History of the Department
Geography has a long history at the University of Hawai`i at Mānoa. The first classes in geography were taught in 1920 by Harold Palmer. An independent Department of Geography was established in 1931 and has been in existence since, with the exception of the World War II period, when it was briefly merged with the Department of Geology. The first master’s degree in geography was awarded in 1933 to Lorna Ho`oleia Jarrett, whose thesis became an important text book on the cultural geography of Hawai`i. After statehood in 1959, the department was rapidly expanded and began to offer a doctorate in geography in 1967. In the years since, the department has graduated over 280 MA and PhD students who have worked as faculty at universities, in government, and in private enterprise.
Some prominent graduates include the University of Hawai`i’s Athletic Director Jim Donovan (BA 1982), Hawai`i State Senator Clayton Hee (BA 1975), and Bill Wood (PhD 1985), the former Head Geographer at the US State Department. Perhaps the most well-known of the department’s alumni is Lolo Soetoro, President Barack Obama’s stepfather, who graduated with an MA in geography in 1964. He met Barack Obama’s mother, Anne Dunham, while studying geography at the University of Hawai`i on an East-West Center fellowship.
1920 Harold S. Palmer, a geologist, gave the first courses in Geography at the University of Hawai`i beginning in 1920.
1926 Otis W. Freeman came as visiting professor in 1926-27 and at about the same time J. Edward Hoffmeister also
taught as a visiting professor.
1928 John Wesley Coulter joined the joint Department of Geology and Geography in 1928.
1931 Geography was established as an independent department in Fall and Coulter was appointed as its chair. He was
later associated with the university’s Oriental Institute and published widely on Hawai`i and the Pacific in national
and local journals during the 1930’s and even after he left Hawai`i in 1941.
1933 The first M.A. degree was awarded to Lorna Ho`oleia Jarrett. Her thesis, titled A Source Book In Hawaiian
Geography, was later published as a text Hawai`i and its People (Honolulu, 1933) that was used in Hawai`i
schools for many years. Lorna Jarrett (later Desha) also taught in the department from 1933 to 1935.
1936 Stephen B. Jones joined the faculty and was also active in publishing about Hawai`i. By the late 1930s the
department offered 15 courses. Another M.A. was awarded in 1940, the last until 1954.
1938 Joseph Rock was appointed Research Professor of the History, Geography and Botany of China. Rock taught
botany at the University of Hawai`i for several years soon after its founding but had moved to China where for many
years he did geographic, ethnographic and linguistic research particularly with the Naxi people sponsored for the
National Geographic Society.
1942-45 During the Second World War the University of Hawai`i was largely given over to the
war effort. The geographers left and the Geology and Geography Departments again were merged
with Palmer teaching all of the courses offered in both subjects until the Fall of 1945.
1945 Raymond E. Murphy taught the geography courses in 1945-46. He had been active in Pacific research on
Micronesian atolls during the war and continued to research and publish in this area until the 1950’s.
1946 Margaret Shackleton Mann taught the geography courses during 1946-1947. The two courses were “The Elements
of Geography” and “Economic Geography,” still within a combined Geology-Geography Department.
1947 In 1947 Curtis Manchester served as chair of the reestablished Department of Geography for 10 years.
1948 Neal Bowers joined the faculty. Manchester and Bowers, both with Ph.D.’s from Michigan, were the only permanent
faculty until 1958, although there were numerous visitors, beginning a tradition that has continued until the present.
Bowers served as chair from 1957 to 1963. Rohma Bowers, a doctoral candidate in Geography from University of
Michigan, came with her husband Neal. For many years she taught summer school and extension classes in
Geography, and often filled in when the regular faculty were unable to teach their courses. The M.A. was
reestablished in 1948 as a Plan A (thesis) program. At this time the department was housed in Hawai`i Hall.
1952 R. B. Hall joined the faculty as a visitor and served as advisor to Paul Ming Pok Chun who was the first to complete
a MA thesis in 1954 under the new program.
1954 Abraham Pi`ianai`a taught a course on navigation. Later he introduced the course “Geography of Hawai`i”, which
became one of the most popular courses on campus. He was director of the Hawaiian Studies Program from
during which time the Program was housed in the Geography Department.
1958 Roland Fuchs joined the department as a permanent faculty member with interests in urban and economic
geography and the Soviet Union.
1959 Following Hawai`i Statehood Governor John Burns, with the support of the legislature, launched a program to make
the University of Hawai`i a first class educational institution. From this time, until about 1971, budgets were
dramatically increased, research units were organized, departments were expanded and there was generous
funding to search for and recruit high quality faculty.
