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Join us for the 28th International Cartographic Conference in Washington, DC!
Welcome to the website of the International Cartographic Association
New ICA poster series on Maps and Sustainable Development Goals

Richard E. Dahlberg (1928–1996)

1997-dahlbergSince the ICA conference in Morelia in 1987, the Commission on Education and Training has operated under joint command – that of Richard Dahlberg and myself. This came suddenly to an end last December when Richard died aged 68. He had been ill since last August when, all set for joining the joint ICA commissions seminar in Santiago de Chile, he was hospitalized for what seemed to be an ulcer. At the hospital it proved to be a malign tumor. Still, the outlook was mildly favourable at first, and we made plans for a meeting at the forthcoming ICA conference in Stockholm. This was not to be, as his situation suddenly deteriorated, with this tragic result on December 15 1996.

Richard was born in Erie, on Lake Erie, in 1928 and during his military training was able to follow courses in geography at George Washington University where he got his BA degree. This was followed up later in Chapel Hill, North Carolina where he took his M.A. and with a PhD in geography at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. After graduating, together with his wife Patricia he took up teaching posts in Los Angeles, and Syracuse and finally he became chair of the Geography Department at the University of Northern Illinois in DeKalb. There he organized one of the more important MSc cartography programmes in the United States (and almost succeeded in adding a PhD programme) as well as the NIU Lab for Cartography and Spatial Analysis. Richard became the foremost publicist on cartographic education programmes in the United States, advocating a stronger cooperation between the sister sciences in the surveying and mapping field, especially between remote sensing and cartography. So he was the natural choice to represent the US in CET from its early days: Richard succeeded Brice Burroughs as such in 1972.

We first met that year in a train entering the German Democratic Republic. Patricia and Richard were having discus­sions with the local border guards about their visas. We were on our way to Weimar in order to discuss the contributions to the Basic Cartography manual CET was producing. Richard was an active member of the commission and had an important part in the Wuhan Seminar on Advanced Cartographic Education and Training (SACET) in 1986. Patricia who was actively participating in the Chinese-American association at NIU and who had hosted a Chinese family was able to join him as well. Those careless days at the WTUSM in Wuhan, where the foreign lecturers had their meals together, as a group participated in rock concerts and in motorized trips to visit the panda in Wuhan zoo now seem very remote indeed.

As we had cooperated well in the production of the exercise manual that was to accompany the Basic Cartography Series as well as in other CET projects, it was a logical step to jointly succeed Karl-Heinz Meine the next year when he stepped down as chair of CET in Morelia in 1987.

From 1987 onwards, Richard co-organized (joint ICA commissions-or) CET seminars in Munich (1988), Enschede (1989), Budapest (1989), Bangkok (1991), College Park (1992), Chicago (1993), Visegrad (1993), Bangkok (1994), Istanbul (1994) and Madrid (1995). He continued his support of CET despite his heavy involvement in the American Cartographic Association, as editor of the American Cartographer/Cartography and GIS, and as member of the board and President of ACSM. Counting Yogyakarta (1984) as well, Santiago would have been his 16th CET seminar, not connected to any regular ICA conference.

Richard’s contribution was especially important in the theoretical field. It was he who decided on the theoretical issues to be tackled, and who compiled the relevant texts in the correct terminology. He also had the necessary contacts with representatives of the sister sciences, essential for Basic Cartography volume 3, and who could convene a representative selection of those representatives in order to discuss basic concepts in the surveying and mapping field. We were to have held a follow-up seminar on this issue to commemorate his retirement, last year in DeKalb, but we left it until too late. It would have been a fitting tribute.

Richard lived for teaching. He spent a large amount of time preparing his lectures, even during the seminars – CET members will remember Richard sitting in “his” study (requisitioned from one of the directors), at the Land Development Department in Bangkok, putting the finishing touches to the lectures he presented there. The FIPSE exchange students from my university in Utrecht that spent semesters in DeKalb were all enthusiastic about Richard’s lectures and his support. At the end of last December one of them graduated, and as I handed her diploma she talked again about her time in DeKalb. I did not have the heart to spoil her day and tell her Richard had just died.

Despite an increasing deafness that bothered him a bit in his work and the heavy investments in time required by the fact that his Dean assigned him some new teaching tasks the last year before his retirement, Richard kept making time for CET’s activities. Even when he had to decline to join us for our next seminar in Gifu, Japan, I knew he would be there when really needed. Richard Dahlberg is already sorely missed.

Ferjan Ormeling


I first met Dick Dahlberg over 30 years ago. We both attended the Quantitative Institute in Geography, a six week workshop organised by Ned Taaffe at Ohio State University in Columbus in 1965. It was my first visit to the United States and shall never forget the way he subtly imparted information and gave me advice on the American way of life. It was a real pleasure to work with him and to meet him again at many ICA conferences over the last 25 years. He was very positive and generous in spirit and will be sorely missed.

Chris Board

Category: General News
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  • John Chioles says:

    Prof. Dahlberg was one of three of my graduate program advisors at Northern Illinois University. He had a thirst for Cartography, and as equal a passion in sharing that knowledge to his students. I appreciated his level of detail and at the same time holding true to the science and art of Cartography. Years later, I appreciate him even more.

    1 June 2017 at 1:58 am

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