Richard W. Wilkie

Professor Emeritus
human geography: sense of place, visual thinking & photography, Latin American population & migration, Massachusetts historical evolution
262 Morrrill Science Center
(413) 545-2078 or (413)265-3754
Research Interests: 
A native of Idaho, Richard Wilkie lived in Boise during the school year and at Warm Lake at the headwaters of the South Fork of the Salmon River during the summer, where his parents owned North Shore Lodge.  It was in that remote mountain environment that he first took an interest in how humans relate to the natural world, and this was later intensified through his experiences fighting range and forest fires for the BLM during his high school and college years (1954-1963).  A desire to explore the world led him to college in Mexico (1956-59). [He wrote about those years in a chapter, “Dangerous Journeys: Mexico City College Students and the Mexican Landscape, 1954-1962” in Adventures Into Mexico: American Tourism beyond the Border, Edited by Nicolas Bloom for Rowman & Littlefield in 2006 – on line at:
Upon graduation from the University of Washington with a B.A. in Geography in 1960, Wilkie conducted research for his Master's degree (Washington, 1962) back in Mexico. He then spent seven months studying and traveling in Europe (1963), before returning to the Geography Department at the University of Washington for a PhD degree (1968),  which included two years of research in Argentina as a Fulbright Scholar.  He came to UMass in 1968, where he continued a longitudinal study of Argentine migrants and their assimilation into new environments with funding from the National Institutes of Health, the United Nations , and the University of Massachusetts.  Major field work projects elsewhere included seven months in Mediterranean Europe (1971) funded by a Smithsonian/Colgate University project, five months in Guatemala (1979) with UMass students studying the periodic market system of the highlands, three months at the East-West Center Population Institute (1982) in Hawaii and Malaysia, and 18 months in Ecuador (1983-85) as Field Study Director of the highland rural marketing systems on a Clark University/Ecuadorian Government/USAID agreement.   Based on his research and teaching in Latin America, Wilkie published a book at UCLA in 1985: Latin American Population and Urbanization Analysis: Maps and Statistics, 1950-1982, as well as numerous publications on Argentina, Mexico, Guatemala, and Ecuador on issues of population growth, urbanization, rural to urban migration and assimilation and rural development issues.  Between 1985 and 1991, Wilkie directed research, design, and writing as the co-editor of the Historical Atlas of Massachusetts. 
During the 1990s and forward his research slowly evolved more toward the study of the importance of place in the lives of people.  His most recent publications are the themes of environmental perception and sense of place (focus on humans), searching for the spirit or essence what makes places special (focus on places), and the new geography subfield of “Attachment to Place.”  (view Spirit & Sense of Place model) and Attachment to Place Model).
In the 1990s and up to retirement in 2009, Wilkie traveled to Bali and Indonesia (1993), Grenada (1994), the American West (1994, 1995, 1996, 2000 2005), Andean South America  (1998), Spain (2000), France (2003), the Patagonian Region of Argentina and Chile (2005, 2009), as well as teaching courses for the UMass Isenberg School of Management’s Tourism Management program in Switzerland (2005) and Singapore (2005 and 2006).
In a post-retirement transition of teaching half-time for three years (2010-12), evolutionary biologist Prof. Lynn Margulis asked Wilkie to teach a new graduate seminar on Evolution Greography during the first two years, before she died suddenly. The seminar looked at evolution within the context of all earth systems in deep time, with Wilkie concentrating primarily on how earth systems interconnect at various latitudes, elevations, and within defferent continental ecological regions (a la Alexander von Humboldt). The rise of human populations in the Holocene era over the last 12,000 years--especially the skyrocketing number of humans from one billion toi nearly seven and a half billion in just over a century--have led to a negative impact on the earth's species and ecologies.
Since retiring, Wilkie also has continued working with graduate students: Chairing two PhDs in Geography (Sean Fitzgerald and Leo Hwang and serving on six other PhDs (2 Anthro, 1 ECO (Jim Peters finished 2014), 1 Education and 2 Geography (Robin Kolnicki finished 2013).  He also chaired a Master’s thesis committee (Kate Blackmer  ‘15) and served on four others (Melishia Santiago ‘11, James MacAllister ‘11, Kristan Travis ‘12) in geography and (Maryam Karimi ’12) in art/architecture. 
