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About Geography / Department History / Sixty Years of Geography, 1944-2004

Sixty Years of Geography, 1944-2004

By P. P. Karan and Stanley D. Brunn, University of Kentucky



Early in the summer of 1944 the University of Kentucky announced the establishment of a department of geography, which would begin active work at the opening of the fall semester in September 1944 (The Louisville Courier-Journal, July 22, 1944). Well before the establishment of the department, geography courses on Physiography, Elements of Geography, Economic Geography, Conservation of Natural Resources, Land Problems, Geography of North America, and Geographic Basis of American History were offered since 1923 in departments of Geology, Economics, History, and Agriculture. The geography courses were transferred to the new department and additional course offerings in geography were approved for undergraduate and master's degree programs. Professor Joseph R. Schwendeman (Ph.D. Clark University) was appointed head of the new Department of Geography (The Lexington Leader, September 24, 1944).


Background of the Founding


In the 1920s and 1930s few universities in the South employed geographers. While there was evidence of interest in geography both in and outside the university, educators deplored the meager offerings and the ineffective teaching of geography in the state's secondary schools. Educators were pleading for more effective geographic instruction and the business world was demanding a content of more practical value. Among the prominent American geographers, Ellen C. Semple, a native of Louisville, Kentucky, informally encouraged Frank L. McVey, President of the University of Kentucky, to establish a geography program, when in 1920 she donated to the university the Cullum medal (awarded to her in 1914 by the American Geographical Society). The need for a separate geography program was clearly demonstrated during the next two decades, but it was the decision of President Donovan to recommend the establishment of a Geography Department within the College of Arts and Sciences in 1944.


Geography in the Early 1940s - 1960s


With J. R. Schwendeman as head, and three assistant professors Harry Hutter (Clark), Guy Parmenter (Clark), and Thomas Field (North Carolina, Chapel Hill) and an associate professor, Richard Tuthill (Columbia), the new department had five full-time faculty and an enrollment of 354 students in 1944-45. In 1952 James Shear (Clark) and Daniel Jacobson (LSU) joined the department to teach climatology and cultural geography. The department, along with anthropology and sociology, established an interdisciplinary general education course for the first year students attending the university after World War II; it was called Societies Around the World. This two semester program was taught by members of the three departments for most of the next two decades. Three societies were studied each semester. The first course examined the Eskimo, the Navajo, and Buganda in East Africa; the second analyzed three other areas: China, the Cotton South (in the U.S.), and the British Midlands. Thousands of students were enrolled in these courses to satisfy lower level requirements. It was a bold academic enterprise in multidisciplinary and cross-disciplinary studies led by the geography department. With the support of the Sears Roebeck Foundation, the department maintained a summer field studies program at this time in Monterrey, Mexico.


In the mid-1960s the department added new faculty to replace those who accepted positions elsewhere. William Withington (Northwestern) joined to teach economic geography and North America; P. P. Karan (Indiana) to teach Asia and physical geography; and Forrest McElhoe (Ohio State) to teach regional and human geography. Faculty members were also involved in various international activities. James Shear spent 1957-59 in Antarctica as part of the International Geophysical Year program; P. P. Karan spent 1957-58 in Nepal as an assistant on the United Nations team that developed the first Five Year Plan for the country, and in 1964-66 as leader of the Geographical Expedition to Bhutan Himalaya project supported by the National Geographic Society.


Between 1950-60 the department averaged about 70 majors each year; there were also twenty-one-master's degrees were awarded and 2841 students were enrolled in geography courses during 1966-67. Three of these earned a Ph.D. in geography: Paul Cooper at Georgia; Sanford Bederman at Minnesota, and Richard Silvernail at North Carolina. The department's influence was strongest on education throughout Kentucky and in neighboring states. Kentucky MA degree students were employed at Eastern Kentucky University, East Tennessee State University, Marshall University, Morehead State University, Appalachian State University, Morehead, Minnesota, Southeastern Louisiana, Austin Peay, Western Carolina University, and as high school teachers, climatologists, and city planners at various places throughout the South.


