About us2020-07-07T13:37:55+02:00

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).

African seat of expertise and infrastructure in cartography, geographical information systems (GIS) and satellite remote sensing. During this phase, two subject-related new departments were spun off from the mother discipline: The Department of Africa Studies (1965–1990) and the Department of Town and Regional Planning (1965–2004).

Since the 1990s, trends in the tertiary education sector combined to alter the structure of the geography department fundamentally, during what can be called its ‘geographical technology phase’. In 1995 the Department altered its name to Geography and Environmental Studies, an independent GIS laboratory was established and the Institute was transformed into a virtual entity – the Centre for Geographical Analysis.

The Department of Geography and Environmental Studies underwent major expansion during 2009 through two initiatives: a university Overarching Strategic Plan (OSP) focused on GIT and the incorporation of new and externally funded Centre for Urban and Regional Innovation and Statistical Exploration (CRUISE). These developments were augmented in 2011 with the incorporation of the Disaster Mitigation for Sustainable Livelihoods Programme (DiMP), the forerunner for RADAR (Research Alliance for Disaster and Risk Reduction). Geography and Environmental Studies continues its tradition of academic excellence in its newly expanded format.

Click here to read more about the department’s history.