Wilbur Zelinsky (21 December 1921 – 4 May 2013) was an American cultural geographer. He was most recently a professor emeritus at Pennsylvania State University. He also created the Zelinsky Model of Demographic Transition.
Background and education
An Illinoisan by birth, but a "northeasterner by choice and conviction", Zelinsky received his Bachelor's Degree and PhD at University of California, Berkeley, where he was a student of Carl Sauer. He received his doctorate in 1953. Zelinsky received his Master's Degree from the University of Madison, Wisconsin.
Zelinsky made numerous geographical studies of American popular culture, ranging from the diffusion of classical place-names to spatial patterns of personal given names and to the spatial patterning of religious denominations. One of his most ambitious and imaginative projects was a provocative assessment of the impact of increasingly powerful personal preference on the spatial character of American society.
During the 1960s, along with Gordon DeJong, Warren Robinson, and Paul Baker, Zelinsky helped launch a population research center and coordinate an interdisciplinary graduate instructional program in population studies at Penn State and thus helped lay the foundation for what would become the dual-title Graduate Program in Demography. During 1972–1973 Zelinsky served as the first Director of the Population Issues Research Center (what would become the Population Research Institute at Penn State).
In 1973, Zelinsky published The Cultural Geography of the United States. In addition to his research in popular culture, Zelinsky made substantial contributions in the fields of "population" and "folk geography".
Theory of First Effective Settlement
Zelinsky's Theory of First Effective Settlement was that the dominant culture of a nation is defined by the first settlers who came to an area who are able to effect a self-perpetuating society. It was first stated by Wilbur Zelinsky in 1973. The theory states that these first settlers have significant impact on the social and cultural geography of the area, however small these first settlers may have been. They lay the groundwork for the following generations and are perhaps more important than the contributions of thousands of new immigrants a few generations later. Colin Woodard further expands upon this theory in his book, American Nations.
- Award for Meritorious Contributions to the Field of Geography, presented by the Association of American Geographers (1996).
- The Cullum Geographical Medal by the American Geographical Society in 2001.
- President of the AAG from 1972 to 1973.