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UC Berkeley Press Release

Geographer, social scientist Allan Pred dies at 70

– Allan Richard Pred, one of the world's leading geographers and social scientists, died of acute lung cancer on Jan. 5 at Alta Bates Medical Center in Berkeley, Calif. He was 70.

Alan Pred
Alan Richard Pred (Courtesy UC Berkeley Geography Department)

Print-quality image available for download

Pred, a professor of geography at the University of California, Berkeley, for 45 years, retired in May 2006 and was diagnosed with cancer a few months later.

"Allan Pred was a formidable intellectual, a brilliant thinker, a great humanist, a loyal and trusted friend, and a generous and engaged mentor," said colleague Michael Watts, professor of geography and director of UC Berkeley's Institute of International Studies. "He was the central figure in the making of a distinctive Berkeley approach to geography over the last generation, and he left an indelible stamp on the geography department, marked by his devotion to wide-open inquiry, critical thought, and a passion for truth and human freedom."

For the better part of four decades, Pred was at the forefront of human geography, Watts said. His scholarship radically shaped today's understanding of city development, landscape, modernity and race. His productivity was legendary - 22 books and monographs translated into seven languages, and over 70 articles and book chapters - and he was among the most-cited scholars in the profession.

At the time of his death, he was completing a new book manuscript, continuing his interest in race, identity and the making of the modern world.

A tireless campaigner for geography as a field of study, Pred promoted the importance of space and place in everyday life. Space, in his view, was a sort of foundation stone for all of the human sciences. Seeing, measuring, perceiving and creating space was, Pred wrote, central to the birth of modernity. The Association of American Geographers awarded special honors to him in 2005 for his "stalwart leadership within the discipline" and "his outstanding intellectual and personal ambassadorship ... throughout the international academy."

Pred was born in the Bronx, New York City, in 1936, the grandson of Jewish immigrants from Poland. In 1953, at age 16, he entered Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio and, according to Watts, "rarely looked back to New York."

"During the 1950s, Antioch was a nebula that fashioned a number of intellectual, political and cultural stars, and Pred was most definitely part of that galaxy," Watts said.

He graduated first in his class in 1957 and enrolled in Pennsylvania State University to study geography. When asked later in an interview why he chose geography, he replied that it offered an unmatched flexibility and cross-disciplinary landscape on which to operate. He soon moved to the University of Chicago, the Holy Grail for a student interested in cities and urban geography in the mid-20th century, Watts said. Chicago was home to a long line of urban theorists, and by 1960 was the crucible within which a new quantitative and analytical geography was being forged.

After completing his Ph.D. in 1962, Pred joined the faculty at UC Berkeley at the age of 25. Within five years, he had obtained tenure, and by 1971, at 34, he had been appointed full professor.

While a graduate student at the University of Chicago, he began a life-long love affair with Sweden, drawn, in part, from the theoretical and scientific innovations of Swedish geographers such as Torsten Hägerstrand. He met his wife of 44 years, Hjördis, in San Francisco in 1962, and the couple lived between Berkeley and Sweden on a yearly basis, raising bi-lingual children. In the 1980s, they bought a summer home in Sörmland, Sweden, and it was Pred's sanctuary and passion. He treasured the physical work of building and working the land as much as he cherished burrowing into the books and archives, Watts said.

Pred started his career as a theorist of the American city. His international reputation was made in three brilliant books on 19th century U.S. urbanism that were published between 1966 and 1980. Each proved to be enormously influential across disciplines and theoretically groundbreaking. He challenged the new economic historians to take seriously the role of urban agglomeration in industrial growth; emphasized the role of growing communications networks in national growth, mercantile expansion and industrial innovation; and charted the way capitalist dynamics ramify across the entire city system, more than between cities and rural hinterlands.

"This classic trio of monographs remains indispensable for any understanding to the urban and economic history of the United States," Watts said.

Beginning in the 1980s, Pred focused on the Swedish city, mining a treasure trove of neglected church and state papers on 19th and 20th century life. What followed was a series of projects designed to unearth the making of place, everyday life, and popular identities in the transit to what he called "Swedish modern." In two powerful and controversial books - his stunning excoriation of cultural racism, memorably entitled "Even in Sweden: Racisms, Racialized Spaces, and the Popular Geographical Imagination" (2000) and "The Past is Not Dead: Facts, Fictions and Enduring Racial Stereotypes" (2004) - Pred courageously exposed a deep vein of pain and shame.

Pred was awarded the Anders Retzius Medal - sometimes called geography's Nobel Prize - by the Swedish Society for Geography and Anthropology in 1991. He was honored by the Polish Academy of Sciences several years later, and twice by the Association of American Geographers, in 1978 and 2005. He was elected a corresponding fellow of the British Academy in 2005. For his contributions to Swedish social science, he was awarded the Willy Brandt Professorship in 2001 and an honorary doctorate from Uppsala University in Sweden in 1992. He held visiting appointments at the Écoles des Hautes Études in Paris and the University of Lund in Sweden and, earlier in his career, served as a consultant to the Swedish and Australian governments.

Pred served as the chair of the UC Berkeley Department of Geography between 1979 and1988 during a critical period of transformation and growth. In recognition of his extraordinary achievements and contributions to campus life, he was made a Professor of the Graduate School in 2005, a position in which he continued his research and mentoring of graduate students.

A dedicated teacher and mentor, Allan Pred's influence reached across the campus, especially into anthropology, literature and sociology. His graduate seminars - always large, unruly and overpopulated - drew ethnographers, historians, planners, and students of rhetoric and literature. He reveled in the work of graduate advising, and his door was seemingly always open.

Pred is survived by his wife, Hjördis Pred of Berkeley; daughter, Michele Pred of Berkeley; and son, Joseph Pred of San Francisco. He also leaves a brother, Ralph Pred of British Columbia; a sister, Suzanne Pred Bass of New York City; two nieces, Emily and Rebecca Bass; and a nephew, Noah Pred.

A campus memorial service will be held on Sunday, Jan. 28, at 2 p.m. in the Great Hall of the Faculty Club on the UC Berkeley campus.