The history of South African geography is the history of Geography at Stellenbosch. Taught as a school subject since 1839, geography evolved into an independent university subject in 1914.
The curricular foundation was matured by Dutch Prof. Piet Serton upon his 1920 appointment as the first Professor of Geography at Stellenbosch and indeed in South Africa. Until 1963, geography was a Bachelor of Arts subject only, since the discipline was initially placed within the Arts Faculty, but thereafter also formed part of natural and economic sciences degrees.
Serton’s successor, Andries Nel, spearheaded a fundamental, research-driven transformation of the discipline. In 1963, geography became a full-fledged Bachelor of Science and, in 1970, a Bachelor of Economics subject. A series of books, atlases and a notable volume of research articles followed and led to five Academy awards to departmental staff over the years. No other geography department in South Africa has equalled this.
The Department published its own academic journal, South African Journal of Geography, and established its research arm in the Institute for Cartography in 1975. This was the forerunner of the present expertise in geographical information technology (GIT).