The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.
Page  580


THE teaching of geography at the University of Michigan is of some years' standing. Geography started as a single course within the Department of Geology, acquired the status of a separate grouping of courses within that department, and finally embarked on a separate career. Since its inception the Department of Geography has had a distinct place in the development of the subject in the United States. Various members of the staff, former and present, have been among the leaders in geographical thought, each contributing to the advancement of some special phase or to the clarification of philosophical ideas within the field as a whole.

The Department of Geology. — In 1906, Professor William H. Hobbs came to the University of Michigan as head of the Department of Geology, following the death of Professor Israel C. Russell (see Part III: Department of Geology). Professor Russell had already set the seal of approval upon geography by publishing a series of books on various aspects of the physical geography of the continent of North America. In 1895, The Lakes of North America appeared, followed in 1897 by The Glaciers of North America and The Volcanoes of North America and in 1898 by The Rivers of North America. In the early part of the twentieth century, the Appleton Company was issuing a series of regional studies of the world, and at the suggestion of Professor Richard E. Dodge of Columbia University, Professor Russell was asked to prepare a volume on North America. This volume, with the title North America (1904), was the first formal geographical treatment of the physical characteristics of the continent in one volume. Professor Hobbs came to the University of Michigan with a record of noteworthy achievement in the realm of the physical aspects of geography, particularly in the study of glaciers. After a lapse of a few years, the first course in the nonphysical aspects of geography was offered in the Deparment of Geology in 1912-13, when Frank Carney, Acting Professor of Geology, gave a course entitled Geographic Influences, and a seminar, Geographic Topics. Irving Day Scott, then Assistant Professor of Physiographical Geology, gave a course entitled General Geography in 1914-15. He later developed courses in meteorology, but has remained with the Department of Geology, in which he now holds a full professorship.

The Department of Geology and Geography. — In 1915-16, the Department of Geology became the Department of Geology and Geography, and Carl Ortwin Sauer (Central Wesleyan '08, Ph.D. Chicago '15) was called to teach geography exclusively, following the completion of special training in that subject for his doctor's degree. The division, or rather double-naming, of the Department of Geology and the coming of Sauer mark the real beginning of the teaching of geography at the University.

In 1916-17, the offerings in geography were enlarged. Scott gave a course in physiography, and Sauer offered Commercial Geography, Geographic Influences in American History, General Geography — Influence of Environment on the Conditions and Activities of Men, and Geography of North America. It is interesting to note that two of Sauer's courses dealt with "influences," in accordance with a tradition in American geography. In addition to the foregoing work, he introduced a type of course that Page  581is important in any approach to the subject of geography, namely, a field course. With minor changes this array of studies continued for six or seven years. The World War brought a new course, Strategic Geography, which was described in the Catalogue as "a study of defences and of movement, engagement, and maintenance of armies." This was dropped shortly, but the work of the department was increased by field work which was introduced in the elementary general course, the Catalogue stating that there would be "excursions after Easter, Wednesday afternoons." Dr. Sauer also offered a course designed especially for teachers. Dr. Hobbs gave Topographic Map Reading in 1917-18, a course which was designed primarily for students who were "looking forward to military training."

The next important changes in the geographical branch of the Department of Geology and Geography were the coming of Kenneth Charles McMurry (Wisconsin '15, Ph.D. Chicago '21) from the University of Chicago and the establishment of the summer field camp in Kentucky in 1920 and the introduction of Sauer's course, Geography of Michigan, in 1921 (see p. 583). The course on the geography of Michigan, now carried on by Professor McMurry, was an important addition to the offerings in geography, for it was a forerunner of much of the land-planning work in the state and of the significant work of the Department of Geography in connection with that planning.

Darrell Haug Davis ('03) joined the geographical division of the Department of Geology and Geography in 1920 and taught for several years, first as an instructor and then as an assistant professor. In 1921-22 McMurry was teaching the Geography of South America and Sauer the Geography of the Settlement of America. In the following year Sauer introduced another course of far-reaching significance — Land Utilization. This course, like the one on the geography of the state, helped in the formulation of guiding principles in studying the problems of the cutover lands of northern Michigan.

The Department of Geography. — Before 1923 instruction in geography had grown from a single course in the Department of Geology to fourteen semester and four summer courses given by three men, with a semi-independent status within the department. Then a radical change took place; the instruction in geography was organized as a separate department, effective with the academic year 1923-24. Sauer was called to head the newly created department at the University of California, D. H. Davis went to direct the geography department at the University of Minnesota, and Kenneth C. McMurry, who then held an assistant professorship, took over the administration of the new department at the University of Michigan. In addition, Preston Everett James (Harvard '20, Ph.D. Clark '23) came from his graduate studies at Clark University to accept a position as Instructor, and Robert Burnett Hall ('23, Ph.D. '27), a graduate student at Michigan, also became Instructor in Geography.

The department tentatively reduced its instruction in 1923 by omitting three courses which had been given by Professor Sauer — the Geography of Michigan, the Geography of the Settlement of America, and Land Utilization — although the descriptions of these courses continued to appear in the annual Catalogue. McMurry continued teaching the elementary course and James took over the course on South America, the study of a phase of that continent having been his specialty while working on the doctorate.

