A Ugandan in Ulster

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  • Linen Hall Library

    A Ugandan in UlsterAuthor(s): Brian GrahamSource: The Linen Hall Review, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Spring, 1989), pp. 10-11Published by: Linen Hall LibraryStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20534056 .Accessed: 15/06/2014 02:32

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  • ?A Ugandan

    Bryan Langlands, Professor of Geography at the University of Ulster, died in the crash of the Boeing airliner onto the M1 at Kegworth. In this brief article Brian Graham assesses his

    career.

    Bryan Wooleston Langlands, Profes sor of Geography at the University of

    Ulster, was one victim of the crash of BD092 at Kegworth, Leicestershire, on 8th January 1989. Born in 1928 at

    Eastbourne, he graduated from the London School of Economics in 1952. Much of his subsequent career was

    spent at Makerere University in

    Kampala, Uganda, where he rose from Assistant Lectureship in 1953 to the Chair of Geography and Headship of the Department in 1968. Between

    1972-75, he was also Dean of the Fac

    ulty of Arts. Expelled from Uganda in

    1976, Bryan Langlands was appointed to the Ulster Polytechnic as Director of Studies and Head of Department of the newly-formed School of Environ

    mental Sciences in 1977. Subse

    quently a member of the Polytech nic's professoriate, in 1978 he was awarded an O.B.E. for services to

    higher education overseas. In more

    recent years, following the amalga mation of the Ulster Polytechnic and New University of Ulster, he was

    Professor of Geography in the merged institution.

    Bryan Langlands re

    garded himself as a scholar rather than an academic,

    he was a genuinely learned man who

    developed a specific and personal v iew of his discipline, a philosophy which reflected and supported his own life

    experiences. In so far as one can

    discern, this constituted his only ide

    ology and it is the key to the unity of his work. Ostensibly, this appears eclectic, suffused by dilettantism; he was sufficiently aware of this to de vote his inaugural lecture at Makerere to refuting the accusation. The coher

    ence emerges from the belief that Ge

    ography should be the study of man

    land environmental relationships and that a unity for the discipline is to be found in the application of ecological principles. He admitted to an early over-emphasis on land, derived from his training at L.S.E. and a corre

    sponding distrust of humanists. Later, however, prompted by observation of the rich diversity of human responses to the varied opportunities of land, climate, history and society to be found in Uganda, he was drawn to a far more

    anthropogeographical stance. At one

    point, he quoted approvingly H.J. Fleurets axiom that 'geography, his

    tory and anthropology are a trilogy, to be broken only with severe loss of truth'. Fleure, of course, was a semi

    nal influence on Estyn Evans, founder of the Department of Geography at

    Queen's University. And while Bryan Langlands

    ' ideas were

    - as he ac

    knowledged-/?^^ within the wider world of contemporary Geography -a

    discipline which he described as fissi

    parous in its ever-increasing tendency to self-destruct from over-specialisa tion - they are familiar and acceptable enough to anyone taught in Evans'

    department, a lineage which has had considerable influence on Irish geog

    raphy. To Bryan Langlands, the functions

    of Geography were synthesis and clas sification and he regretted the reduc

    ing emphasis on these activities within the discipline. Again, however, syn thesis at least can still be seen as a

    fundamental raison d'?tre in for in stance the study of the historical geog

    raphy of Ireland. I have always felt that Bryan Langlands underestimated the sympathy which his ideas would have engendered in the world of Irish

    geography if he had cared to voice

    PAGE 10 Linen Hall Review

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  • them more publicly. But sadly, the coincidence of his philosophy with the enduring tradition of Fleure and

    Evans was the closest, academically, that he was ever to come to Ireland.

    Synthesis and classification within a structure of man-land relationships remain the key to his work. He wrote

    widely on many aspects of Geogra

    phy, most notably on demographic, medical and ecological matters. His

    interest in studying fluctuations in the distribution of tsetse flies together with their associated illnesses, as a response to climactic change and density of

    human population, demonstrates per

    fectly the synthetic and integrating role which he envisaged for Geogra

    phy. He was obsessed with patterns but distrusted process, objecting for

    example to the historical geographer explaining distributions of relict land

    scape features by resource to societal

    organisation. The vogue for structu

    ralism in contemporary Geography did not appeal to him. Conversely, it was these interests in pattern which

    led him to see merit in positivistic spatial analysis. Much of his work

    was published in the Makerere De

    partment of Geography Series of Oc casional Papers and-in the Uganda

    Journal, both of which he edited for substantial periods. As he remarked,

    Uganda was the focus of his world and the UK the end of the earth; thus he

    published relatively little outside

    Uganda. Two pieces of work demonstrate

    the application of his ideas, in particu lar that respect for synthesis, pattern

    and classification. The first was

    Uganda in Maps, an immensely complex project which ran eventually to 1000 pages and 100 plates of illus trations. The 'abortive masterpiece'

    -

    as the author, without irony, described

    it - was never published commer

    cially although some 200 sets were

    duplicated and bound. The project symbolises his perception of the role of the Geographer as synoptic savant.

