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Louis De Vorsey
(1929 - 2012)

Fellow of the Society for the History of Discoveries
2005



The Society for the History of Discoveries is honoring this year one of its most distinguished luminaries. Dr. Louis De Vorsey is the author or co-author of fifteen books, and he has contributed chapters to thirty-three other volumes. In addition to his superb scholarship, Lou has admirably served the Society for the History of Discoveries as Vice President/President from 1979 to 1982. He was chairman of the Local Arrangements Committee for the annual meeting in Athens, Georgia in 1981, he co-chaired the Local Arrangements Committee for the annual conference in Savannah, Georgia in 1991, and he co-edited (with John Parker) in 1985 the society’s publication, In the Wake of Columbus: Islands and Controversy.

Our honoree was born on April 6, 1929 in Newark, New Jersey, and attended public schools in nearby Lyndhurst. He holds the BA degree from Montclair State University, New Jersey (majoring in social studies), the Master of Arts in geography from Indiana University, and the Ph.D. degree in geography was conferred in 1965 by the University of London (UK). After completing his studies at Indiana University in 1954, he entered the U.S. Navy Officer Candidate School in Newport News, Rhode Island, where he was commissioned as an Ensign. He qualified as a photo/radar navigator with the Navy’s Heavy Photographic Squadron 61. While on active duty he served in Japan, Okinawa, Thailand, Guam, and Alaska. One of his most interesting reserve assignments was with the Naval History Division in Washington, D.C. where he worked on a volume titled The American Revolution, 1775-1783: An Atlas of 18th Century Maps and Charts (1972). He currently holds the rank of Commander, USNR-Retired.

Lou began his teaching career at East Carolina University where he served from 1962-1965. The years 1965-1967 were spent at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. For the next twenty-one years he taught at the University of Georgia in Athens, where he was promoted to professor in 1973, and retired in 1988 as professor emeritus of geography. Throughout his career, he held visiting professorships at the universities of British Columbia, Victoria, Mount Allison, and New Brunswick in Canada, and at the University of Miami in Florida.

Lou’s list of publications in the fields of exploration and discovery and the history of cartography is impressive. In addition to In the Wake of Columbus (1985), he authored The Georgia-South Carolina Boundary: A Problem in Historical Geography (1982), The Indian Boundary in the Southern Colonies, 1763-1775 (1966), The Atlantic Pilot (1974), De Brahm’s Report of the General Survey in the Southern District of North America (1971), and the award-winning Keys to the Encounter: A Library of Congress Resource Guide for the Study of the Age of Discovery (1992). One of his most important contributions was editing and enlarging the 3rd edition of William P. Cumming’s The Southeast in Early Maps (1998). In addition to books, he has penned over forty articles, with some of his most important essays being published in Imago Mundi, The Map Collector, Mercator’s World, and The Portolan.

In addition to his books on historical geography and the history of cartography, Lou has focused his research for at least twenty-five years on maps produced by indigenous Indians. In 1978, he published “Amerindian Contributions to the Mapping of North America” in Imago Mundi; in 1992, his article “Native American Maps and World Views in the Age of Encounter” appeared in The Map Collector; this year, at the International Map Collectors’ Society symposium held in Denver, Colorado, he presented “The Role of Native American Maps in the Discovery and Exploration of North America”; and at the SHD annual meeting in Cody, Wyoming in September, 2004, he read “The Role of Native Peoples in the Exploration of the Southeast.”

No one in the discipline of geography is more respected than Louis De Vorsey in regard to litigation concerning both sea and land boundaries. He has appeared as an expert witness in five original actions before the U.S. Supreme Court. He was a witness for the United States in three cases, and represented Georgia and Massachusetts in the others. He conducted research for the U.S. Department of State in connection with the U.S.-Canada seaward boundary dispute in the Gulf of Maine. This case was adjudicated by the International Court of Justice at The Hague in the Netherlands where Lou served as one of three Geographer Legal Consultants to the U.S. Litigation Team.

Lou married Rosalyn Dennis in 1960 in Weybridge, Surrey (Ros’s home town). They had met in 1959 when he was a student at University College, London. Ros and Lou have three children: Megan (43), Kirsteen (40), and Kevin (38), and proudly dote on Sophia Elena Johnson, their only grandchild.

Being named a Fellow of the Society for the History of Discoveries is only the latest honor Louis De Vorsey has received. The Association of American Geographers in 1975 gave him its Honor Award for Meritorious Contributions to the Field of Geography, and in 1983, he was presented the Honor Award in Applied Geography by the same professional society. In 1980, the University of Georgia Research Foundation presented him its medal for Research Creativity in the Social Sciences. One of his favorite (and least expected) honors was received in 1998 when he was elected to the Lyndhurst High School Academic Hall of Fame.

For his excellent scholarly contributions to the study of geographical exploration and discovery and the history of cartography, for his path-breaking work in both early American Indian mapping and forensic geography, and for his tireless efforts on behalf of our learned society, we honor Louis De Vorsey, and name him FSHD - Fellow of the Society for the History of Discoveries.

Forty-sixth Annual Meeting of the Society
for the History of Discoveries
Williamsburg, Virginia
October 8 2005
Prepared by Sanford H. Bederman
(Photo of Louis De Vorsey by Ed Dahl, Labrador, 1997)



A tribute to Louis De Vorsey, written by Sanford Bederman, appeared in the Winter 2012 issue of Southeastern Geographer. Click here.

From SOUTHEASTERN GEOGRAPHER, Volume 52, no. 4. Copyright © 2012 by Southeastern Division, Association of American Geographers. Published by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher.

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