Obituary: Professor Paul Wheatley

AMONG THE ex-servicemen that good fortune brought to Liverpool University at the end of the Second World War was a navigator from Squadron 150 of Bomber Command and the Pathfinder Group 205. A lean and lithe Paul Wheatley had begun his geographical studies at King's College London in 1939 and, seeking to resume them, found immediate rapport with the newly appointed occupant of the John Rankin Chair of Geography, H. C. (later Sir Clifford) Darby. In 1949, Wheatley graduated with first class honours and was immediately appointed to an assistant lectureship at University College London.

Influenced by Clifford Darby, Wheatley contributed on Staffordshire to The Domesday Geography of England (1954), and he might well have continued to work on the historical geography of England. Instead he turned his attention to South-East Asia and China and, although this new direction chimed well with the department at University College, where area studies were being actively promoted, he moved to the University of Malaya (Singapore) in 1952.

Here he rapidly developed his research interests in the region, stirred the Department of Geography to action, founded the Journal of Tropical Geography and renewed contact with his erstwhile Liverpool acquaintance C. Northcote Parkinson. Parkinson, recently appointed Professor of History, was an authority on the commercial history of South-East Asia, a topic of direct interest to Wheatley. The Golden Khersonese: studies in the historical geography of the Malay Peninsula before AD 1500 (1961) and more than a dozen cognate research papers are a lasting testament to the Singapore years.

Wheatley moved to the University of California at Berkeley in 1958 as Professor of Geography and History, two years later taking on the chairmanship of the Centre for South-East Asian Studies. At Berkeley, he found a kindred spirit in the geographer and historian of ideas Clarence Glacken. During his years at Berkeley Wheatley became increasingly interested in the relationships between social structures, religion and urban origins, and in this context he began to explore Chinese sources. He was in the midst of his second - and most influential - monograph, The Pivot of the Four Quarters: a preliminary enquiry into the origins and character of the ancient Chinese city (1971), when in 1966 he accepted an invitation to return to University College London.

Wheatley had an immediate impact upon the college community with his inaugural lecture, City as Symbol (published in 1969), and he followed this with a definitive paper on "the concept of urbanism" which was published in Man, Settlement and Urbanism (1972). As graduate tutor in the Geography Department, Wheatley made a deep impression. He brought to bear the critical standards of the Berkeley school and introduced theoretical concepts to the established empirical traditions of the department. He became something of a geographical guru - and still found time to serve on the editorial boards of half a dozen journals.

There was dismay at University College when Wheatley was invited in 1971 to accept a chair at the University of Chicago. Six years later, he was named Irving B. Harris Professor and Chairman of the Committee on Social Thought at Chicago, a research appointment which lasted until his retirement in 1991. To chair for so long this diverse and distinguished "committee of prima donnas" was a signal achievement. During his chairmanship he published Nagara and Commandery: origins of the South-East Asian urban tradition (1983), wrote jointly with Thomas See From Court to Capital: a tentative interpretation of the origins of the Japanese urban tradition (1978) and edited with a friend from University College days, Kernial Singh Sandhu, the two- volume Melaka: the transformation of a Malay capital c1400-1980 (1983).

Shortly before his death Wheatley had completed the manuscript of The Places where Men Pray Together: cities in Islamic lands, seventh-tenth centuries, to be published by the University of Chicago Press in 2000.

Wheatley was a man of ideas, of exacting standards and often of forceful expression. He was the first British geographer to explore sources in Chinese and Arabic as well as in English for the historical geography of South-East Asia and the Arab world. Only the grand thesis was good enough for him. A belief in the value of a comparative world view and an inter-disciplinary approach inspired his lifelong exploration of urbanism and his conviction that the emergence of the city was a turning point in the history of human society.

W. R. Mead and D. R. Harris

Paul Wheatley, geographer: born Stroud, Gloucestershire 11 October 1921; Professor of Geography and History, University of California at Berkeley 1958-66; Professor of Geography, University College London 1966-71; Professor of Geography and History, University of Chicago 1971-77, Irving B. Harris Professor and Chairman of the Committee on Social Thought 1977-91 (Emeritus); married 1957 Margaret Ashworth (two sons); died Porter, Indiana 30 October 1999.

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea