Bowman Expeditions


AGS Bowman Expeditions

The AGS Bowman Expeditions Program provides a framework for gathering human geography data through fieldwork in foreign areas. It provides an improved understanding of foreign people and places through university-based, scholar-student research. It produces vital, open-source information that results in better understanding of people and places worldwide and practical assistance in mapping, analysis, and GIS functionality for host countries and communities.

As part of the KU-American Geographical Society (AGS) Bowman Expedition to Mexico, KU geographer Peter Herlihy and Carleton University geographer Derek Smith discuss community cadastral property records with indigenous surveyors.


The American Geographical Society sends teams of geographers to foreign countries to:

  • Build a comprehensive multi-scale geographic information system (GIS) for each region
  • Collect open-source GIS data
  • Conduct participatory research mapping (PRM) to help residents learn to use geographic Information systems (GIS) to document their own knowledge of lands and resources
  • Build lasting relationships among American and foreign scholars and institutions
  • Conduct geographic research on issues of national interest to the United States and host countries
  • Train a new cadre of regional experts
  • Disseminate GIS data freely to the public
  • Publish results in scholarly journals and popular media.

Our purpose is to improve U. S. understanding of foreign lands and peoples and, thereby, to

  • Reduce international misunderstandings
  • Provide a knowledge foundation for peaceful resolution of conflicts
  • Improve humanitarian assistance in case of natural disasters, technological accidents, terrorist acts, and wars.

We aim to revitalize world human and regional geography. Prior to 1945, these were vital components of understanding in America as in the rest of the world today. We aim to revive America’s knowledge of foreign lands and peoples and improve it with modern theories, methods, and automated information technologies.

Each project is called a Bowman Expedition in honor of former AGS Director Isaiah Bowman who served as President Wilson’s geographer in World War I and President Roosevelt’s geographer in World War II.

Bowman Expeditions have been conducted in the following countries and world regions:

Based on the highly acclaimed successes of these separate projects, AGS proposes to establish a cohesive program covering many countries around the world. All Bowman Expeditions are conducted in partnership with universities. To date, about a dozen different universities have been involved.

For internal guidance, AGS formed an Advisory Committee to advise and consult on the AGS Bowman Expedition Program. It consists of leading scholars, eventually including foreign scholars. The Advisory Committee held its first meeting on September 14, 2011 in Lawrence, Kansas, to develop directives for the program. All subsequent meetings and discussions have been electronic.

The first Bowman Expedition México Indígina:

“México Indígena” was the first Bowman Expedition and is the prototype for all subsequent
expeditions. From 2005 through 2008, we worked in two indigenous regions of Mexico,
studying the effects of changes brought on by Mexico’s massive new land tenure program. We
put geographic tools in the hands of the communities to help them use the power of GIS and
maps to support their property claims and cultural rights, educate their youth, and plan
conservation and community development strategies.

Read the full report of the México Indígena project here

Twenty-three Years of Participatory Research Mapping in Honduran Muskitia:

Katainasta Communities Map a New Type of Indigenous Territorial Jurisdiction

  • Peter H. Herlihy*
  • Jerome E. Dobson*
  • Taylor A. Tappan*
  • John H. Kelly**
  • Matthew L. Fahrenbruch*
  • *University of Kansas
  • ** University of Wisconsin at La Crosse

La Muskitia is a sizable geographic region on the northeastern coast of Honduras. For centuries, indigenous communities have worked diligently to acquire and maintain collective ownership of lands and resources and protect their cultural heritage. Most communities have suffered a long history of poverty, discrimination, and land dispossession. Protection efforts were hampered by a sparsity of geographic information. Participatory Research Mapping (PRM) began in 1992 when indigenous communities first mapped their own land rights, land uses, and resources. With Peter Herlihy’s leadership and assistance, major bursts of mapping activity occurred in the early 1990s, late 1990s, and past five years. Most recently Miskitu residents of the new concejo territorial (multi-village, community-titled territory) of Katainasta conducted the most intensive participatory mapping yet, supported by Centroamérica Indígena, a Bowman Expedition jointly run by the University of Kansas and American Geographical Society and funded by a U. S. Department of Defense Minerva Grant for University-led Research. The project is a complex blend of communities, institutions, and methods, using PRM and GIS. The strategic alliance includes the Francisco Morazán National Pedagogic University (UPNFM), the Honduran Land Administration Program (PATH II), the NGO MOPAWI, and the United Nations Development Program (PNUD). Results include high-resolution maps and GIS data with hundreds of toponyms and land use locations, all generated and carefully verified by community-chosen local investigators, then trained and certified as “local geographers.” Already, the people of Katainasta are using these tools in local education and governance and in their interactions with government agencies and non-governmental organizations.

AGS Bowman Expedition Advisory Board

  1. Dr. Leon Yacher, University of Southern Connecticut
  2. Dr. Andrew Sluyter, Louisiana State University
  3. Dr. Geoffrey Demarest, Foreign Military Studies Office
  4. Dr. Peter Herlihy, University of Kansas
  5. Dr. Thomas Klak, University of New England
  6. Dr. David Keeling, Western Kentucky University
  7. Dr. Marie Price, George Washington University

If you want to know more about this program, check out FOCUS on Geography’s special issue on Bowman Expeditions.

To read the AGS Guidelines for Ethical Conduct of Foreign Field Research, click here.

We seek funding from all sources (private donors, foundations, and government agencies) to continue and expand this vital effort.