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C. G. McGovern-Bowen

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A Treetop View: Remembering Brother Brian, a.k.a.,
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Keeper of the Light, Early Years 1976-1978: Honoring Prof. David Hornbeck
by C. G. McGovern-Bowen   
Rated "PG13" by the Author.
Last edited: Sunday, April 19, 2009
Posted: Sunday, April 19, 2009

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It is important to pause from time to time to acknowledge those who contribute to lighting one's path in this crazy world. So when a dear friend/colleague invited me to pen a few words about our esteemed Graduate Student Advisor, of some thirty years ago, for his retirement festschrift, I did so without hesitation. Memories from three decades ago; what a wild ride!

Retirement Festschrift Honoring David Hornbeck,

CSUN, Department of Geography, May 2009

Emcee, Professor Christine M. Rodrigue, PhD

“Professor David Hornbeck, PhD: Keeper of the Light: Early Years, 1976-1978”

By Carolyn G. McGovern-Bowen, PhD

Author, Seeker, Globe Trotter

Santa Rosa Valley, California


April 12, 2009


David Hornbeck had been teaching/advising students at CSU Northridge for nearly four years when our paths crossed in 1976. By then I was doggedly determined to finish what had become, for me, that elusive basic university degree.  Having already re-structured my personal/work life, I was at liberty to focus entirely upon the completion of needed studies. My renaissance phase of acquiring a higher education involved treading many a pleasurable, if thorny, path: mathematics, chemistry, geology, art history and so very much more.  When I finally drifted into my first geography class at UC Santa Barbara (Arthur Strahler’s, Introduction to Physical Geography) in 1974, I felt like The Prodigal Daughter Returned (your forbearance please,  Rembrandt).  In answering this clarion call, the then vastly superior geography program offered at San Fernando Valley State College (as CSU Northridge was previously known) beckoned.  Given my solid foundation in general science/math and geology, I was naturally drawn to adopting physical geography as “home” when I enrolled in an economic geography course offered by, yours truly, David Hornbeck. With my trajectory thus permanently altered, I became fully immersed in the fascinating world of human/cultural geography. Checking groceries to stay financially afloat, I soon completed both BA (1976) and MA (1978) degrees in geography at the newly christened CSUN.  Thereafter, and with Hornbeck’s close guidance, I promptly entered, and eventually completed, a doctoral program in geography at Syracuse University, New York (see appended references). So much for finishing that basic university degree…


Simply put, David Hornbeck is a true “Keeper of the Light.” As a dedicated scholar, formidable work ethic adherent, committed educator and compassionate human being, Hornbeck has illumined the path of many a wandering student, and colleague, for more than three decades. Down-to-earth, yet mercurial and scrappy, his engaging mix of arrogance and vulnerability was like a breath of fresh air in the oftentimes stogy and stale world of academia.  If Hornbeck adjudged you a worthy apprentice, an exhilarating intellectual growth cycle awaited. He brought to the lecture hall and seminar room the full range of requisite academic tools: fertile reading lists, seasoned lectures replete with incisive analyses, a commanding yet patient Socratic mode of instruction. Yes, Hornbeck challenged one to think, to think boldly, and to question, question, question. Critical thinking, exacting data collection/analysis/evaluation, fastidious documentation, and surgical synthesis—these are the tools a receptive student could expect to sharpen under his keen tutelage.  Whether one was dissecting the components of economic geography, spatial analysis, historical geography, or field/research methodologies, Hornbeck galvanized his students with a priceless sense of intellectual adventure that would endure a lifetime.  No finer legacy exists.

No question that Hornbeck held his lantern high for those willing to make the climb. His holistic mentoring approach extended beyond the lecture hall/seminar room, beyond learning to produce all those scholarly term reports/professional presentations/theses, to reach those uncharted waters of “The Other.” Indeed, one learned just as much from a Hornbeck group fieldtrip: the skill of applied landscape analysis, so fundamental to any worthy geographer, was honed from both the roadway and good old-fashioned gumshoe effort. Who could forget learning to identify crop patterns in the Salinas Valley while speeding by at sixty mph? And what about that tell-tale transition from field crops, to truck crops, to the changing density of human settlement patterns? Better be quick recognizing all those patterns and processes! And when the exhausting day was done, a group crash at the local Motel 6 followed, along with a robust round of Yukon Jack or Mexican beer with tequila chasers (for whom the worm turns?—indulge me, Hemingway), and lively intellectual blathering that predictably dovetailed into utter silliness and blessed sleep—eventually. Ah yes, the simple joy of acquiring basic social skills so sorely lacking in a lower middle-class diamante de bruta como yo.

