Richard Chorley

Richard Chorley bigraphy, stories - Geographers

Richard Chorley : biography

4 September 1927 – 12 May 2002

Richard John Chorley (4 September 1927 – 12 May 2002) was a leading figure in the late 20th century for his work in quantitative geography, and played an instrumental role in bringing in the use of systems theory to geography. He is buried at the Parish of the Ascension Burial Ground in Cambridge. He married Rosemary More in 1965 and they had one son and one daughter.

Awards and honours

  • 1967 Awarded the Gill Memorial of the Royal Geographical Society for contributions to Physical Geography and quantitative studies.
  • 1974 Sc.D., Cambridge University
  • 1974 Elected first honorary life member of the British Geomorphological Research Group.
  • 1981 Honors Award, Association of American Geographers
  • 1987 Awarded the Patron’s Medal of the Royal Geographical Society
  • 1988 Elected an Honorary Member of the Italian Geographical Society
  • 1988 Elected to the Council of the Royal Geographical Society

Progressing Geography

Instead of confining himself to physical geography, Chorley took a broad approach to change in geography as a whole. He did this first through a series of annual summer conferences held at Madingley Hall near Cambridge, where his lectures helped form a basis of a series of volumes (notably Models in Geography, 1967) that influenced the discipline. The second was by founding an annual series, "Progress in Geography", later converted into two influential quarterly journals, in which changes over the whole discipline could be recorded and assessed.

Education and career

  • 1946-48 Lieutenant, Royal Engineers
  • 1951 BA (Hons) Oxford University
  • 1951-52 Fulbright and Smith-Mundt Scholarships to Department of Geology, Columbia University, New York
  • 1952-54 Instructor in Geography, Columbia University, New York
  • 1954 MA Oxford University
  • 1954-57 Instructor in Geology, Brown University, Providence, USA
  • 1958 Demonstrator in Geography, Cambridge University
  • 1962 Lecturer in Geography, Cambridge University
  • 1963-78 Co-Director, Madingley Geography Conferences
  • 1964 Appointed British representative to the Commission on Quantitative Techniques of the International Geographical Union. Nominated Chairman 1968
  • 1968 Appointed Chairman of the Committee on the Role of Models and Quantitative techniques in Geographical Teaching of the Geographical Association
  • 1970-1975 Appointed Secretary of the Faculty Board of Geography and Geology, Cambridge University
  • 1970 Appointed Reader in Geography, Cambridge University
  • 1972 Appointed Deputy Head of the Department of Geography, Cambridge University, for the Lent and Michaelmas terms.
  • 1973 Appointed member of the Board of Graduate Studies
  • 1974 Appointed to an ad hominem Chair in Geography, Cambridge University
  • 1984-89 Appointed Head of the Department of Geography, Cambridge University
  • 1984-89 and 1990 – Elected Chairman, Development Studies Committee
  • 1990 Elected Vice-Master, Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge University

Early Education

Chorley grew up in south-west England in an area known as the West Country, with roots in Exmoor and the Vale of Taunton Deane. He was a product of a local primary school and Minehead Grammar School. Later on, Chorley began studying Geomorphology as an undergraduate at the School of Geography at Oxford, where he went up to Exeter College after service with the Royal Engineers. Here he was greatly influenced by R.P. Beckinsale, who advised Chorley to go on to graduate study in the United States. He made a transatlantic move in 1951 as a Fulbright Scholar to Columbia University where he was a graduate student in the Geology Department and explored the quantitative approach to land form evolution.

Career Development

In 1957, Chorley’s academic career at Columbia, and subsequently Brown University, was interrupted by the need to return to Britain for family reasons. He was soon appointed a Demonstrator at Cambridge University and proceeded to move rapidly up the university hierarchy with a readership in 1970 and ad hominem chair in 1974. Cambridge provided the launching pad for Chorley’s revolutionary ideas. He rejected the prevailing paradigm of the Davisian cycles of erosion and sought to replace these with a quantitative model-based paradigm with an emphasis on General Systems Theory and numerical modelling.

Cambridge contained a strong group in physical geography with colleagues that encouraged Chorley’s ideas. It also provided a good environment for him to conduct his experiments. Chorley produced volumes of scientific papers in physical geography that codified his approach and allowed him to ask new questions about earth surface processes and ways they can be studied. Central to these was the concept of system dynamics, and his production of Physical Geography: A Systems Approach (1971) and Environmental Systems (1978) that influenced a generation of scholars. Chorley’s studies ranged into climatology and hydrology where he cooperated with Colorado meteorologist Roger Barry on the text, Atmosphere, Weather and Climate (1968). Many of his writings were jointly authored or edited, including Water, Earth and Man (1969). In addition, Chorley launched in 1964 the first of a series of text on The History of the Study of Landforms. Two further volumes were published in 1973 and 1991. At the time of Chorley’s death, Volume 4 was nearing completion.