My interest in West African cities owes much to the fact that I received a joint PhD in geography from the University of Lausanne and the University of Rouen .
In Lausanne, my supervisor was Professor Jean-Bernard Racine, one of the pioneers of the New Geography in the 1970s, and a recipient of the Vautrin Lud Prize, the highest award in geography, for his work in economic and urban geography. In Rouen, I studied under the supervision of Professor Denis Retaillé, one of the world’s leading scholars on the Sahel, whose work on space and networks continues to exert an enormous influence on my research
The academic genealogy of my supervisors reveals fascinating intellectual connections: both Racine and Retaillé are actually indirectly connected to Paul Vidal de la Blache (1845-1918), the most influential French geographer of the 19th century (see picture above).
Professor Racine received his PhDs from the University of Aix-en-Provence (1965) and Nice (1973). While in North America, Racine was profoundly influenced by Walter Isard, the founder of regional science, and by geographers Brian Berry, Stanley Gregory, Bryn Greer-Wooten, David Harvey and Peter Gould, whose model of transport development was based on Ghana and Nigeria. In France, Sorbonne University professors Pierre George and Paul Claval had a strong influence on Racine’s thinking.
Racine’s PhD thesis was supervised by Professor Hildebert Isnard, whose early work dealt with North Africa, Madagascar and Reunion and who worked under the supervision of Professor Robert Capot-Rey of the University of Algiers. Capot-Rey, a one-leg professor who explored the erg of Murzuk and much of the Sahara, is the author of Le Sahara Français, a monumental volume published in 1953. Capot-Rey was himself a student of Lucien Louis Gallois, a Sorbonne professor who worked closely with Paul Vidal de la Blache on Les Annales de Géographie, an influential journal founded in 1891, and on de la Blache’s Géographie Universelle.
Professor Retaillé received his PhD from the University of Paris in 1983. His supervisor was Professor Jean Gallais, who discovered Africa in the early 1950s and became the leading specialist of the Inner Niger Delta in Mali. Gallais was himself a student of Professor Pierre Gourou, a major proponent of French tropical geography. Gourou studied with Albert Demangeon, a Sorbonne University professor who pioneered the use of surveys in geography and was a student of Vidal de la Blache.
Pathways via doctoral supervisors
— Paul Vidal de la Blache (1872) — Lucien Louis Gallois (1890) — Robert Capot-Rey (1934) — Hildebert Isnard (1947) — Jean-Bernard Racine (1973) — me (2006)
— Paul Vidal de la Blache (1872) — Albert Demangeon (1905) — Pierre Gourou (1936) — Jean Gallais (1967) — Denis Retaillé (1983) — me (2006)