Jay’s academic life had a fascinating arc. In the early phases of his career his research and teaching interests were in physical geography, with concentrations in plant geography (mostly of the eastern United States) and synoptic climatology, often in some combination. He published much of his work in the Annals of the Association of American Geographers, which is our flagship journal. During the latter portion of his career, however, Jay became increasingly interested in philosophical matters, especially epistemology and ethics/morals, particularly as they interfaced with his Department specialization in the physical environment. Given these new interests, he began writing about environmental ethics in scholarly journals and developed a new class on the topic (GEO 432) in the 1990s. He taught that class frequently thereafter to very extremely good reviews.
Anyone who knew Jay remembers him as a very thoughtful fellow who loved a good conversation. He was a great mentor to faculty and students alike and was happy to talk about anything, including politics, bee keeping, alternative energy, class, general philosophy, raising his daughters, matters in the Department, and, of course, the daily weather and medium-range forecast. He loved the Smoky Mountains and led a bi-annual field trip there until very recently. Everyone who went on that trip was touched by the grandeur of the place and Jay’s deep affection for it. True to form, Jay was considering giving that trip one more go this spring.
A memorial will be held to celebrate Jay’s life on Sunday, November 23 from 2 to 5 pm at Coral Gables. Jay’s family has requested that donations be made to your local PBS/NPR station. If you desire to make a donation in Jay’s honor within the Department, it can go to the undergraduate fund that was established in 2006 in his name. Such gifts should be made payable to “Michigan State University” and sent to:
Jay Harman Undergraduate Fund
673 Auditorium Road, Room 116
East Lansing, MI 48823
Feel free to share your thoughts about him in the comment box below.