Of the many recollections of Hornbeck, another outstanding one is his emphasis on quality data collection, evaluation and interpretation. Archival worlds of wonder were opened for those pursuing historical questions-from the department’s own Sanbourn map collection, to the Santa Barbara Mission archives, to the vast holdings of the Bancroft Library at UC Berkley. The value of developing systematic research habits and fastidious documentation practices was demonstrated by observing Hornbeck’s own scholarly regimen. He practiced what he preached in all areas of academic pursuit. Data processing and graphing, mapping and map interpretation, the honing of hypothesis testing and synthesis, or making every single comma count in an abstract for professional presentation—each step was to be carefully tended.

Ah yes, and the task of professional conference training was mastered to be sure. Hornbeck not only encouraged students to generate term papers/seminar reports/theses of professional quality, but also guided them through the entire process of participating with “The Big Guns” at local, regional and national conferences. Talk about opening new doors, building confidence, and basking in the glow of all that creative, albeit highly competitive, energy. One quickly recognized how it all “fit together” after being freed to wander and wonder at this intriguing world of geographic heavy hitters like David Harvey, David Ward, and David Hornbeck ;-)! To witness such freewheeling intellectual exchange while acquiring academic contacts, and later painting the town red at day’s end, was terrific hands-on experience. Let us overlook the trials and tribulations of being crammed into a hotel room with a bunch of fired-up grad students—where the joys of group dynamics were predictably stretched uncomfortably thin (who gets to shower first?!).

Perhaps the most transformative influence Hornbeck had was in his roll as advisor to students seeking entry into advanced graduate programs. His encouragement and guidance was crucial, to say the least, in navigating the labyrinthine doctoral program application process.  It was all good. We certainly learned the dance: the selection of potential leading universities, the review of resident faculty and programs, and the establishment of direct contact with specialists of interest.  It was all so earth-shaking at the time, and even more so when a shortlist materialized, followed by solid offers for teaching/research assistantships and fellowships. That cross-country journey in August of 1978, by way of obscure “Blue Highways” (we still hear you, William Least Heatmoon!) whenever possible, was an especially gratifying appetizer to all that temptingly exotic tierra incognita waiting me at road’s end in Syracuse, New York. Not to mention that this transition to advanced graduate training was of heightened personal significance as I found myself in the novel position of being paid (however nominally) to do what I loved. What a gift that was! And do never mind those cruelly bitter, minus-forty-degree Syracuse winters!  Alas, it was occasionally difficult to abide by Hornbeck’s parting admonition: “Always stay at least two week ahead!” for the intellectual stimulation I received at Syracuse triggered an utter metamorphosis of my evolving world view. That too, was all good.

While the arc of my life path ultimately positioned my event horizon in worlds far beyond, I gratefully acknowledge the collective imprint upon my geographer/social scientist’s mind of the likes of David Hornbeck, I-Shou Wang, John Agnew, David Harvey, Joseph E. Spencer, Don W. Meinig, John B. Jackson, William Mangin, and David Robinson. Substantial portions of my subsequent writings are clearly reflective of said abiding influence, as demonstrated, for example, in my first novel, Evil Seed: Gaia versus the Human Race.

Thank you, David Hornbeck.  And may your world continue to be filled with “The Light” you so graciously shared with generations of wayward ones!


Masters Thesis (August, 1978, CSUN), Hispanic Population in Alta California: 1790 and the 1830s

Areas of Specialization: Historical Geography, Population Geography, Data Retrieval /Storage Systems


Doctoral Thesis (May, 1986, Syracuse University), Colonial Pátzcuaro, Michoacán: A Population Study

Areas of Specialization: Urban-Historical Geography, Latin American Studies, World-Systems Development, Global Demographics







Web Site: Evil Seed: Gaia vs. the Human Race

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