Department of Geography Overview

Geography was first taught on the site of the present campus under the auspices of the Milwaukee Normal School. Interest on the part of students and faculty members resulted in the creation of the Department of Geography on July l, 1956, coincident with the creation of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. In 1959, the University undertook the task of building a graduate school. The Masters Degree Program in Geography became one of the first to receive approval in 1963. The doctoral program in Geography, inaugurated officially in the spring of 1966, was among the first three Ph.D. programs. For more information see History of Geography at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee 1885-1990 by Donn K. Haglund.

The Department of Geography offers bachelors, masters, and doctoral programs of study across a range of systematic, regional, and technical fields, with innovative energy in the doctoral program for studying urban environments. The department's overall strengths are aligned along three major axes, each responsive to areas with strong demand for new professionals:

  • Urban Environments—emphasizes the spatial interactions of economic systems as well as political, social, cultural, environmental, technological, and other forces that influence the people, identities, landscape, development, and dynamics of urban areas. With the world’s population becoming increasingly urbanized and globalized, courses examine the continuing challenges of urban growth and change, race, ethnicity, and gender in the city, immigration and identity politics, and spatial aspects of urban planning processes and political decision-making.
  • Physical Geography and Environmental Studies—addresses the interactions among natural forms and processes on the earth’s surface, the impact and implications of global climate change, and human connections with those natural phenomena. Courses discuss and analyze the distribution and processes of earth surface landforms (geomorphology), soils (pedology), plants and animals (biogeography), water (hydrology), and long-term atmospheric conditions (climatology). Overlapping emphases include conservation, natural hazards, water resources, natural resource scarcity, and the mounting challenges of global environmental change.
  • Geographic Information Science (GIS)—emphasizes using geospatial technology to further understanding of spatial interactions among natural and social forces at multiple scales across the Earth’s surface, and exploring the impacts of using such technology on social and cultural interactions. Courses examine geographic information collection (including remote sensing), data analysis and geocomputation (spatial analysis), information presentation (cartography), and societal implications. Our program emphasizes applications of GIS in urban, regional, and environmental planning, policy making, and public health.

In addition to these strengths, individual faculty members have varied international interests and experience, for example, in North America, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Europe.

While the master's program offers a more traditional structure within which students can strengthen their knowledge of the discipline and one or more of its sub-fields, the department's unique Ph.D. program is designed to be especially attractive to forward-looking students interested in urban environments who seek a flexible, versatile, 21st century graduate education with a strong emphasis on interdisciplinary. The Ph.D. program's urban-environmental theme is inclusive and encompassing of processes and problems associated with the intersection of human and natural environments, strongly focused on "the city" as the entity of engagement. The program breaks with longstanding tradition in the field of geography in stressing a balance between specialize analytical research and synthetic research, between traditional academic research and community engagement, and between research and teaching. It relies heavily on Geographic Information Science (GIS) as a research tool and as an organizing framework.