The history of the Geography Department begins in 1898 with the appointment of the first professor of geography at Berkeley, George Davidson, a leading scientific figure in the West, who taught for seven years before retiring in 1905.   Upon his retirement, Davidson was succeeded by Ruliff S. Holway who directed the growing department until his retirement in 1923.  During Holway’s tenure the department’s curriculum emphasized physiography, meteorology, oceanography and mapping, in addition to several courses in commercial geography.

The department was then marked by a distinctive approach to the study of human relationships to the earth, influenced markedly by the views of one of the century’s most important geographers, Carl Sauer.  For thirty-one years (1923-1954), Sauer headed the department and ultimately evolved a way of thinking about geography that was particularly cultural-historical in focus.  The Sauer years are often referred to as the “Berkeley School” of cultural geography.  When Sauer arrived in Berkeley he brought with him graduate student John Leighly who was to receive the first PhD in 1927 from the Department.  Leighly was later appointed to the faculty and became Chair upon Sauer’s retirement.

The department has undergone substantive changes since the Sauer years, and while a broadly Sauerian perspective persists, there is now a strong social science interdisciplinary orientation, placing emphasis on modern social theory and upon economic and political theoretical analysis as well as a new focus on earth system science.

The geography department at Berkeley has historically been rated as one of the strongest in the country.

For more information about Berkeley geography please see the following:

“From the Age of Dino-Sauers to the Anthropo-Scene” Reminiscences of life in Berkeley Geography, 1975-2012, by Professor Richard Walker

“Carl Sauer:  A Personal View,” Journal of Geography, July-August, pp. 140-147, 1983.

See articles by John Leighly (“Drifting into Geography in the Twenties”) and James J. Parsons (“The Later Sauer Years”) in the Special Issue:  Seventy-Five Years of American Geography, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, vol. 69, no. 1, pp. 4-15 March 1979.

Commemorative issue of Carl Sauer, Historical Geography Newsletter, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 1-81, Spring, 1976


George Davidson (1898-1905)
Ruliff S. Holway (1905-1923)
Carl Sauer (1923-1954)
John Leighly (1954-1960)
James J. Parsons (1960-1966)
Clarence Glacken (1966-1968)
David Hooson (1970-1974)
James J. Parsons (1974-1979)
Allan Pred (1979-1980)
Bernard Nietschmann (1980-1981 [Acting])
Allan Pred (1981-1985)
David Hooson (1985-1986 [Acting])
Allan Pred (1986-1988)
David Stoddart (1988-1994)
Richard Walker (1994-1999)
Michael Johns (1999-2007)
Kurt Cuffey (2007-2013)
Nathan Sayre (2013-2018)
Robert Rhew (2018-2021)
Jovan Scott Lewis (2021-Present)


George Davidson (1898-1905)
Ruliff S. Holway (1904-1923)
Carl Sauer, (1923-1957; emeritus 1957-1975)
John Leighly (1923-1960; emeritus 1960-1986)
R.J. Russell (1923-1925)
Oskar Schmieder (1925-1929)
Wolfgang Panzer (1929-1930)
Gottfried Pfeifer (1931-1933)
John E. Kesseli (1932-1962; emeritus 1962-1980)
Jan O.M. Broek (1936-1947)
Erhard Rostlund (1945-1961)
James J. Parsons (1948-1986; emeritus 1986-1997)
Clarence J. Glacken (1952-1976; emeritus 1976-1989)
James E. Vance, Jr (1958-1992; emeritus 1992-1999)
Paul Wheatley (1959-1966)
David I. Blumenstock (1961-1963)
Allan Pred (1962-2006; emeritus 2006-2007)
Herbert Eder (1963-1969)
Ted Oberlander (1963-1993; emeritus 1993-present)
Hilgard O’Reilly Sternberg (1964-1988; emeritus 1988-2011)
David J.M. Hooson (1964-1997; emeritus 1997-2008)
Bernard Riley (1967-1969)
Mario Giovinetto (1968-1974)
Robert R. Reed (1970-2001; emeritus 2001-present)
Risa Palm (1972-1977)
A. Roger Byrne (1973-2016)
Orman E. Granger (1974-2002; emeritus 2002-present)
Richard Walker (1975-2012; emeritus 2012-present)
Bernard Nietschmann (1977-2000)
Michael Watts (1979-2017; emeritus 2017-present)
Peter Hall (1980-1992)
Kristen Nelson (1987-1989)
David R. Stoddart (1987-2000; emeritus 2000-2014)
Lisa E. Wells (1989-1996)
Beatriz Manz (1989-2017)
Michael Johns (1990-2016)
B. Lynn Ingram (1995-1998)
Paul Groth (1995-2015)
Gillian P. Hart (1996-2016; emerita 2016-present)
Harley Shaiken (1997-2020)
Ruth Wilson Gilmore (1999-2004)
Kurt M. Cuffey (1999-present)
You-tien Hsing (2000-present)
John C. Chiang (2003-present)
Robert C. Rhew (2003-present)
Nathan Sayre (2004-present)
Jon (Jake) Kosek (2008-present)
Jeffrey Q. Chambers (2013-present)
Laurel Larsen (2013-present)
David O’Sullivan (2014-2018)
Jovan Scott Lewis (2015-present)
Sharad Chari (2017-present)
Brandi T. Summers (2019-present)
Desiree Fields (2019-present)
Clancy Wilmott (2020-present)