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He was educated at Harvard under geologist and geographer William Morris Davis, and Yale where he taught from 1905 to 1915, doing meanwhile three trips to South America, (1907, 1911, and 1913) after which time he became the director of the American Geographical Society, a position he held for 20 years from 1915 to 1935. He was chief territorial adviser to President Woodrow Wilson at the Versailles conference and served the United States Department of State as territorial adviser during World War II
Some of his more notable works include:
- Forest Physiography (1911)
- Well-Drilling Methods (1911)
- South America (1915)
- The Andes of Southern Peru (1916)
- The New World-Problems in Political Geography (1921). Many reprints.
- Desert Trails of Atacama(1924).
- The Pioneer Fringe (1931)
- Main Editor of Limits of Land Settlement (1937)
In 1916 he became associate editor of the Geographical Review. He was associate editor of the Journal of Geography in 1918−19 and editor in 1919−20. In 1921 he became a director of the newly formed Council of Foreign Relations. Bowman served as President of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland from 1935 to 1948 and President of the History of Science Society in 1944. Before and during World War II he served on the Council of Foreign Relations' War and Peace Studies project as chairman of its territorial group. From 1945 to 1949 he was a CFR vice-president.
Beginning in 2005, the American Geographical Society has helped launch international collaborative research projects, called the Bowman Expeditions in Bowman's honor, in part to advise the U.S. government concerning future trends in the human terrain of other countries. The first project, in Mexico, is called Mexico Indigena, and has generated considerable controversy, including a public statement from the Union of Organizations of the Sierra Juarez of Oaxaca (UNOSJO) denouncing Mexico Indigena's lack of full disclosure regarding funding procured from the DOD, via the U.S. Army's Foreign Military Services Office, Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas .
- The History of Science Society "The Society: Past Presidents of the History of Science Society", accessed 4 December 2013
- Peter Grose. "The Council on Foreign Relations from 1921 to 1996 - War and Peace". The Council on Foreign Relations.
- "The Council on Foreign Relations from 1921 to 1996 − Historical Roster of Directors and Officers".
- Smith, Neil (2003). American Empire: Roosevelt's Geographer and the Prelude to Globalization. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-23027-2.
- John Kirtland Wright, Geography in the Making: The American Geographical Society, 1851-1951 (1952), contains an analysis of Bowman's work for the society. (ISBN 0208018441 / 0-208-01844-1)
- John K. Wright and George F. Carter, Isaiah Bowman, in the National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoirs, vol. 33 (1959), for the main events of his life and comments on his career5.
- Martin, Geoffrey J. The Life and Thought of Isaiah Bowman.Hamden, Connecticut, Archon Books, 1980. (ISBN 0208018441 / 0-208-01844-1)
- Neil Smith, American Empire: Roosevelt's Geographer and the Prelude to Globalization, Berkeley, CA, University of California Press, (2003), XVII + 570 pages, ISBN 0-520-23027-2.
- Bowman, Isaiah The Andes of Southern Peru; Geographical Reconnaissance along the Seventy-Third Meridian, Published for The American Geographical Society of New York by Henry Holt and Company, (1916) available at Gutenberg.org in various electronic formats: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/42860
- Works by Isaiah Bowman at Project Gutenberg
- Isaiah Bowman's photographs held at the American Geographical Society Library, UW Milwaukee
- National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoir