The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.


The Department of Geography entered the 1940s with confidence. The emphasis in both teaching and research was on regional geography and land-use studies. Enrollment in introductory and middle-level courses was substantial: there was a small group of undergraduate majors; and, reflecting the department's established reputation as a center for graduate training, a group of twenty-six graduate students working for advanced degrees. The shadow of world-wide events was already visible in 1941 and had its impact on the department. In the fall of 1941, Professor P. E. James left to join the Office of Strategic Services in Washington while Professor R. B. Hall took a one-year leave for a study of Japanese settlements in Latin America. On his return in 1942, Hall, too, joined the Office of Strategic Services. Within less than one year only McMurry and Dodge remained on campus. Davis joined the Navy while Kendall went to Washington as a civilian expert for the War Department.

With American entry in World War II, the University quickly became a major training center for the armed services. Except for legal, medical, and dental programs the Department of Geography participated in virtually all training programs undertaken for the armed services from 1942 through 1945 while continuing to offer courses in its regular teaching schedule. The years provided a unique opportunity for those in the department to acquire extended experience in virtually all phases of geography as it was then practiced.

For the remaining years of the 1940s and during the 1950s the department followed the course well-charted prior to 1940. The strong tradition of regional geography led to Page  157increased staff participation in regional studies, and to additions to the staff in that field — R. N. Pearson replaced Brand in Latin American studies; L. A. P. Gosling brought expertise in the Southeast Asian area. Hall founded the Center for Japanese Studies, providing for an extensive and ambitious program in teaching and research on campus and also at a field station in Okayama, Japan. Kish participated in the starting of a graduate/undergraduate program in Russian Studies. Crary added his expertise to the program in Near Eastern Studies. The appointment of Hall as Director of the Asia Foundation's office and programs in Japan for a five-year period, 1955-60, signaled international recognition of the department's standing in the field of regional studies. Hall received the Order of the Rising Sun, 2nd class, from the Japanese Government for his contribution to the restoration of Japanese universities in the postwar period.

Graduate enrollment in geography rose during the immediate postwar years, nearly doubling to 60 by the late 1950s as did undergraduate enrollment in the introductory and advanced courses, but the number of undergraduate majors remained constant, between 15 and 20 in any given year.

A major change occurred in 1956 when K. C. McMurry stepped down as Chairman after serving in that capacity for thirty-three years. His leadership was closely reflected in the research and teaching carried on in the department. His principal interest — land-use studies — led to his organization of the Michigan summer field camp in geography, a pioneer venture that he directed from the mid-1920s until the end of the 1950s. During this period it was the habit of the faculty to take a weekend spring retreat generally at the state's Department of Natural Resources Pigeon River facilities. Several friends of the department from other parts of the University and state conservation officers attended. Discussions centered on state land use and conservation policy. After McMurry's retirement in 1964, the department appointed O. H. Clark, a long-time staff member of the Michigan Department of Conservation, as Lecturer in land-use studies.

McMurry was succeeded as Chairman by C. M. Davis who held the post for ten years. Afterwards a rotation system Page  158took over with L. A. P. Gosling (1966-69 and 1972-75), M. G. Marcus (1969-72), and D. R. Deskins, Jr. (1975-78) serving as Chairmen. In 1979 Professor Deskins became Associate Dean of the Rackham Graduate School and J. D. Nystuen became Chairman of the Department.

The end of the 1950s signaled a major turning point in directions in geography at Michigan and across the nation. The emphasis shifted from regional geography to more formalized theoretical and quantitative approaches, an increased interest in urban geography, and the stressing of cartography as an important ancillary field.

From 1962 to 1968 the department cooperated with the departments of Geography at Michigan State and Wayne State Universities in forming an organization called the Michigan Interuniversity Community of Mathematical Geographers.

Another major change in the department occurred in the mid-1960s by the reintroduction of teaching and research in physical geography. The separation of geography and geology in 1923 was accompanied by an understanding that geography was to stress the social and economic aspects of the earth sciences leaving physical studies to geology and abstaining from the introduction of courses requiring laboratory periods. The appointment of M. G. Marcus in 1964 signaled a new interest in physical geography. Marcus was joined by T. R. Detwyler and S. I. Outcalt in 1967 and 1971 broadening the base of studies by adding new courses in biogeography and physical processes of arctic and alpine regions. Marcus headed the Icefield Ranges Research Project from 1964 to 1971 in which field stations were maintained in the St. Elias Range in Alaska and the Yukon. S. I. Outcalt continues the arctic studies with field projects in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, and elsewhere. He has also visited Siberian tundra research stations in the Soviet Union several times. E. Bannister, with interests in fluvial processes, joined the staff in 1975 to continue the commitment in physical geography.

During this period the long-established courses in regional geography registered a noticeable decline, although teaching and research in regional geography and staff participation in campus-wide programs as organized in centers for regional studies continued. Between 1964 and 1970 R. Murphey in Chinese and South Asian geography, J. F. Kolars in the Page  159geography of the Near East and J. D. Clarkson in Southeast Asian geography were added to the department. From 1973-77 L. A. P. Gosling headed a United Nations funded Pa Mong Resettlement Research Project which investigated resettlement problems expected to be created by flooding associated with reservoir construction in the Lower Mekong Basin of Southeast Asia.

Cultural geography, long represented by staff interests, was strengthened in the late 1960s by the addition of B. Q. Nietschmann and A. Larimore. Nietschmann, in response to student interest, organized a course called "Future Worlds," with University of Michigan faculty and outside lecturers participating. Part of the lecture funds came from the Student Activities Center. The course enrollment exceeded 300 for several years during the early 1970s.

In response to the turbulent '60s, the department participated in a nationwide program designed to bring more minority people into the geography profession. Donald R. Deskins, Jr. became Director of COMGA (Commission on Geography and Afro-America) which supported black graduate students in several universities throughout the nation. More than one million dollars in grants obtained from a variety of federal sources were used in this effort. COMGA was the single most important factor in the marked increase in the number of black professional geographers active in the field in the 1970s.

In 1966, after forty-three years in what had always been cramped quarters in the basement of Angell Hall, the department moved across State Street to the fourth floor of the Literature, Science, and Arts Building. The new quarters provided additional office space for the staff, adequate laboratories for cartography, computers, and physical geography.

Geography at Michigan achieved national recognition both through its graduates and its staff. Of the nearly three hundred persons who received Master's degrees and 163 Ph.D.s awarded during the years covered by this brief survey, all but two were able to receive teaching appointments or employment in local, state, or federal government agencies. Top University recognition was extended to Professors Gosling and Murphey (Distinguished Service Awards), Kolars Page  160(Teaching Award), Nietschmann (Russel Award) and Kish (Russel Lecturership). Staff members held elective offices in several national professional associations. Professors Hall and Kish and Tobler received awards from the Association of American Geographers.

Enrollment in liberal arts courses in geography has declined from peak levels reached in the 1960s and now is at about 2,000 students per year. Graduate students in residence now number between 25 and 30 each year. Career opportunities for those holding doctorate degrees in geography are still primarily in teaching at university level although several graduates have found careers which reflect the technical training in automated cartography and analytical geography toward which the department's program has grown.