Pine Mountain Settlement School
Board of Trustees
Harlan H. Barrows
PMSS Trustee, 1915-1918, 1919

Credit Line: University of Chicago Photographic Archive,
[apf1-00353], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

TAGS: Harlan Barrows, PMSS Trustee, General Advisory Board of PMSS, Ellen Churchill Semple, geography, Friedrich Ratzel, J. Paul Goode, historical geography, environmental education,


Harlan H. Barrows was an exceptional choice for the Board of Trustees at Pine Mountain Settlement School and a remarkably prescient choice. Unfortunately, his time at Pine Mountain was very short-lived. In the Guide to PMSS Boards of Trustees, 1913- , Harlan H. Barrows is recorded as serving on the General Advisory Board (the former name for Board of Trustees) of the Pine Mountain Settlement School from November 1915 until January 1918. He is also listed as a Board of Trustee member in February of 1919.

Barrows was born on April 15, 1877, in Armada, Michigan and, following his schooling in his hometown, he went on to teach at Ferris Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and later at the Michigan State Normal College, at Ypsilanti. It was from there that he went to the University of Chicago where the first Department of Geography in the country was being formed under the direction of Rollin D. Salisbury. For nearly twenty years, the Department of Geography at the University of Chicago was the only one in the country.

Prof. Barrows taught at the University of Chicago from 1906 and rose to the Chairmanship of his department of Geography by 1919, remaining as Chair until 1942. Among his colleagues in the department was Ellen Churchill Semple who, in 1921, served as the first woman to head the National Association of American Geographers. Her Association presidency was followed by that of Harlan H. Barrows in 1922 and by the noted geographer J. Paul Goode in 1926. All three geographers had an intimate interest in Appalachia.

Semple is well-known as the geographer who defined Appalachians as prisoners of their geography and as imperfect products of their isolation. Her work in human geography and what is now referred as “environmental determinism” continues to stir debate but had a strong influence on the work of Barrows. Her early publications on the topic influenced by her German mentor Friedrich Ratzel and fieldwork in Kentucky, were later softened by more attention to social conditions as determining factors in human and historical geography.

In a quick review, Barrows appears to be more enlightened than Semple regarding life in the Appalachian mountains. No doubt his brief time on the Settlement School Board and his limited time in the Kentucky mountains provided some insight into the plight of the Southern Appalachian Mountains in the first decade of the twentieth century.  Still, neither he nor Semple had extensive personal immersion in the cultures of the people of Eastern Kentucky. His academic influence was, more likely felt as a potential change agent by his fellow Board members.

Described as an animated and exciting teacher, Barrows was also known for his “rational approach to geographical knowledge,” but he was opposed to the idea of “geographical determinism”, as subscribed to by Semple in her early career. Barrows was a master of logical organization and accurate expression that grew out of direct observation. His methods left no room for unsupported ethnographic speculations like the ones put forward by Semple early in her career. He believed that geography had an influence on people, but was not a primary determinant of the person. He saw human choice as far more important in the shaping of individuals and culture.

Just what influence he had on the later views of Semple is not clear. Yet, later in her career Semple, who was from Louisville, Kentucky, revised her views and was more closely aligned with Barrows and more attunedd to the people she studied. The growing trends in their profession also pushed along both geographers. They began to acknowledge the importance of environmental influences more readily and they exercised caution in assigning any deterministic influences of geography on the culture or the people of specific regions.  The early exploration of Appalachia, particularly the Eastern Kentucky journey with Katherine Pettit, was, nonetheless, formative.

An article by William A. Koelsch and published in the Annals of the Association of American Geographers in December 1969, aptly describes the central role Barrows played in shaping historical geography. The following abstracts his accomplishments.

The career of Harlan H. Barrows illustrates some of the methodological problems of the history of geographic thought as well as some of the facts of the establishment of historical geography in the American university world. Barrows’ “environmentalist” position, as applied in the development of this field, allowed him to make significant shifts from the quest for a more precise formulation of the effects of environmental influences to an implicit recognition of the central role of human choices. Barrows’ writings and particularly his teaching show the pace and direction of the shift clearly. In the light of the accessible published literature, supplemented by certain manuscript sources, persistent descriptions of his work in historical geography which place it under the rubric of “environmental determinism” are shown to be mistaken.

A strong environmentalist, Barrows taught a course in the conservation of natural resources and one in the historical geography of the United States. Both courses were extremely popular with students from a variety of departments. His introductory college textbook, The Elements of Geography, which he wrote in collaboration with R. D. Salisbury and W. S. Tower, was the first of its kind. His strong environmental stand led to his appointment to many state and federal consultancies. His most quoted work is “Geography as Human Ecology” which was his main address to the Association of American Geographers.

He served as a consultant to the Department of the Interior and was a member of the Mississippi Valley Committee, Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works (1933-1934), the Water Planning Committee, National Resources Board (1934-1935), the Water Resources Committee (1935-1941), and the President’s Great Plains Committee (1936); he was chairman of the Consultative Board, Rio Grande Joint Investigation (1935-1938), the Northern Great Plains Committee (1938-1940), and the Consultative Board, Pecos River Joint Investigation (1939-1941); and he was planning consultant in the Bureau of Reclamation (1939-1955), and director of its Central Valley Project Studies (1942-1944).

Robert S. Platt, a student of Barrows, wrote an obituary for the January 1961 Geographical Review in which he remarked that: 

Many geographers who never knew him still work under his influence. Those who did know him, as a teacher and friend, cherish vivid memories of his strength and vigor, of his sincerity of purpose, of his warm feeling and high idealism in the field of knowledge.

