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About the Yi-Fu Tuan 'Dear Colleague' Archive

Melanie McCalmont, Webmaster, yifutuan.org
Waunakee, Wisconsin

September 15, 2008

     Dr. Yi-Fu Tuan has written 'Dear Colleague' letters for decades while at the University of Minnesota and later at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as an active professor of geography and later an emeritus professor. From early 1985 and on, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Geography Library retained a copy of each letter sent to colleagues and friends.

     This website, yifutuan.org, is currently processing this complete collection of Yi-Fu Tuan's "Dear Colleague" letters scanned from the paper originals. When finished, the archive will contain over 700 letters, essays, and notes. You will be able to see the signed letters as produced by Tuan's typewriter or computer printer and as delivered to colleagues. You will also be able to search for keywords within the letters. Years not yet processed contain a placeholder statement on that year's index page.

Why have I posted these older letters online?

     As a student in Yi-Fu Tuan's last graduate seminar in Fall 2004, I was introduced to the "Dear Colleague" letters appearing in my department mailbox each week. Intrigued and delighted, I asked Yi-Fu if I might start posting his letters to a website for a worldwide audience. He encouraged me to give it a try, writing to me that: "These bottled messages, thrown into the ocean, almost never reach a shoreline, and one's arm, if not one's intellect, does get a little tired after thirty-four years of tossing!" The result is the website before you, tossing its messages into a churning blogosphere that they might join with the millions of other truly human voices—beautiful, contentious, lonesome, sensual, and humorous—that wash onto your shore every day, longing for you to discover them.

About the archive project

    Although some letters were excerpted in the volume Dear Colleague (U.Minn. Press, 2002), the website only contained a few of the earlier letters. In 2006, I discovered from my friend Paddy Rourke, a wonderful librarian at the UW-Madison Geography Library, that they had a complete historical cache of "Dear Colleague" letters from Dr. Tuan. Some were bound; some were loose in folders. She gave me a detailed sketch of the holdings in August 2007, and offered her assistance in building a process and a database for the set.

     In March 2008, I and Jeff Moen at the University of Minnesota Press worked out how coordinate their book rights in Dear Colleague with Dr. Tuan's personal rights to the letters in this online forum. Tom Tews, chief librarian at the Geography Library, graciously offered staffing help to do the actual scanning chores, all of which was performed in the summer of 2008 by Danielle Wilson (see the "Tuan Project Report" for technical details) and Paddy Rourke. You and I are deeply indebted to the Geography Library staff for their assistance in this project.

Communication geography

   Those of us involved in this 'Dear Colleague' archive project recognize its long-term benefits to the study of geography and geographers—and the communication of geography. As much as the telephone, computer, and email have created disposable correspondence, digital media has also become the best way for us to preserve our geographic communication heritage. This set of Dear Colleague letters, especially if viewed as a history of geographic communication, reflect the political, educational, and social change occurring in the microcosm of Tuan's daily life and in the macrocosm of human history, thought, and place.

    A final word. So much discovery of geographic resources now takes place online. However, as much as we love to see our discoveries instantly appear before us, there is also warm human connection when holding a letter in your hands. I encourage students of these letters to visit the Geography Library and see them in person.

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Tuan Project Report

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