctorate in anthropology
and geography from Louisiana State University.

His academic credentials earned him teaching jobs at Yale, Cornell
University, the Caribbean Research Institute, the College of the Virgin
Islands and the University of Chicago. He was teaching at the University of
Puerto Rico when he met his wife, America Sorrentini-Blaut. Mr. Blaut
pioneered the micro-geographic study of peasant farming and introduced
systems analysis into human geography, said his daughter. His research also
led to the development of the natural mapping theory. In 1997 he was named
distinguished scholar of the year by the Association of American Geographers.

In the late 1960s, he marched against the draft and the Vietnam War and was
arrested--something he considered to be "his finest hour as a human being,"
said his daughter.

Mr. Blaut and his wife often participated in rallies in support of the
Puerto Rican struggle for independence. And as a member of the faculty at
the University of Illinois, he spoke out against discrimination against
Hispanics, said his daughter.

"He was always grounded in justice. Someone like him doesn't come around
too many times in life," said Nieves.

Dr. Blaut wrote five books on the historical and political geography of the
Third World, including "The National Question" and his most recent book,
"Eight Eurocentric Historians."

An avid birdwatcher, Mr. Blaut would often pack his binoculars on research
trips to Thailand, India, Panama and other locales, said his daughter.

Services have been held.

Louis Proyect
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