1960 John Street joined the faculty with a strong physical geography background. He was later to expand his interests to
tropical biogeography and soils.
1962 Peter Pirie was hired as a population geographer with regional interest in the Pacific. A Plan B (non-thesis) M.A.
1963 David Kornhauser, a Japan specialist in the University of Hawai`i Asian Studies Program, transferred to Geography.
1964 Roland Fuchs became Chair in 1964 and under his purposeful leadership for two decades the department
underwent a dramatic expansion to nineteen people in 1971. This was made possible in part by shared
appointments including several with the East West Center. This was a time of change and rapid expansion for the
graduate program. Lolo Soetoro, President Barack Obama’s stepfather, graduated with a Master’s degree in
1965 Forrest Pitts, who had been a visitor in 1952-53, was hired bringing extensive field experience of Korea and Japan
along with an interest in simulation modeling and the bourgeoning use of computers in geographic research. Jen
Hu Chang joined the faculty with a joint appointment as a climatologist with the Water Resources Research
1966 William Clarke, a human ecologist and Gunter Krumme, and economic geographer with interests in location
analysis, took up permanent appointments but only stayed for one year.
1967 Herold Wiens, after his retirement from Yale University, came to the department. For two years he was also director
of the Asian Studies Program. On a leave of absence from UH, he had developed a scheme to have a joint
appointment with Northern Illinois University and the University of Hawai`i when he died in 1971. Donald Fryer, a
Southeast Asia specialist, joined the faculty with a joint appointment in Asian Studies. Sen Dou Chang, who had
taught as a visitor in 1966, was offered a permanent appointment as China specialist and teacher of cartography.
The doctoral program was formally established.
1968 Warwick Armstrong, was hired as medical geographer and soon also to take up a part time appointment with the
School of Public Health. Robert Erickson joined the faculty adding urban geography to strengths and reflecting and
increasing emphasis on quantitative methods. His systematic interests included locational analysis particularly
with respect to health care facilities.
1969 Murray Chapman, who had worked extensively on population mobility in the Solomon Islands, joined the faculty with
a joint appointment with the East West Center Population Institute. Brian Murton was hired to expand the
departments offering on South Asia but also with an interest in cultural and historical geography. Alan
Sommarstrom, with a focus conservation and resource management, was added to the faculty and subsequently
expanded basic undergraduate human geography course from economic geography to one of broader scope.
Paul Schwind joined the faculty with a joint appointment with the Planning and Public Policy Institute.
1970 Wilfred Bach expanded the climatology program with his particular interest in air pollution. Gary Fuller joined the
faculty and his work in fertility added yet another aspect to the population studies program. He also had a joint
appointment with the East West Center Population Institute. The position of administrative assistant was created in
the department that included teaching undergraduate classes and serving as undergraduate advisor. George
Immish, who had earned an MA from the department, was the first appointee to this post.
1971 Everett Wingert was appointed to expand the department’s cartography program and Larry Masterson whose
interests were in Asia, retailing behavior and locational analysis. The first doctoral degrees were granted to
Anthony Hughes (Summer) and Prem Prasad (Fall).
1972 Lyndon Wester was hired to expand program in biogeography.
1973 The first edition of the Atlas of Hawaii appeared. This project was directed by Warwick Armstrong although it
involved contributions from most of the department. The work was published by the University of Hawai`i Press and
was one of its best selling volumes for many years. A second edition appeared in 1983, also edited by Warwick
Armstrong. A third edition, significantly revised and in a new format, was produced in 1998 under the editorship of
James and Sonja Juvik, graduates of the Manoa Department and faculty at the University of Hawaii, Hilo.
1974 Manjit Reddick was appointed as administrative assistant. Most of the department moved to the new building
constructed for the social science departments. At different times the building was named the Social Science
Building, Porteus Hall and Saunders Hall. The cartography labs, some offices and a physical geography class
room were retained in the Physical Science Building. They were to be accommodated in a second stage of the new
building that was never constructed.
1975 Tim Chow joined the faculty with a joint appointment in Urban and Regional Planning. Bryce Decker, a graduate of
the University of Hawai`i, and who had been employed periodically from 1961 as a lecturer, began to teach
regularly in the department.
1977 Andrew White, a location analyst was hired in a joint appointment in Social Science and Linguistics Institute and
John Sorensen, a hazards specialist, was recruited. Reflecting more difficult economic times, these hires were
made into temporary positions that were never made permanent. Abraham Pi`ianai`a was appointed to plan a
Hawaiian Studies Program of which he became director to following year.
1978 Joe Morgan joined the faculty in a visiting position and maintained a continuous relationship with the department
beyond his retirement. For some of this time he occupied a joint appointment with the Environment and Policy
Institute of the East West Center.
