Jacqueline Beaujeu Garnier (1917–95) was the first woman in France to obtain a Doctorat d'Etat in geography (1947) and the first female geographer to become a university professor (in 1948 at Lille and from 1960 to 1986 in the Sorbonne). She was also incredibly active in numerous academic institutions and editorial bodies in French geography from the 1960s onward. An honorary member of the International Geographical Union (IGU) from 1988, she owed her reputation in France and in the international community to her never tiring curiosity about the changes taking place in the world, her remarkable energy, and her very great openness of mind toward both ideas and people. She was intellectually pragmatic, and also demonstrated the value of articulating scientific research with spatial planning, so that her work this field earned her the highest official recognition in France.
Beaujeu Garnier was very representative of her generation of geographers: she followed a scientific career in which she explored issues ranging from geomorphology to regional and human geography, and she soon found herself confronting issues of regional planning. Promoting goegraphy was, throughout her life, the horizon of her university functions and of her initiatives in the community field. She did not, however, enter the controversy of the 1960s between the defendants of applied geography such as Michel Phlipponneau and Jean Labasse, and the proponents of a critical, antitechnocrat and antiliberal perspective, particularly advocated from a Marxist viewpoint by Pierre George. Thus, starting from the experiences of modernization of a former industrial region and planning in the Paris metropolitan area, she undertook the creation of a series of regional atlases of France. She succeeded in assembling teams of geographers in this task, and obtained funding from the Delegation a l'Amenagement du Territoire et a` l'Action Regionale (DATAR; French planning authority created in 1963). On this impetus, she supported the collaboration of geographers with territorial bodies, administrations, public statistics departments, and young researchers engaged in contract research. Despite the competition from other areas such as economics, sociology, urbanism, and other professional corporations, in particular the civil engineers trained in the French Grandes Ecoles (University equivalent higher education in France), Jacqueline Beaujeu Garnier contributed to legitimizing geographical, regional, and thematic approaches to spatial intervention and planning.
Very early on, she grew aware of the need for regular statistical data on the countries of the world, and she also can be credited with introducing a worldwide view of the demographic and economic changes underway during the second half of the twentieth century. Her books on population provide a synthetic approach that is both demographic and geographic to the issues of demographic transition, first underlining the decrease in mortality in the developed countries, and then the rapid densification of the planet as a result of the demographic boom in Third World countries. Her pioneering interest in urbanization led her not only to write manuals on urban geography, but above all to analyze the major phenomena affecting the city on different scales: research on the commercial structure of cities, on city centers, on transport systems, on underground city developments, etc.
She was a launcher of new ideas and a great traveler, and she had a talent for synthesizing. Throughout her life she generated national and international cooperation, and this has given her ideas a wider and more enduring audience. This is true of the working group on the great metropolitan cities she presided in IGU from 1980 to 1988 (she was one of the very few women in her generation to occupy such a position), and of the work on the geography of commercial activities which she initiated in France and later in IGU.
In many respects, Beaujeu Garnier was a classical geographer, on account of the importance she long attached to physical geography, and her faith in regional geography to guarantee unity in the discipline. However, she implemented a dynamic style of research, preferring to clear the way and to move forward rather than devote herself to the theoretical, historical, or epistemological reflection which was the preference of her contemporary, Philippe Pinchemel. She opened up several fields of human geography, such as the geography of health, which she approached via the medical geography developed in the 1950s by Max Sorre. She supervised a whole range of studies in human geography as it developed from the 1950s: food, industry, services, decentralization, spatial diffusion, leisure, the elderly, scientific research, public space, gender, etc. In this way she showed her awareness of contemporary changes in ideas and practice, and her marked adaptability. The same flexibility is found in the methodological and epistemological field. In particular, Beaujeu Garnier defended the notion of system, perhaps because it enabled the modernization of the notion of combination which her tutor, Andre Cholley, had promoted in the 1940s. Her 1971 Methods in human geography plead for the modernization of geography espoused solutions that the 'new geography' had set out in the course of the previous decade. However, her diagnosis of a malaise in the discipline went hand in hand with an eclectic viewpoint. Thus at the time of the crisis that French geography went through in the 1970s, she appeared as a reformer trying to reconcile the classic French tradition with a form of modernity derived from English language authors.
In fact, Beaujeu Garnier was a universal geographer, in the words of her colleagues, by way of the thematic extension of her work, the magnitude of her fields of application, and the international networks in which her work founds its place. She was aware of the challenges facing the world in terms of population growth and urban concentration, she was very attached to the feasibility aspects of scientific knowledge, and she gave impetus, both in the national and in the worldwide context, to a pragmatic form of human geography that was open to diversity.