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History of the Discipline

The books and articles listed below examine the historical evolution of the academic discipline, key ideas and schools of thought, developments in methodology, leading figures, the history of geographical societies including the AAG, and prospects for the future. These are all useful resources for those interested in the philosophy, history and practice of geography, as well as its future prospects.

American Geographers and Geography: Toward Geographic Science
By Geoffrey J. Martin (2015), Oxford University Press
The most authoritative study to date on the origin and formation of American geography by its leading historian. This is an invaluable resource to understand the development of the discipline and the people who originated, promoted, and defended geographical ideas.

Leadership in American Academic Geography: The Twentieth Century
By Michael Devivo (2014), Lexington Books
Examines the practice of leadership in the most influential geography departments in the United States, from inspirational department chairs who shaped the content and nature of the discipline to autocratic or mediocre leaders who contributed to periods of austerity in the discipline.

Civic Discipline: Geography in America, 1860-1890
By Karen M Morin (2011), Ashgate
Tells the story of the American Geographical Society in the late nineteenth-century under the 35-year leadership of its president, Charles Daly. Explores how geographical knowledge and practices took shape as a civic enterprise.

Geography’s Place in Higher Education in the United States 
By Alexander B. Murphy (2007), Journal of Geography in Higher Education, Vol. 31, Issue 1
Documents the strengthening of geography’s institutional position in U.S. colleges and universities over the preceding fifteen years and reflects on the reasons behind the discipline’s growth.

Presidential musings from the meridian: Reflections on the nature of geography by past presidents of the Association of American Geographers
Edited by M. Duane Nellis, Janice Monk and Susan L. Cutter (2005), West Virginia University Press
A compilation of presidential columns originally published in the Association of American Geographers Newsletter, arranged by theme. Reveals the changes and consistencies in geography over the previous four decades and offer an insight into the past of the geography discipline and a broader perspective on the future.

Geography in America at the Dawn of the 21st Century
Edited by Gary L. Gaile and Cort J. Willmott (2003), Oxford University Press
A survey of American geographers’ research since 1990 in 47 subfields of geography from climate and cities to GIS and Latin America. It is both a comprehensive reference and a ‘state of the discipline’ report tracking trends and innovations in different specialty areas.

Geography: Discipline, Profession and Subject since 1870: An International Survey 
Edited by Gary S. Dunbar (2001), Kluwer Academic Publishers
This book is a comprehensive treatment of the professionalization and institutionalization of the academic discipline of geography in Europe and North America, with emphasis on the last quarter of the 19th century and the 20th century.

A Biographical Dictionary of American Geography in the Twentieth Century
By Gary S. Dunbar (1996), Louisiana State University, 2nd edition
A quick reference resource with over 680 brief biographical entries for geographers and non-geographers who were intimately connected to the discipline.

Geography Since the Second World War: An International Survey
By Ronald J. Johnston and Paul Claval (1984), Roman and Littlefield
Considers the major philosophical and methodological trends within each ‘school’, the balance between the various subdisciplines, the role of leading individuals, influences upon the development of the subject, and its impact in education and elsewhere.

The Association of American Geographers: The first seventy-five years, 1904– 1979
By Preston Everett James and Geoffrey J. Martin (1978), Association of American Geographers
The official history of the Association of American Geographers, published on its seventy-fifth anniversary. It considers how the creation of the AAG shaped the establishment of the academic discipline in America, the development and growth of the organization over the decades, key events and leading people.

American Geography, Inventory and Prospect
By Preston Everett James and Clarence Fielden Jones (1954), Syracuse University Press
A status report on geography as a field of study published on the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Association of American Geographers. It considered concepts used in professional geographic work and the procedures or methods that had been found useful in geographic research.

The Progress of Geography in the United States
By William Morris Davis (1924), Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 14 Issue 4: 159-215
An address delivered at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in December 1923 which provided an overview of the birth of academic geography in America, the key people who shaped it, developments in different subdisciplines, and the growth of academic departments.

Over the years, many of the AAG presidents have reflected on the state and prospect of geography in their annual address. See the list from 1904 to 2004.

The AAG's History of Geography Specialty Group is a forum for people interested in the history of the discipline and its subfields. Find out more

Search Data and Resources by Theme

Each thematic section features different datasets and analytical reports, as well as links to external sources of data and research.