Early life and education
Born in 1930 in Tientsin, China to an upper-class family and was educated in China, Australia, the Philippines and the United Kingdom. He attended University College, London, but graduated from the University of Oxford with a B.A. and M.A. in 1951 and 1955 respectively. From there he went to California to continue his geographic education. He received his Ph.D. in 1957 from the University of California, Berkeley.
From New Mexico, Tuan first moved to Toronto between 1966 to 1968 teaching at University of Toronto. He became a full professor at the University of Minnesota in 1968 and there began his focus on humanistic geography. He describes the difference between human geography and humanistic geography in a 2004 "Dear Colleague" letter:
Human geography studies human relationships. Human geography's optimism lies in its belief that asymmetrical relationships and exploitation can be removed, or reversed. What human geography does not consider, and what humanistic geography does, is the role [relationships] play in nearly all human contacts and exchanges. If we examine them conscientiously, no one will feel comfortable throwing the first stone. As for deception, significantly, only Zoroastrianism among the great religions has the command, "Thou shalt not lie." After all, deception and lying are necessary to smoothing the ways of social life.
From this, I conclude that humanistic geography is neglected because it is too hard. Nevertheless, it should attract the tough-minded and idealistic, for it rests ultimately on the belief that we humans can face the most unpleasant facts, and even do something about them, without despair.
After 14 years at the University of Minnesota, he moved to Madison, Wisconsin and continued his professional career at University of Wisconsin–Madison as the J.K. Wright and Vilas Professor of Geography (1985–1998). He was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1986, of the British Academy in 2001 and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2002. Tuan was awarded the Cullum Geographical Medal by the American Geographical Society in 1987 and the Vautrin Lud Prize in 2012.
Tuan is an emeritus professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He occasionally gives lectures, continues to write his "Dear Colleague" letters and to publish new books on geosophy. His most recent books are Human Goodness (2008) and Religion: From Place to Placelessness (2010). He resides in Madison, Wisconsin.
As a schoolboy in Australia, I was drawn to another boy. ... But my feeling toward another boy, an athlete with the sleek beauty of a well-oiled machine, was another matter. I couldn't persuade myself even then that it was just displaced longing for female loveliness. ... I was then fifteen.
In Space and Place : The Perspective of Experience, Tuan contends that a space requires a movement from a place to another place. Similarly, a place requires a space to be a place. Hence, the two notions are co-dependent. He also relates space to having temporal insinuations and place as having physical insinuations which further clarifies the difference and codependency of the two concepts.
- Romantic Geography: In Search of the Sublime Landscape. 2013. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, WI. ISBN 978-0-299-29680-3
- Religion: From Place to Placelessness. 2010. Center for American Places, Chicago, IL. ISBN 978-1-930066-94-6
- Human Goodness. 2008. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, WI. ISBN 978-0-299-22670-1
- Coming Home to China. 2007. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN. ISBN 0-8166-4992-8
- Place, Art, and Self. 2004. University of Virginia Press, Santa Fe, NM, in association with Columbia College, Chicago, IL. ISBN 1-930066-24-4.
- Dear Colleague: Common and Uncommon Observations. 2002. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN. ISBN 0-8166-4055-6.
- Who am I?: An Autobiography of Emotion, Mind, and Spirit. 1999. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, WI. ISBN 0-299-16660-0.
- Escapism. 1998. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD. ISBN 0-8018-5926-3.
- Cosmos and Hearth: A Cosmopolite's Viewpoint. 1996. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN. ISBN 0-8166-2730-4.
- Passing Strange and Wonderful: Aesthetics, Nature, and Culture. 1993. Island Press, Shearwater Books, Washington, DC. ISBN 1-55963-209-7.
- Morality and Imagination: Paradoxes of Progress. 1989. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, WI. ISBN 0-299-12060-0.
- The Good Life. 1986. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, WI. ISBN 0-299-10540-7.
- Dominance and Affection: The Making of Pets. 1984. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT. ISBN 0-300-03222-6.
- Segmented Worlds and Self: Group Life and Individual Consciousness. 1982. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN. ISBN 0-8166-1109-2.
- Landscapes of Fear. 1979. Pantheon Books, New York, NY. ISBN 0-394-42035-7.
- Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience. 1977. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN. ISBN 0-8166-0808-3.
- Topophilia: a study of environmental perception, attitudes, and values. 1974. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ. ISBN 0-13-925248-7.
- The Climate of New Mexico. 1973. State Planning Office, Santa Fe, NM.
- Man and Nature. 1971. Association of American Geographers, Washington, DC. Resource paper #10.
- "China." 1970. In The World's Landscapes. Harlow, Longmans. ISBN 0-582-31153-5.
- The Hydrologic Cycle and the Wisdom of God. 1968. University of Toronto, Toronto, Ont. ISBN 978-0802032140.
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