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Allan Richard Pred


Allan Richard Pred

Professor of Geography


1936 – 2007


Allan Richard Pred, one of the world’s leading geographers and social scientists, died on January 5, 2007 at Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley. He had retired in May 2006 following 45 years of service to the University of California, Berkeley. He was subsequently diagnosed with lung cancer while at his summer home in Sweden, and his condition deteriorated rapidly upon his return to Berkeley for medical treatment. He was 70 years old.


To his colleagues and students, Allan Pred was a formidable intellectual, a brilliant thinker, a great humanist, a loyal and trusted friend, and a generous and engaged mentor. 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 Department of Geography with his devotion to wide-open inquiry and critical thought and his passion for truth and human freedom. “He made a big difference to the social life in the social sciences/humanities,” said a colleague in the Department of Anthropology. “His humanist qualities created a sense of meaningful intellectual exchange and moral optimism that may be fading on campus”. His immense charm and deep humanity will be sorely missed.


Allan Pred was born in the Bronx in 1936. His father was a high school French teacher, his mother a housewife. His grandparents had been Jewish immigrants from Poland. A child of the late Depression, he rarely looked back to New York after his departure for Antioch College in 1952. His new horizons were out in the Midwest and later across the Atlantic in Europe in what became a lifelong love affair with Sweden. He first visited that country while a graduate student at the University of Chicago, drawn, in part, by the theoretical and scientific innovations of Swedish geographers such as Torsten Hagerstrand. When he met his wife of 44 years, Hjordis, in San Francisco in 1963, the die was cast. They lived between Berkeley and Sweden on a yearly basis, raising bilingual children. In the 1980s, they bought a summer home in Nytorp, which was Allan’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.


The arc of Allan Pred’s academic life is nothing short of remarkable. He entered Antioch College at age 16. During the 1950s, Antioch was a nebula that fashioned a number of intellectual, political and cultural stars, and Allan Pred was most definitely part of that galaxy. He graduated first in his class in 1957 and then decamped to Pennsylvania State University to study geography. When asked in an interview why he chose geography, he replied that it offered an unmatched flexibility and cross-disciplinary landscape in which to operate. University Park was a way station en route to his ultimate destination, the University of Chicago. For a student interested in cities and urban geography in the mid-twentieth century, the University of Chicago was the Holy Grail; home to a long line of urban theorists, by 1960, Chicago was the crucible within which a new quantitative and analytical geography was being formed. Completing his Ph.D. in 1962, in little over four years, Pred arrived at Berkeley at the tender age of 25. His ascent through the ranks of the professoriate was astonishing. Within five years he had obtained tenure. By 1971, aged 34, he had been appointed full professor.


Perhaps inevitably for a child raised in New York and educated in Chicago, Pred started his career as a theorist of the American city. His international reputation was made by three brilliant books on nineteenth century U.S. urbanism, each marked by a magnificent control of historical sources and a profound sensitivity to the dynamics of historical transformation. Each proved to be enormously influential across disciplines and theoretically groundbreaking. In The Spatial Dynamics of U.S. Urban Industrial Growth, 1800-1914 (1966), he challenged the new economic historians to take seriously the role of urban agglomeration in industrial growth. In Urban Growth and the Circulation of Information, 1790-1840 (1973), Pred linked national growth, mercantile expansion and industrial innovation to the advance of communications networks across American cities. And, finally, in Urban Growth Theory and City Systems in the U.S., 1840-1860 (1980), he charted the way capitalist dynamics ramify across entire city systems, more than between cities and rural hinterlands. This classic trio of monographs remains indispensable for any understanding of the urban and economic history of the United States.


Beginning in the 1980s, Pred’s formidable intellect turned from the American to the Swedish city, and in the process his gaze turned from urban political economy to modernity as a way of life and mode of experience. Pred’s perseverance and his eye for historical sources yielded unexpected fruits in his new Swedish project. He discovered an archival gold mine, a treasure trove of neglected church and state papers on nineteenth and twentieth century life. What followed was an exhilarating series of projects designed to unearth the making of place, everyday life, and popular identities in the transit to what he called ‘Swedish modern’. He began with rural enclosures and peasant life in the nineteenth century, in Place, Practice and Structure: Social and Spatial Transformation in Southern Sweden, 1750-1850 (1985), and moved quickly to the world of Stockholm’s working classes at the fin de siècle in Lost Words and Lost Worlds: Modernity and the Language of Everyday Life in Late-Nineteenth Century Stockholm (1990). Pred’s vision grew even bolder, taking on that apotheosis of modernity, the World’s Fair, as it took shape in Stockholm in three different forms over three generations, in Recognizing European Modernities: A Montage of the Present (1995). Inevitably he turned to contemporary Swedish life and to what he took to be the deafening silence surrounding the question of race and racism. 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.


As his stature within the social sciences grew, the honors followed. He was awarded the Anders Retzius medal by the Swedish Society for Geography and Anthropology (sometimes called geography’s Nobel Prize) 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 Brand Professorship in 2001 and an honorary doctorate from Uppsala University in 1992. He held visiting appointments at the École des Hautes Études and the University of Lund and, earlier in his career, served as a consultant to the Swedish and Australian governments. In recognition of his extraordinary achievements and contributions to campus life at Berkeley, he was made Professor of the Graduate School.


Pred contributed to the Berkeley campus on many institutional fronts, including the library, Graduate Council, Scandinavian studies, tenure and promotion committees, affirmative action, and minority representation among them. He never shirked the thankless committee duties, and his knowledge of university affairs was voluminous. Most importantly, he served as the chair of the Department of Geography between 1979 and 1988 during a critical period of transformation and growth. All departmental chairs develop their own personal styles. His was chairing by stealth: a remarkable combination of administrative genius, healthy distrust of those in power, a ferocious determination, and a memory like an elephant’s (many have thought that he would have been a world-class labor negotiator). His wise counsel and sage advice were sought by many around campus. As a colleague his hallmarks were loyalty and honesty, a profound political acumen and a great generosity of spirit. He was a consummate academic citizen.


When he was diagnosed with a serious lung cancer, Allan was typically fair-minded and philosophical. He had, he said, lived a blessed life, full to the hilt, doing what he liked best: teaching, learning, living in Berkeley and Sweden. He had no regrets, and came by that as honestly as any man could. His was a life that was fiery and feisty—and always political. His graduation address in 2006 was Allan Pred at full bore: raging against a war machine—a secret geography of terror and intimidation—that drew strength from weak citizenship; he eyed the new graduates and asked, “What do YOU know? The clock is ticking. The train is rolling on”.


Pred is survived by his wife Hjordis of Berkeley; a daughter, Michelle, also of Berkeley; and a son, Joseph, and daughter-in-law of San Francisco.


Michael Watts