    The whole exercise represented a con

    centration of scholarship ', resulting in

    'a portrait of a middle-ranking Third World country at its moment of maxi

    mum economic diversity'. However,

    the apogee of Bryan Langlands' phi losophy is to be found in the Bibli

    ographia Ugandensis, a work of Sis

    yphean proportions which occupied him from the early 1970s and which his death has left uncompleted but

    close to publication. Sustained by his beliefs in synthesis, patterns and clas

    sification, he admitted to a mania for

    bibiography, recounting in amaze

    ment his discovery that many librari ans took a national bibliography to be a collection of references to work

    published in a country. To Bryan Langlands, it was self-evident that

    such a work should be a collection ona country, the citations drawn from

    wherever in the world they were

    printed. Thus the Bibliography - and

    there could be no better memorial to his career- will contain almost 30,000

    references on every aspect of Uganda from circa 1860 to the present day.

    During the 1970s, Uganda fell

    apart. Bryan Langlands described the onset of

    ' Aminitis ', a condition marked

    by a sequence of crises of conscience.

    The recurring question was why one

    should struggle on trying to resist a sinister form of government which

    was eroding the national spirit. The

    answer which he offered was the re

    spect to be gained from acts of resis

    tance, from being simultaneously a

    'national hero' and 'campus liability'.

    (There are echoes here of his period at the Ulster Polytechnic and the Uni

    versity of Ulster when he was in

    volved in many conflicts with the

    authorities, often sadly without gain

    ing that compensation of respect.) In

    Uganda, he took part in a series of re

    sistances before meeting Amin in

    person and indeed acting as his geo

    graphical advisor on boundary dis

    putes with Kenya. It is doubtful that

    many geographers would relish quite such an applied role to their disci

    pline. After chairing a Judicial En

    quiry into the death of a Makerere student in 1976, Bryan Langlands was

    precipitately ordered out of Uganda. He believed that Amin himself was not responsible and bore him no per sonal animus. Indeed he argued that

    Amin got a worse press than he de

    served, admitting that some would re

    gard this as making him an apologist for the regime.

    In one sense, it is clear that Bryan

    Langlands saw himself as an exile from Uganda in Ulster; it is a word

    which he himself used. He did build an entirely new social world in Belfast and took a lively interest in local af fairs in which he could see many analogies with his Ugandan experi ences. Not all of these were as obvi

    ous as ethnic plurality, rural settle

    ment forms being one example. But

    he never published anything to do with Ireland despite

    - ironically

    - the

    acceptability of his geographical ide

    ology here, something which would not have been the case in Britain. He wrote that

    ' I have seldom ever thought

    back to my Uganda days since being in Belfast' but though he only rarely talked about those days, I doubt the

    validity of this statement. Re-united with his marvellous library and col lection of African maps, he worked on the Bibliographia Ugandensis to the exclusion of any other substantive task.

    Academically if not socially, he re mained an exile until his death, a

    geographer expelled from the space and place he considered his own. His

    position is described -

    phenomenol

    ogically as he would have pointed out for it was a philosophy he had tinkered with but certainly suspected

    - in

    quotation from Albert Camus' The

    Plague: 4 And one must not forget those for

    whom ... the sadness of separation was amplified by the fact that, travel

    lers surprised by the plague and re

    tained in the city, they found them selves removed ... from the person

    they could not rejoin and from their

    country. In the general exile, they were the most exiled for ... they were

    attached to a space, and threw them

    selves without cease against the walls

    which separated their contaminated

    refuge from their lost country ...

    conjuring up with all their might, pictures of a land where a special play of light, two or three hills, a favourite tree, composed for them a world that

    nothing could replace.'

    At this point in time the first volume

    of Langlands' Bibliography of

    Uganda, the author index, has been

    completed to typeset camera stage. This volume contains circa 30,000 entries. Bryan Langlands had almost

    completed the work of cross

    referencing the index when he died

    and his notes and files are currently being prepared with a view to

    publication within the next two years.

    Enquiries about circulation and

    distribution, or about any other matters concerning the Bibliography to December Publications, 157

    University Street, Belfast.

    Spring 1989 PAGE II

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    Article Contentsp. 10p. 11

    Issue Table of ContentsThe Linen Hall Review, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Spring, 1989), pp. 1-30Front MatterA Leap Forward at the Linen Hall [p. 3-3]Personal View [p. 4-4]Millennial Vision:...thomas Russell Re-Assessed [pp. 5-9]A Ugandan in Ulster [pp. 10-11]Why the Shamrock Became Extinct in 1988 [pp. 12-13]Review: Theatre [pp. 14-15, 17]Irish Booklore: Bibliographical Studies in Ulster: An Historical Survey [pp. 16-17]Notes & Queries [p. 18-18]The Linen Hall Review Spring 1989Review: Cultural History [p. 21-21]Review: Local History [pp. 22-23]Review: Politics [p. 23-23]Review: Literature [pp. 24-25]Cultural Politics [pp. 26-27]Review: untitled [p. 27-27]Review: Biography [p. 28-28]Review: Music [p. 29-29]Review: History [p. 30-30]

    Books ReceivedBack Matter