The first MA was granted in 1950 to Wilton Tucker, who taught at a college in Lake Worth, FL. The first doctorates were awarded in 1972 to Peter C. Smith who still teaches at Bemidji State University, MN, Thomas Grimes, and Robert Daniel Joseph. The first women Ph.D.s were Helen Parsons (1976), who teaches at Wilfrid Laurier University, and Wilma Walker (1978) who taught at Eastern Kentucky University until her retirement a few years ago. In the summer of 1967 Schwendeman retired after serving as head for twenty-three years. Also in the same year the old Social Sciences Building which housed the department (on the site of the present Fine Arts Library) was gutted by fire. The department moved to temporary quarters in Breckinridge Hall for two years (1967-69). In the fall of 1969, the department moved to its present quarters on the fourteenth floor of Patterson Office Tower.


Geography from 1967-1980


Following a national search, Karan was named as chair in 1967. A doctoral program was established in 1968 and the faculty size increased from four, Field, Karan, Withington, and McElhoe, to twelve by the mid 1970s: Dietrich Zimmer (Heidelberg), Donald Blome (Iowa), Paul Cooper (Georgia), Melvin Albaum (Ohio State), Gary Fowler (Syracuse), Roger McCoy (Kansas), Phillip Phillips (Minnesota), Geoffrey Wall (Hull), Karl Raitz (Minnesota), Richard Jones (Ohio State), Ronald Garst (Michigan State), Richard Ulack (Penn State) by the mid-1970s. Wilford Bladen (Kentucky) joined the department in 1973 to strengthen the program on Kentucky geography. In subsequent years, some of the departing faculty were replaced by new appointments, including Richard Towber (Washington) and Allan Fitzsimmons (ULCA). In 1975 Karl Raitz was named chair.


Student enrollment in the program approached 2500 students each semester in the 1970s. Between 1967 and 1980, the department awarded 53 MA and 23 PhD degrees. Graduates of the department were employed at universities in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kansas, Ohio, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, Jordon, and Canada in addition to colleges and universities in Kentucky. Others held positions in state and city planning boards, in the U.S. government, and in civil service programs. Departmental interest in overseas areas grew rapidly during this period. The faculty conducted research in the Philippines, Indonesia, Sumatra, Western Australia, and the Himalaya and Japan with support from various funding agencies. This period also marked the publication of the first comprehensive Atlas of Kentucky (1976), an effort that involved the entire faculty.


To improve its standing on campus and in the state, the department received permission to hire two mid-level faculty members with established research records. In 1977 the department hired Tom Leinbach (Penn State) and Gary Shannon (Michigan) who moved to Lexington, from the University of Vermont and the University of Florida respectively. At the same time, several recent Ph.D.s were added to the program; they included Robert Cromley (Ohio State), Justin Friberg (Syracuse), Hank Bullamore (Iowa), and Jim Hufferd (Minnesota). The department was authorized to conduct a national search for a new chair, the position filled by Stan Brunn (Ohio State) moving from Michigan State University in 1980.


During the next several years, the department experienced growth in a number of areas. These included bringing in new faculty members. Some came on tenure lines, others as temporary, especially during tight budget times, and still others replacing those who moved elsewhere. The temporary faculty played important roles in the department's instruction, research and service missions. They included Percy Dougherty (Boston), George Hepner (Arizona State), Susan Macey (Illinois), Susan Trussler-Black (Penn State), and Jacqueline Pryce-Harvey (Tennessee). Lizbeth Pyle (Minnesota) was the first woman employed on a tenure stream line; she joined the department in 1983. Carl Amrhein (SUNY Buffalo) was in the department for two years in the mid-1980s. John Paul Jones III (Ohio State), Graham Rowles (Clark), and John Watkins (Colorado) also came in the mid-1980s to bolster the department's strengths in human geography.


