Norton Ginsburg, a former University of Chicago professor who wrote
articles for Encyclopaedia Britannica, had a way of combining the work
of many to produce breakthroughs in the field of geography.
"The profession of geography has many specialists," said Michael
Conzen, chairman of the U. of C. Committee on Geographical Studies.
"He was one of the big thinkers who saw the big picture and pulled all
the specialist threads together."
Dr. Ginsburg, 85, died of natural causes Monday, July 30, in a Chicago
health-care facility, said his wife, Diana.
The professor of geography began his career as a geographer in the
Army Map Service in 1941. He did the same job in the Naval Reserve
from 1942 to 1946.
Dr. Ginsburg, who later became a leading authority on economic
development in East and Southeast Asia, was sent to that part of the
world when he worked in intelligence after World War II, said Richard
Louis Edmonds, one of Dr. Ginsburg's former doctoral students.
He was sent to what was then called Manchuria under the guise that he
was a representative for the Library of Congress, said Edmonds, now a
U. of C. visiting professor. But he was there to gather information
about the Communists and Chinese Nationalists, Edmonds said.
After his service, Dr. Ginsburg received his master's and doctorate
degrees at U. of C. After graduating, he served as a Fulbright
Research Scholar at universities in Hong Kong and what was then called
Back at U. of C., he became an assistant professor in 1951 and a full
professor in 1961. He served as assistant dean of the university's
division of social sciences from 1954 to 1956, associate dean of the
division from 1967 to 1969 and associate dean of the university's
undergraduate division from 1963 to 1966. He was the chairman of the
department of geography from 1978 to 1985.
Dr. Ginsburg usually lived no farther than a mile from the university
while he worked there, his wife said.
"In his day, people at the university went home for dinner, and they
returned and went back to the office," she said. "His work was really
"Even when it looked like he wasn't working, he said, 'I'm thinking,'"
Diana Ginsburg said. "That's what you have to do to be an academic."
Dr. Ginsburg, also an expert on urban and political geography, led the
team that created the "Atlas of Economic Development," a 119-page
reference tool on ways to aid developing countries.
"It was the first major mapping of the differential wealth and poverty
of nations," Conzen said. "It was a landmark in the cartography of
geographical differences in national wealth."
Dr. Ginsburg also co-wrote "The Pattern of Asia," the first modern,
geographical study of the diversity of Asia, Conzen said. Published in
1958, the book provided important information to scholars and others
in the United States who were taking a broader look at the world after
World War II.
While making strides in his field, Dr. Ginsburg still found time for
his students, Edmonds said. In addition to intellectual challenge, he
offered spiritual and personal guidance.
"He was there to help find a place to live, encourage you in your
work," Edmonds said. "He looked after his students that way. I thought
he did it to a considerable degree."
In addition to his wife, Dr. Ginsburg is survived by a brother,
Gilbert; and two sons, Jeremy and Alexander.
Services have been held.
By Kristen Kridel
Tribune staff reporter
August 3, 2007