1977 Patrick Naughton has hired as department administrative assistant.
1981 Nancy Lewis, with extensive field experience in the Pacific, joined the faculty to expand department offerings in
1982 Chung Tong Wu, who had been a visitor, joined the permanent staff with a joint appointment with Department of
Urban and Regional Planning. Eugene Shen was appointed administrative assistant.
1985 Matthew McGranaghan was recruited to expand the cartography and remote sensing program.
1986 Brian Murton, who had been serving as Acting Chair in the temporary absence of Roland Fuchs as Vice Rector of
United Nations University, became chair. Tom Giambelluca, who was a student of recently retired Jen Hu Chang,
was hired from his position as a researcher in Water Resources Research Center. Mark Ridgely, also with an
interest in water resources, was also recruited to establish a strong department focus in hydrology and water use
1987 Nancy Lewis was appointed Secretary General of the XVII Pacific Science Congress and, with small staff and
support group, began organizing the next congress out of a geography department office
1988 Jonathan Goss was recruited. His systematic interests were social theory but with field experience in Indonesia
and the Philippines.
1989 The Hawaii Geographic Alliance was founded with the support of National Geographic Society to promote
geographic education in schools. In initial grant for planning was awarded in 1987 and Bryce Decker and Thomas
Ohta were the first directors. The Alliance was provided permanent space in the Department and in 1992 Mary
Francis Higuchi took over the directorship. Workshops for school teachers were arranged, a resource center for
geographic education was created and the state Geography Bee was organized as an annual event.
1990 Mary McDonald was hired as a Japan specialist and Ross Sutherland joined the faculty as the first
geomorphologist in the department since Palmer.
1991 XVII Pacific Science Congress, with the theme “Towards a Pacific Century: The Challenge of Change” was held in
Honolulu under the directorship of Nancy Lewis.
1992 Deborah Woodcock, a paleoclimatologist, joined the department further expanding the program in physical
geography. Matthew McGranaghan became chair of the department
1995 Lyndon Wester became chair of the department.
1997 Krisnawati Suryanata was hired in a joint appointment in Urban and Regional Planning. Her focus is political
ecology and a regional interest in Indonesia.
1998 Murray Chapman became chair of the department
1999 The department hosted the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers at the Hilton Hawaiian
Village, Waikiki. Mark Ridgley served as chair of the Program Committee. A special volume Hawai`i: New
Geographies, edited by Deborah Woodcock and with articles by most faculty members, was published to provide
and introduction to the islands for visitors.
2001 Lyndon Wester agreed to a one year term as chair of the department.
2002 Mark Ridgley became chair of the department
2004 Brian Szuster was hired as an environmental geographer who investigates the impact of tourism in Hawai`i and
Southeast Asia. Stacy Jørgensen was hired to complement the department’s research on the biogeography of
Hawai`i and the Pacific.
2005 Hong Jiang was hired as a cultural and environmental geographer of China.
2006 Alison Rieser was recruited to the University of Hawaii as a Dai Ho Chun Distinguished Chair in Arts and Sciences
and she chose Geography as her home department. Ross Sutherland became the chair of the department.
2007 Qi Chen was hired to expand the department’s offerings in geographic information sciences and remote sensing.
2008 Reece Jones and David Beilman were hired. Reece Jones reintroduced political geography courses and his work
in South Asia strengthens the department’s regional expertise. David Beilman researches the global
environmental impacts of climate change.
The Department has been fortunate over the years to have welcomed many geographers as visitors who spent summers or semesters teaching classes for faculty on leave, conducting research and generally enriching the intellectual environment. These include: Murray Bathgate, Tim Bayliss-Smith, Harold Brookfield, Ross Cochrane, David Chiang, William Craig, Harm DeBlij, George Demko, Philip Gersmehl, Norton Ginsberg, Mahammad Hemmasi, Ron Hill, John Holmes, Graeme Hugo, James Gibson, Clyde Kohn, Dan Luten, Geoffrey Martin, Cotton Mather, Shannon McCune, Roger McLean, David Miller, Phil Muercke, Alec Murphy, Yi Fu Tuan, Marie Sanderson, Arthur Robinson, John Sherman, Henry Stewart, Bruce Thom, Andrew Turk, Eric Waddell, Jess Walker, Crosbie Walsh, Connie Weil, I-Shou Wong.
Thanks to the many people who have contributed information for this timeline, the majority of which was prepared to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Department in 2001. A key source was Fifty Years of Geography at Manoa: A Sketch edited by Brian Murton who researched the history of the department with a group of graduate students as class project in the course History of Geographic Thought.