[See: Platt, Robert S.. Obituary: Harlan H. Barrows, Geographical Review, Vol. 51:1, pp. 139-141. (January 1961). American Geographical Society. http://www.jstor.org/stable/212493 Accessed: 2009-08-29. Internet resource.]

Pine Mountain was indeed fortunate to have Barrows on the early Advisory Board. His early interest in environmentalism was consistent with the on-going mission of the School and became the central focus of later environmental education programs of the School following the closing of the boarding school in 1949. It is also fitting that many of the principles that Barrows adhered to are still an integral part of the mission of the School.

See Also

HISTORIES PMSS  1899 “A Novel Excursion” by Maria McVay

PUBLICATIONS RELATED Ellen Churchill Semple 1901. The Anglo-Saxons of the Kentucky Mountains …


Harlan H. Barrows

Alt. Title

Harlan Barrows ; Prof. Barrows




Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY

Alt. Creator

Ann Angel Eberhardt ; Helen Hayes Wykle ;

Subject Keyword

Harlan H. Barrows ; Pine Mountain Settlement School ; Board of Trustees ; General Advisory Board ; Ferris Institute ; Michigan State Normal College ; Department of Geography ; University of Chicago ; Rollin D. Salisbury ; Ellen Churchill Semple ; Association of American Geographers ; J. Paul Goode ; geographical determinism ; environmental determinism ; environmentalists ; historical geography ; geography textbooks ; consultants ; teachers ; professors ; Robert S. Platt ; Elements of Geography ; Department of the Interior ; Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works ; National Resources Board ; Water Resources Committee ; President’s Great Plains Committee ; Rio Grande Joint Investigation ; Pecos River Joint Investigation ; Bureau of Reclamation ; geology ; R. D. Salisbury ; W. S. Tower ; Edith P. Parker ; Margaret T. Parker ; government planning ; resource management ; United States War Trade Board ; Geographical Review ; government agencies ; William A. Koelsch ; Armada, MI ; Grand Rapids, MI ; Ypsilanti, MI ; Chicago, IL ; Highland Park, IL ; Louisville, KY ;

Subject LCSH

Barrows, Harlan H., — April 15, 1877 – May 15, 1960.
Semple, Ellen Churchill, — 1863 – 1932.
Pine Mountain Settlement School (Pine Mountain, Ky.) — History.
Harlan County (Ky.) — History.
Education — Kentucky — Harlan County.
Rural schools — Kentucky — History.
Schools — Appalachian Region, Southern.
Geography — Study and teaching.




Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY




Collections ; text ; image ;


Original and copies of documents and correspondence in file folders in filing cabinet


Series 05: Administration – Board of Trustees




Is related to: Pine Mountain Settlement School Collections, Series 05: Administration – Board of Trustees ; Association of American Geographers ;

Coverage Temporal


Coverage Spatial

Pine Mountain, KY ; Harlan County, KY ; Armada, MI ; Grand Rapids, MI ; Ypsilanti, MI ; Chicago, IL ; Highland Park, IL ; Louisville, KY ;


Any display, publication, or public use must credit the Pine Mountain Settlement School. Copyright retained by the creators of certain items in the collection, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.




Core documents, correspondence, writings, and administrative papers of Harlan H. Barrows ; clippings, photographs, books by or about Harlan H. Barrows ; focused on the Pine Mountain Settlement School years of the early 1900s when Barrows served on the Pine Mountain Board of Trustees..




“[Identification of Item],” [Collection Name] [Series Number, if applicable]. Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY.

Processed By

Helen Hayes Wykle ; Ann Angel Eberhardt ;

Last Updated

2009-08-28 hhw ; 2013-12-03 hhw ; 2013-12-18 aae ; 2014-04-07 hhw ; 2015-08-17 aae ; 2015-08-23 hhw



Koelsch, William A. “The Historical Geography of Harlan H. Barrows”. Annals of the Association of American Geographers. Vol 59:4. Volume 59, Issue 4, pages 632–651 (December 1969). Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 1969. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-8306.1969.tb01804.x/full Accessed 2015-08-18. Internet resource.

“Obituaries: Harlan H. Barrows”. Geographical Review, Vol. 51:1, pp. 139-141. (January 1961). American Geographical Society. http://www.jstor.org/stable/212493 Accessed: 2009-08-29. Internet resource.

Selected Bibliography

Barrows, Harlan H. “Geography As Human Ecology.” Washington: Association of American Geographers Annals. 1923. Print. [Presidential Address to the Association.]

Barrows, Harlan H, and Edith P. Parker. Geography Journeys in Distant Lands. New York: Silver, Burdett and Company, 1924. Print.

Barrows, Harlan H, Edith P. Parker, and Clarence W. Sorenson. Man in His World: Essential Elementary Geography. New York: Silver Burdett Co, 1946. Print.

Barrows, Harlan H, Edith P. Parker, and Margaret T. Parker. Geography: Southern Lands. New York, Newark: Silver, Burdett and Company, 1929. Print.

Barrows, Harlan H, and William A. Koelsch. Lectures on the Historical Geography of the United States As Given in 1933. Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 1962. Print.

Barrows, Harlan H, Edith P. Parker, and Clarence W. Sorensen. The American Continents: Geography for Today’s World. Morristown, N.J: Silver Burdett Co, 1959. Print.

Salisbury, Rollin D, Harlan H. Barrows, and Walter S. Tower. The Elements of Geography. New York: H. Holt and Company, 1912. Print.