Also in the early 1970s, Gyula (Julius) Pauer (PhD from the department) was appointed director of the department's cartography laboratory. In addition to teaching introductory and advanced cartography courses, he operated the laboratory, initially in a small "closet" in Patterson Office Tower before it moved to the nearby and renovated Miller Hall basement in 1987. A number of faculty, including Ulack, Watkins, Raitz, and Brunn, worked with faculty in the College of Education; they offered summer classes for teachers and worked with other professional geographers in the state, with teachers in the Kentucky Geographic Alliance (associated with the National Geographic Society) and with staff in the state's Department of Education. Brunn and Raitz also served as State Geographers. Rowles, Ulack, Watkins, Raitz, and Brunn at the same time worked with the director and others in the Appalachian Studies Center on various research projects and outreach programs. Other faculty established linkages with units on campus, including the Patterson School (Bladen, Karan, Brunn), Behavioral Sciences (Shannon), Center on Aging (Rowles and Watkins), Economics (Leinbach), Anthropology (Raitz), and the College of Communications (Brunn). A number of faculty cooperated with colleagues throughout the university on a variety of programs to internationalize the university; these included Leinbach, Ulack, Karan, Withington, and Brunn. Discipline-wise the department increased its visibility "on the map" with Stan Brunn editing The Professional Geographer and later the Annals of the AAG, and with Tom Leinbach's appointment as NSF Program Director for Geography and Regional Science and his editing of Growth and Change. Several faculty were, and still remain, active in SEDAAG, especially Raitz, who served as president (1991-93), and Brunn.


The department's upward trajectory in the college, on campus, and in the discipline that was evident in the early 1980s continued with Dick Ulack serving as chair (1988-1996). It was during his tenure that the department began to develop one of its current major strengths, viz., a center for critical social theory. The department played a central role in initiating and advancing this program during the late 1980s and early 1990s on campus and in by in the discipline. John Paul Jones, John Pickles (Penn State), and Wolfgang Natter (Johns Hopkins) in Germanic Studies played key roles in the formation of this program, as did Susan Roberts (Syracuse) and Richard Schein (Syracuse), the later two who joined the department in 1991 and 1993 respectively. These geographers also worked closely with colleagues in Philosophy, English, History, Sociology, and Political Science. Wolfgang Natter later joined the Geography Department in 1998. During this time, the department's visibility remained strong with John Paul Jones serving as editor of the Annals of the AAG (1997-2000), Jones and Roberts organizing a 1995 workshop on New Horizons in Feminist Geography, a number of faculty being active on AAG committees and in AAG specialty groups, and actively participating in numerous national and international conferences. The department's annual research productivity, including books, chapters, and presentations, etc. was instrumental in attracting strong applicants for entrance into the graduate program from the 1980s through the present. A graduate certificate in Social Theory was awarded those who completed a set of courses in the university's multidisciplinary Social Theory Program. Students were active in contributing papers at SEDAAG and AAG meetings, working with faculty on research grants, and publishing articles with faculty or on their own.


There were four other achievements in the department's history that occurred during the late 1980s and early 1990s. One was receiving permission to hire on a permanent staff line a director of the Cartographic Laboratory. When Julius Pauer retired in 1997, the department offered the position to Richard (Dick) Gilbreath (MA Kentucky), who not only prepares maps for faculty members' presentations and publications and teaches introductory and advanced cartography classes, but also advises students on internship possibilities. Second, was the growing demand for GIS classes. When Mike Kennedy joined the department from the College of Architecture in 1991, he was able to offer a number of planning and GIS classes. The hiring of Francis Harvey (Washington) strengthened the department's GIS courses; he also strengthened the department's social theory cluster with his interests, along with those of John Pickles, in critical GIS. The third accomplishment during this time was the production of a second Atlas of Kentucky, edited by Ulack, Raitz, and Pauer. This attractive, multicolored, and thematically organized volume was published by the University of Press of Kentucky in 1998. The fourth was establishing a summer field station in Kyushu, Japan, to train students for field research in Japan. The international field experiences were expanded in the late 1990s to include undergraduate field offerings in Oaxaca, Mexico.


