Department of Geography and the Environment

History of the Department of Geography and The Environment

CLA building, 2013

By Gregory Knapp

Geography courses were introduced to The University of Texas by Lindley Miller Keasbey in 1905. Keasbey inspired Walter Prescott Webb to write his masterpiece of historical geography and environmental history, The Great Plains, although subsequently he critiqued the book's environmental determinism. William J. Reilly developed his Law of Retail Gravitation while at Texas in the 1920s; his discovery was an important precursor of the "quantitative revolution" in geography and planning.

 The new College of Liberal Arts building, 2013

Geography courses were offered in the Department of Geological Sciences and the School of Business Administration (by Stanley Arbingast, for example) prior to the formation of the Department of Geography in Fall 1949. The original faculty of the Department included Professors Donald D. Brand (1905-1984), Dan Stanislawski (1903-1997 ), and George W. Hoffman (1914-1990), all of whom led the Department for many years. The Department was the first in Texas, and the second in the Southwest, to award doctoral degrees.

From the beginning, the Department has supported regional and international studies, with special emphases on Texas and the Southwest, Latin America, the Mediterranean World and Middle East, and Northern and Eastern Europe.

The Department has also provided training in the topical areas of geography. From the beginning, these included cultural geography, physical geography (earth sciences), and mathematical geography (cartography). By 1960, conservation (environmental resource management) had become an explicit topical focus which would be further strengthened over the years. By 1970, urban and regional analysis became an area of departmental concern, and by 2004 Urban Studies had been added as a major managed by the Department. Remote sensing, computer cartography, and geographic information systems have been developed as additional areas of teaching and research.  In 2004 the Department's name was changed to Geography and the Environment to reflect its enhanced role in the University.

The Department's faculty has had an outstanding record of research and publication; indeed, a recent survey in "The Professional Geographer" found the department's book publication productivity to be the highest in the nation. Faculty have made contributions to fundamental research in many areas, authored numerous textbooks of national importance, and edited influential overviews of disciplinary and interdisciplinary topics.

Dr. Terry Jordan was a notable former faculty member, passing on in October 2003. His accomplashments include a term of Presidency of the AAG (1987-88), publishing a series of influential scholarly books and articles, and co-authoring widely adopted introductory textbooks. 

Renowned Geographer David L. Huff (developer of the Huff Model) was a Professor with the Department and the McCombs School of Business until his retirement. Dr. David L. Huff passed in August 2014, and he and his wife Suzanne Huff established The David L. Huff Memorial Graduate Fellowship for a UT graduate student in Geography.

Two and a half thousand geography and urban studies majors have earned their degrees through our Department, plus 118 doctoral students and about 300 master's students. Most of the PhD alumni and many of the master's alumni found positions in higher education, and include a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a former president of the Association of American Geographers. The undergraduate program has graduated many successful people who have pursued careers in law, business, medicine, government, education, the military, and journalism. Famous undergraduate alumni include Paul Goodloe, broadcast meteorologist for the Weather Channel.

Geography Building

In its early years, the Department was located in what is now the Dorothy Gebauer Building. The Department moved to Waggener Hall in 1962. In 1974, Geography moved to the beautiful limestone and Spanish tile Geography Building (formerly the Journalism Building).  The Department relocated to facilities in the new, state of the art Liberal Arts Building in January 2013.

Geography Building, 1974-2012

Today the Department has 15 full-time faculty, plus many affiliated faculty, research fellows, and part-time faculty, There are over 300 undergraduate majors in Geography and Urban Studies, and 28 active graduate students. The graduate program was ranked 11th in the nation in the National Research Council's Research-Doctorate Programs in the United States (2011, R Means). The undergraduate program was rated one of the top six in the Southwest by Rugg's Recommendations on the Colleges (2009).


William E. Doolittle (2018-present) Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach (2014-2018), Brian Roberts (2012-2014), Ken Young (2009-2012), William E. Doolittle (acting chair, summer 2009), Leo Zonn (2006-2009), William Doolittle (2004-2006), Gregory W. Knapp (1996-2004), William E. Doolittle (1992-1996), Paul W. English (1982-1992), George W. Hoffman (1978-1982),  Robert K. Holz (1972-1978), C. Shane Davies (acting chair, 1971-1972), Robert C. Mayfield (1967-1971), Lorrin G. Kennamer (1960-1967), Donald D. Brand (1949-1960),

Department Managers

Co-Manager Teal Reid (2013-present), Co-Manager James Gunter (2013-present), Natalie Boudreau (2012-2013), Dee Dee Barton (2005-2012), Karen Eikner (2004-2005), Maria Acosta (2001-2004), Sakena Sounny-Slitine (1997-2001), Ruth Schwab (1996-1997), Jacqueline Erengil, (1992-1996), BeverlyBeaty-Benadom (1992).

Graduate Coordinators

James Gunter (2008-present), Shannon Harris (2007-2008), Tan Thai (2005-2007), Dee Dee Barton (2001-2005), Maria Acosta (2000-2001), Mechelle Powell (1999-2000), Greg Osburn (1997-1999), Stephanie Bush (1996-1997), Ruth Schwab (1994-1996), Valerie Billingsley (1993-1994), Judy White (1992-1993), Carol Vernon (1992).

Undergraduate Advisors

Johnathan Edwards (2018-present) Craig Gilden (2014-2018), Calina Coakwell Summer (2001-2014), Sylvia Edwards-Khan Fall (1999-2001), Emily Johnston (Summer/Spring 1999) Amanda Weaver Fall (1998), Melissa Mayo (1997-1998). Staff position established September 1998, replacing faculty position.


"Geography at the University of Texas at Austin: A Departmental History," Gregory Knapp, Southwestern Geographer 2:95-123 (1998). 

  • Department of Geography and the Environment

    The University of Texas at Austin
    305 E. 23rd Street, A3100
    RLP 3.306
    Austin, TX 78712