Jean Gottmann

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(Iona) Jean Gottmann (10 October 1915 – 28 February 1994) was a French geographer who was best known for his seminal study on the urban region of the Northeast Megalopolis. His main contributions to human geography were in the sub-fields of urban, political, economic, historical and regional geography. His regional specializations ranged from France and the Mediterranean to the United States, Israel, and Japan.

Early years[edit]

Gottmann was born in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Russian Empire. He was the only child of prosperous Jewish parents, Elie Gottmann and Sonia-Fanny Ettingerk, who were killed in the Russian Revolution of 1917. His uncle, Michel Berchin, escaped with him to Paris, where he was raised by his uncle and aunt among an extended family.


Gottmann started out as a research assistant in human geography at the Sorbonne (1937–41) under the guidance of Albert Demangeon, but was forced to leave his post with the Nazi invasion of France. He found refuge in the United States, where he received a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship to attend the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. During the war, he contributed also to the U.S. effort by consulting for the Board of Economic Warfare in Washington and other agencies; he also joined the exiled French academic community teaching at the New School for Social Research and became one of Isaiah Bowman's professors at the new institute of geography of the Johns Hopkins University (1943–48). He also spent two years as international officer at the United Nations (1946–47).

After the war, he started to commute between France and the United States in an effort to explain America's human geography to the French public and Europe's to the American. His multicultural perspective allowed him to get a grant from Paul Mellon to produce the first regional study of Virginia (1953–55) and financial support from The Century Foundation to study the megalopolis of the North-Eastern seaboard of the United States, which soon became a paradigm in urban geography and planning to define polinuclear global city-regions.

In 1957 he married Bernice Adelson. In 1961, he was invited to join the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris by Fernand Braudel, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Alexandre Koyré and in 1968 became the director of the school of geography at Oxford University, where he remained until the end of his life. At Oxford he eventually chaired the department of geography until he retired in 1983.[1]

Beyond his contribution to the study of megalopolis and urban geography, his theoretical work on the political partitioning of geographical space as a result of the interplay between movement flows and symbolic systems (iconographies) is to be remembered.


Gottmann was awarded an Honorary Fellowship from the American Geographical Society in 1956, and its Charles P. Daly Medal in 1964.[2] In 1980 he received the Victoria Medal of the Royal Geographical Society.[3] He also was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences[4] and the British Academy.[5]


Jean Gottmann's bibliography lists about 400 references. The following list is a selection of some of his most relevant books and papers:

  • L'homme, la route et l'eau en Asie sud-occidentale (1938)
  • De la méthode d'analyse en géographie humaine, Annales de Géographie (1947)
  • L'Amerique (1949)
  • A geography of Europe (1950, 1969)
  • La politique des Etats et leur géographie (1952)
  • Virginia at mid-Century (1955)
  • Les marchés des matières premières (1957)
  • Etudes sur l'Etat d'Israel (1958)
  • Megalopolis (1961)
  • Essais sur l'amenagement de l'espace habité (1966)
  • The significance of territory (1973)
  • Centre and Periphery (1980)
  • La città invincibile (1983)
  • Since Megalopolis (1990)
  • Beyond Megalopolis (1994)

See also[edit]



  • Muscarà Luca (2003), "The Long Road to Megalopolis", Ekistics, vol. 70, n.418-9, pp. 23–35, ISSN 0013-2942
  • Muscarà Luca (2005), "Territory as a Psychosomatic Device: Gottmann’s Kinetic Political Geography", Geopolitics, 10, pp. 24–49, ISSN 1465-0045
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography