Bobek, Hans (1903–1990)

Born in Klagenfurt, Bobek’s (Figure 1) studies at the University of Innsbruck (1921–26 – geography, history, social sciences) established two key areas of research. On the one hand his dissertation about Innsbruck (Innsbruck, eine Gebirgsstadt, ihr Lebensraum und ihre Erscheinung) established his later interest in urban research as well as in central place theory. The other field of research derived from his occupation as Johann So?lch’s assistant, at that time one of the best geomorphologists. The preoccupation with issues of the physical geography, glacial periods, and formation of the Alps led to an enduring interest in a holistic analysis of landscape, research focusing on the quaternary as well as an understanding of the discipline as an integrative ‘bridge’ discipline using socio scientific as well as natural scientific approaches.

After his promotion and the publication of his dissertation, Bobek accepted an assistantship offered by Norbert Krebs in Berlin in 1931. Norbert Krebs was the successor of Albrecht Penck and a leading professor at the time. This provided the chance for Bobek to work at a leading geographical institute at the time and to be accepted as a member of a circle of young scientists who essentially determined the development of the geographical profession after the war. Furthermore, the location in the capital Berlin offered the possibility of international research. Hans Bobek selected the Orient, in particular Iran, which he had already visited several times in the 1930s and which he got to know more closely during a visit as a guest professor. This interest was to remain during the remainder of his career.

Hans Bobek

In Berlin Bobek proceeded with his geomorphologic studies and ‘habilitated’ in 1935 with a work about the Formentwicklung der Zillertaler und Tuxer Alpen. He received his venia legendi (entitlement to teach) as late as 1937 after he was allowed to repeat the Dozentenkurs he had failed 2 years previously. At this course, the young Dozenten had to present themselves observed by older colleagues: here, the specialist in German studies, Otto Ho?fler, described Bobek in a secret dossier, as the typical intellectual with the need to excel at every discussion, who disavowed national socialism, and who was not seen as popular by his colleagues due to his complacency and preciosity.

In 1939, Bobek finally obtained a position as lecturer and was enlisted in 1940, completing his military duty as member of the war administration board. In 1944 he became extraordinary professor and member of the research echelon of the SS, where he participated with Schmitthu?sen, Ellenberg, Walter, and other experts in Russia, Italy, Yugoslavia, and Czechia. During the war, Bobek was, together with Troll, a key promoter of geographic research into aerial photography.

His first call in the post war period led Hans Bobek to Freiburg (1946–48). There he wrote, in his forties, the pioneering articles ‘The position and relevance of social geography’, ‘Social space formation exemplified by the Middle East’, and ‘The landscape in the logical system of geography’. After a short intermezzo at the Vienna University of Economics (1949–51), he was appointed as a professor for geography and as successor of Hugo Hassinger by the University of Vienna where he taught until 1971.

Bobek always sought to connect academic geography to planning and politics, hence linking theory and practice, with his time in Berlin important in this respect. In 1955, when the allies moved out of Austria and when full sovereignty was reestablished, Hans Bobek, together with Erik Arnberger, started publishing a national atlas of the Austrian Republic. Despite limited means, he managed to reel in the intellectual elite to contribute to the atlas of the Austrian Republic. Hans Bobek accomplished with this atlas and the related publications a singular document about the Second Republic. In the mid 1960s he published, together with Elisabeth Lichtenberger, an almost exemplary analysis about the physical, social, and urban morphology of the city of Vienna (with Lichtenberger) which provided an important foundation for urban morphological studies. In the end of the 1970s he published, together with Maria Fesl, a theoretical and empirical study about the Central Places of Austria, which is still current due to its fundamental methodical and theoretical approach.

Furthermore Bobek was always concerned about the conceptual underpinnings of the discipline and participated in the theoretical discourse about the subject area. As early as 1949, working together with Schmithu?sen, he had developed the ‘logical system of geography’, which emphasized the integrative approach which geographers needed to adopt in the interpretation of a landscape. For Bobek, a geographical analysis of the landscape requires consideration of geological conditions as well as flora, fauna, and climate. Evidently, society (an aggregation of various social groups with uniform ways of life) is a factor shaping the landscape, equally or perhaps even more than the physical–geographical conditions. Bobek understood geography as one of the few integrative scientific disciplines, combining natural, as well as social and humanistic scientific approaches.

Nevertheless his particular achievement consisted of the advancement of a modern social geography. Bobek effectively centered the human being as the key agent who creates and modifies the cultivated landscape. As such, he overcame the dominant perception of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, whereby the natural, elemental basis of the environment is seen to shape societal structures and individual action. Bobek deferred, arguing space does not determine human and society, but conversely, human and society produce space. To Bobek, the idea of a space with natural borders and a predetermined folkish settlement, which his predecessor Hugo Hassinger had proposed, was pure myth. Bobek’s major contribution was hence to suggest that social forces (economy, population, culture, and politics) structure space, rather than being determined by space.