Most recent publications include: “Sense of Place” (Sage: 2010) and a chapter “Attachment to Place” in 21st-Century Geography (Sage: 2012, 135-148) with George Roberson (PhD ’06), as well as their “book review of “Envisioning Landscapes, Making Worlds: Geography and the Humanities” in the Journal of Regional Science, Vol.52, May 2012, 390-392.  “Folk Housing Revisited” was published with James Peters and David Damery in The Geographical Review (2015, vol.105, 61-77). 
Building on two photography shows in recent years at Northampton Center for the Arts and the Western New England University Art Museum, Wilkie has continued publishing photographs.  In the documentary film “Five Dimensions of Light” by Justin West (2015), he was interviewed on the “Geography of Light” and 86 of his photos were used to illustrate discussions in the 40-minute film. 
In 2014 Wilkie donated to the UMass DeBois Library his collection of Latin American maps and atlases that he collected during 50 years of traveling and doing research in that region.  The Library Map Collection on the second floor has named a section “Richard Wilkie Latin American Map Collection.” 
On the “fully retired” side of life, Wilkie has continued traveling and experiencing the world with his wife Jane (a retired Sociology professor from UConn), and with family, colleagues and friends.  Trips since 2009 included Patagonia, Ossabaw Island (Georgia), Puebla and Oaxaca (Mexico), Oxford Univ. and Southeastern England (2009), an 86-mile hike across the north Yorkshire Dales (2010), as well as Mexico (2011, 2012, 2015), Turkey (2011), Italy (2012), Rajasthan, India (2014), and Myanmar and Vietnam in 2015-16)  At home, he and his wife enjoy life on their 47-acre farm in South Amherst devoted to migratory grassland birds (bobolink, eastern meadowlark, red-wing blackbird, song sparrow, American goldfinch, killdeer, and 32 other species).  In addition, they spend at least two months a year at their beach cottage on Martha’s Vineyard where two Chilmark coast salt ponds connect and crossover to South Beach—a perfect place to view major shore-bird migrations during spring, summer and fall seasons.
Current Research Interests: 
A number of overlapping research themes have dominated Professor Wilkie's research, teaching, and writing in recent years.  The first theme centers on the question of the role of “place” in the lives of individuals, and how human attachments to particular environments, ecologies and/or special places helps to give people a “sense of place” in their lives through direct physical interactions with the natural or built environments. This topic also involves looking at one’s present, past and future ties to places as people move through the human lifecycle as well as move from place to place through migration. 
Secondly, Wilkie has explored the historical evolution of cultural landscapes and what role settlements of different sizes and complexities have played in history—see his Historical Atlas of Massachusetts (1991).   From the point of view of the migrant, there are quality of life issues in communities of different sizes and complexities within the urban-rural hierarchy of places that must be considered.  Wilkie in other publications has explored the kinds of decisions rural migrants in Argentina made in each of their moves over more than a 40+ year period, as well as on other aspects of spatial and environmental behavior. Understanding these processes of adjustment and assimilation into new places in communities of different complexities and among migrants of different ages, gender, and backgrounds are important for helping make future migrants avoid the same pitfalls.  Furthermore, an understanding of how people’s “attachment to place(s)” are important when attempting to understand the historical evolution of cultural landscapes.
Finally, Wilkie has an ongoing interest with visual and spatial thinking and how better maps, graphics and spatial models can help us to understand complex behavioral, ecological, contextual, and theoretical relationships.  He has taught a number of seminars on this topic and has served as a cartographic editor on several textbooks and as the Cartographic Director for the Statistical Abstract of Latin America for many years.

Contact us

Department of Geosciences
627 North Pleasant Street
233 Morrill Science Center
University of Massachusetts
Amherst, MA 01003-9297

Phone: (413) 545-2286
Fax: (413) 545-1200