Hall and James were instructing in the elementary course, of which it was noted Page  582in the Catalogue: "The first part of the course deals with the elements of the physical environment and the influences which these elements exert upon the life and activities of man." McMurry reorganized the course in land utilization, and it was given again. James taught a new course, Climates of the World, which formed the natural beginning of the development of another important phase in the geographical work at the University, for climate was coming to be recognized as the very base of a systematic approach to the study of geography.

The year 1925 marks a critical point in the development of geography in the United States, for in that year Professor Sauer published a kind of inaugural dissertation at the University of California, "The Morphology of Landscape." This article furnished a point of departure for many younger geographers, who were beginning to revolt against the rigid dogma of what has been called the "influence school." After that date there were important changes marking the acceptance of the new orientation, both in the general field of geographical study and within the department. At the University of Michigan Sauer had laid the foundation for much of the University's further development of geographical instruction, and at the University of California he issued a challenge to geographers in the United States which was not without weight in shaping the development of the study of geography in the department which had formerly claimed him.

Stanley Dalton Dodge (Chicago '22, Ph.D. ibid. '26) joined the staff of the department as an instructor in 1925. The word "influence" was omitted from the formal announcement of the introductory course. McMurry, who advanced to the full professorship in that year, revived the course on the geography of Michigan and inaugurated one on the geography of North America. James, then an assistant professor, offered Tropical Geography, a course which was soon dropped.

The content of the introductory course reflected the effect of Sauer's article, "The Morphology of Landscape," upon the "geographical philosophy" of the department, the course description in the Catalogue of 1926-27 reading in part as follows: "This course deals with the character and distribution of the elements of geographic landscape." The study of "landscape" was spreading in the department, for in the same year Hall introduced the Geography of Asia, and Dodge, the Geography of Europe. A list of related courses in botany, business administration, economics, forestry, and geology in the Catalogue of the same year indicated that the Department of Geography was beginning to discover affinities with other departments. It seems to have been difficult to settle on a formula for the introductory course, for in the following year the announcement was worded anew: "This course provides an elementary knowledge and understanding of the areal distribution of man and his material works, and of the habitats wherein these works were evolved."

The difficulty in formulating a description of the content and purposes of the elementary course led the department to review the entire history of geography as a formal subject, from 600 B.C. to the present, and the course, History of Geography, by Dodge, was begun in 1928. In the next year he offered the Distribution of Population for the first time, laying the foundations for the fuller study of some of the "human" aspects of geography. Ideas germinating in the department were further advanced when, in 1931, Hall began a course named Settlement (the basis for much of the subsequent work in human geography) and James introduced the short-lived course, Urban Geography.

Page  583Geography Summer Field Station. — In the summer of 1920 the Summer Field Station was established at Mill Springs, Kentucky, where field courses in geology were also given. The camp was under the direction of C. O. Sauer in the years 1920-23 inclusive, and then of George M. Ehlers, of the Department of Geology, through 1935, when the Kentucky station was discontinued. During the sixteen years several members of the geography staff, with their assistants, took large numbers of students into the field for preliminary training in field geography. McMurry, James, and Hall, with the assistance of Kendall, Davis, and others, organized the field work after the first years, during which it was in the hands of C. O. Sauer. Since 1935, the geography field work has been carried on in summer camps in the northern part of Michigan, under the direction of McMurry and with the assistance of Charles M. Davis.

Present staff, and research. — In 1940 the personnel of the department, in addition to Professors McMurry, James, and Hall and Associate Professor Dodge, included Assistant Professors Henry Madison Kendall (Amherst '24, Ph.D. Michigan '33) and Charles Moler Davis ('25, Ph.D. '35). McMurry has continued his work in land utilization, and is now recognized as one of the leading authorities on the study of geography as a necessary basis for any practicable plan for the proper utilization of the land. James, specializing in the geography of South America, has become a leading authority in that field. Hall, with interests centered in the study of the geography of Japan, has received wide recognition for his intensive studies of Japanese settlements, and Dodge has continued his studies of the geographic aspects of population and is receiving recognition for them. Kendall has carried on field work in France and Belgium and has been widely recognized for some of his climatic studies, and Davis is continuing field studies in Colorado on the basis of the successful completion of a preliminary study of a small section of the Rocky Mountains. Along the lines indicated by the principal activities listed above the Department of Geography has settled down to a service of usefulness in the study of the various aspects of the "landscape" of the world and of its significance in the solution of problems of interest to man.


Calendar, Univ. Mich., 1906-14.
Catalogue …, Univ. Mich., 1914-23.
Catalogue and Register, Univ. Mich., 1923-27.
Ehlers, George M."Interesting Kentucky Is Laboratory for Geologists and Geographers."Mich. Alum., 36 (1930): 748-49.
General Register Issue, Univ. Mich., 1927-40.
"Geography — A New University Department."Mich. Alum., 30 (1924): 421-23.
Geology and Geography Field Courses in Kentucky, Summer Session, Univ. Mich., 1921-34.
"Helping the Farmer with Map and Transit."Mich. Alum., 30 (1924): 1140-41.
Proceedings of the Board of Regents …, 1906-40.
"Putting Farmland on the Operating Table."Mich. Alum., 31 (1925): 635-37.