The 1990s


The department's long history and commitment to human geography was evident in its participation in the Women's Studies program on campus and its commitment to hiring additional women faculty. Heidi Nast (McGill) as a faculty member in 1992 was instrumental in the department's development of coursework on Geography and Gender and offering seminars on related topics. Haripriya Rangan (Berkeley) joined the department in 1995 and taught courses on resource use, non-Western environmental movements, and regional development. Linda Roth (Clark) for three years taught classes in physical geography and biogeography. A further commitment to working with colleagues in Women's Studies was made with the faculty supporting the transfer of sociologist Paola Bachetta (Sorbonne) from the UK Department of Sociology in 1999 and the hiring of Anna Secor (Colorado) on a permanent line in 2000, when Bachetta accepted a position at Berkeley.


In 1989 the university committed to support the department in developing a first-rate physical geography program. The faculty for years, including in five-year plans, agreed that it was important to develop on such concentration, not only to provide balanced course instruction for the undergraduate students, but also to appeal to existing and potential graduate students interested in human/environmental interfaces. The department's standing as a state-recognized Research Challenge Trust Fund department, one of only ten such programs on campus, enabled the department to hire a full professor, Jonathan Phillips (Rutgers) who moved to the department in 2000 from Texas A and M. He was given a broad set of responsibilities that included oversight in hiring new physical geography faculty, building a physical geography component to the graduate program, offering additional physical geography classes, setting up a physical geography lab, and working with other university faculty in the earth sciences and environmental studies. The department hired Alice Turkington (Belfast) in 2001 and Sean Campbell (Arkansas geosciences) in 2002 to strengthen the physical cluster. These efforts have been successful, as measured by successful cohorts of physical geography students, building linkages to the earth and environmental sciences on campus and in state government, research being funded and published, and students and faculty participating in national and international conferences.


Departments that have strength on campus and support from many allied programs are in a position to build their programs, even during times of budget difficulties. When John Pickles departed to the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and John Paul Jones went to the University of Arizona, the current chair, Karl Raitz, who assumed the position when Ulack's term ended in 1996, convinced the administration that we needed a mid-rank faculty replacement. The department offered this position to Tad Mutersbaugh (Berkeley) who moved to the University of Kentucky from the University of Iowa in 2003. The department also hired Matt Zook (Berkeley) in 2001, who supports the teaching and research interests of faculty interested in cyberspace and Internet geographies, and Michael Crutcher (LSU) in 2003, with strengths in cultural and historical geography. The intellectual life of the department during the past fifteen years has been enriched by a number of postdoctoral fellows and visiting scholars. They include Miguel Oliver (Penn State), Heidi Nast (McGill), Alan Hudson (Cambridge), Ian Hay (Adelaide), Kristine Miranne (Wayne State), Caroline Nagel (Colorado), Tara Maddock (Ohio State), Perry Carter (Ohio State), Michael Crutcher (LSU), and Kathleen O'Reilly (Iowa).


The department continues to enhance its position on campus, a trajectory started in the late 1970s. There are now more than 80 undergraduate majors in geography, a number that has remained fairly constant during the past five years; about 3500 students now enroll in geography classes each year. The department's various committees regularly assess the undergraduate and graduate course offerings, course descriptions, and core requirements. It has faculty on permanent lines or as adjuncts or on graduate advisory committees in the multidisciplinary Gerontology Ph.D. program, the College of Design, Appalachian Studies, History, Anthropology, Social Theory, African-American Studies, the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce, Japanese Studies, Asian Studies, Geology, College of Communications, College of Education, Gaines Center, and Geology. Graduate students enter the program from a variety of backgrounds and from European and Asian countries. Many UK geography graduates compete for entry positions with those graduating from other major graduate programs. In regional, national, and international geography organizations and groups, the UK geographers continue to remain active and visible and making contributions that advance the discipline. The department fosters an atmosphere of collaborative intellectual activity, as evidenced by many joint publications and presentations and collaborators on research projects, the weekly colloquia, the annual chair's newsletter, the events posted on its department website, and the annual Ellen Church Semple Day, which began in 1972 and recognizes undergraduate and graduate student achievements.

UK Geography 2000 - present


Acknowledgements: We want to thank Karl Raitz and Dick Ulack for providing suggestions and filling in important missing details.