The recent announcement that a conference on political geography would serve as a major highlight in the 1957 Summer School Session indicates once again that the study of geography is of central concern to a liberal education in helping to understand mans relationship to the world community.
The value of geography was recognized about the turn of this century, although the subject has been a part of serious higher education since classical times. From Harvard, it spread rapidly over the country. At present, many major universities including Yale, Chicago, and California are expanding their departments. Geography at Harvard reached its peak of eight faculty members in 1928, and continued at this level until 1948. In 1948, the University, in effect, abandoned the teaching of geography. The reason given was: "Harvard cannot hope to have strong departments in everything."
This action was extremely unfortunate, and narrow-sighted, for even if Harvard cannot afford to maintain a strong geography department, comprehensive courses should be offered in the field. As a graduate committee organized in 1948 pointed out, geographic training and advice is needed in nine other fields, including history, economics, and anthropology. The committee thought geography "the first essential basis of any area study," and many at Harvard are engaged in regional studies.
Geography is, however, not only of value because of its usefulness in other fields. It is of value and interest by itself, as its use as a drawing-card by the Summer Session points out. Last week Time Magazine reported that the most popular and highly regarded general education course for graduate students at Stanford was "Geography and Contemporary World Problems."
A Modest Proposal
The viewpoint of geography is an indispensable tool in the solution of problems of international relations. The United States, especially during wartime, desperately needs geographers. A good many of these take their undergraduate training in another field while becoming acquainted with geography, then specialize in graduate school. But due to the severely subdued position of geography here, the average Harvard undergraduate is unaware of the existence of the subject as a serious academic concern. If geography's position is not improved, few, if any graduates from the College will enter this vital field.
To ease the need for geographers, to facilitate study in other fields, and to improve training in a subject intriguing in itself, the University should reconsider the report of the 1950 faculty committee. Although initially dubious of geography's value, after a year's examination the committee concluded that a four-chair department be established.
The University should plan to apportionate a part of the $5,000,000 sought in the fund drive to the establishment of a four chair geography department, as recommended by the committee. The Geographic Institute and its excellent map collection provide an admirable base upon which Harvard can rebuild its geography department. The reestablishment of geography at Harvard will be of great value to the University as a whole and will end the somewhat ridiculous position that it now occupies, that of being the only major American or European university not having a geography department.