Overview and History of the Department

Davenport Hall

The Department of Geography & GIScience at the University of Illinois reflects a long tradition of excellence in geographic research and education. We rank among the top Ph.D.-granting geography programs in the U.S., based on metrics of faculty research productivity. Faculty and students lead efforts to understand many important global and local issues: environmental sustainability, transportation and mobility, water shortages and river dynamics, health, hunger, and urban inequalities – and to harness and innovate geospatial data and methods in these efforts. Their scientific contributions are represented in important books, articles, grants, and awards. Within the department, research and education encompass four broad areas of geographical inquiry: Cities and Metropolitan Areas; Geographic Information Science; River, Watershed and Landscape Dynamics; and Society, Space, and Environments. Please explore our web site to learn more about these areas and to find out about our people, events, activities, and innovations.

The department’s present-day success is rooted in its history. The importance of geography as a field of scientific merit was recognized in 1867 by the organizers of the Illinois Industrial University, the forerunner of the University of Illinois.

The first Master's degree in geography was earned in 1936, while the discipline was still a part of the Geology Department. Since that date, Master's degrees have been awarded to many students, most of them since 1950. The first Doctoral degree was completed in 1951, and now over 140 Ph.D.s have been earned in the department. Between thirty-five and fifty graduate students are usually in residence; drawn from all over the United States and many other countries (Korea, United Kingdom, Germany, Nigeria, China, Japan, Indonesia, and India have been represented in recent years). More than 40 undergraduates are currently enrolled as geography majors, joining the hundreds of undergraduates who have completed Bachelor’s degrees in geography and geographic information science at Illinois. More than 1000 alumni have earned degrees from the department, and they include leaders in academia, business, law, GIS, government, and consulting.

Departmental Name Change

The Department of Geography became the Department of Geography and Geographic Information Science in the Fall of 2012. The new name for our undergraduate major - Geography and Geographic Information Science - was also approved. Beginning in May 2013, this degree title began appearing on student transcripts. Meanwhile, M.A., M.S. and PhD degrees retain the title of Geography.

a rendering of the Natural History Building

A new beginning in the Natural History Building.

As of Summer of 2017, we are located in the newly-renovated Natural History Building (NHB), joining the other departments in the School of Earth, Society & Environment - Atmospheric Sciences and Geology.



Further Reading