History of Geography in Aachen


Geography is one of the oldest disciplines represented at RWTH Aachen University (since 1870).

From 1907 onwards, the RWTH Aachen had a professorship in geography filled by Prof. Dr. Max Eckert-Greifendorff and from 1932-1936 a chair for "Economic Geography and Cartography" in the "Faculty of General Sciences" under his direction. Prof. Eckert-Greifendorff's extensive life's work includes works on general geography, especially on geomorphology and economic geography, on the one hand, and important contributions to cartography on the other (cf. Meine 1998: 77ff). Unfortunately, Max Eckert-Greiffendorff (died 1938) lacked the necessary distance from the National Socialist regime in the last years of his life (Krebs und Tschacher 2005: 94). His successors actively positioned themselves in research and teaching as representatives of a "folkish-racial geography at the Technical University" (Krebs und Tschacher 2005:94) until the teaching of geography ceased in 1942 - as was the case at many other university locations in Germany (Brogiato 2005:41ff, Fahlbusch et al. 1989, Wardenga, 1996:233ff) (cf. also Kalkmann 2003:298 ff). The Institute of Geography is aware of the inglorious proximity of its founder to National Socialism in the last years of his life and the resulting responsibility for research and teaching in the present day.

In 1954, the Department of Geography was re-founded. 1963 the professorship of "Geography" was held by Prof. Dr. Felix Monheim. At that time, the Department of Geography had one lecturer, one assistant and 45 students.

In 1965 the "Faculty of General Sciences" was divided into the "Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences" and The "Faculty of Philosophy". Geography was integrated into the "Faculty of Philosophy".

In the years up to 1974, the Institute of Geography underwent a steady expansion, from 2 lecturers, 3 scientific staff and 300 students in 1968 to 7 lecturers, 13 scientific staff and 1.200 students in 1974. In the course of specialisation policy at the universities of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, there was no new allocation of lecturers of geography at the RWTH Aachen University from 1982 onwards. At the same time, the number of lecturers was reduced to 4 and the number of research staff to 12 by 1999.

In the academic year 2002, the Department of Geography employed 6 professors and 15 research assistants. The Institute's range of courses was supplemented by 3 professors and numerous assistant lecturers. In 2002 many students chose a combination of the subjects geography and economic geography, this means that about 1.100 students studied at the Department of Geography.

On 1 October 2002, the Department of Geography moved from the Faculty of Philosophy (FB 7) to the Faculty of Mining, Metallurgy and Geosciences, which in turn was renamed the Faculty of Georesources and Materials Engineering (FB 5) shortly afterwards. In FB 5, the Department of Geography belongs to the Division of Earth Sciences and Geography, which was renamed in 2005 from the Department of Earth Sciences. All courses of study offered remained unaffected by this change. A professorship for Cultural Geography was also re-established as part of the change of faculty.

Following the "Bologna resolutions", the German degree system was modularised in order to continue them as Bachelor and Master Programmes in the future. In the winter semester 2005/06, the Bachelor's degree programmes (B.Sc.) "Applied Geography" in FB5 and the Bachelor's subject "Geography" (BA) in FB7 began. The Master's programmes "Applied Geography" and "Economic Geography" (both in FB5 as M.Sc.) started in the winter semester 2008/09. Since the winter semester 2005/2006, the study of Geography at the RWTH has been subject to an admission restriction for first-year students due to the high demand.

In the 2006/2007 winter semester, 742 students were enrolled in the 2 expiring degree programmes and around 200 students in the first two years of the new Bachelor's programmes. In the summer semester of 2021, 542 students are enrolled in the Bachelor's and the two Master's programmes.

In the years 2001 to 2007, the allocation of the chairs "Physical Geography and Geoecology", "Economic Geography", "Physical Geography and Climatology" and Cultural Geography were completed.

In the middle of 2019, the "Physical Geography and Climatology" was newly assigned, as the previous C3 professor had changed to another university.

For the summer semester 2023, a new junior professorship on "Digital Methods in Human Geography" was established within the framework of the Federal-Länder Program for the Promotion of Young Scientists. This professorship is intended to succeed the previous W2 professorship "Cultural Geography" in terms of content and personnel on a tenure-track basis.


Brogiato, H. (2005): Geschichte der deutschen Geographie im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert. Ein Abriss. In: Schenk, W. und K. Schliephake (Hrsg.): Allgemeine Anthropogeographie. Klett-Perthes, Gotha, 41-82.

Fahlbusch, M., M. Rössler und D. Siegrist (1989): Geographie und Nationalsozialismus, 3 Fallstudien zur Institution Geographie im Deutschen Reich und der Schweiz. Urbs et regio 51, Verlag Gesamthochschule, Kassel, 469 S.

Krebs, S. und W. Tschacher (2005): Der schwierige Umgang mit dem Erbe der NS-Vergangenheit – Ein Forschungsprojekt zur Hochschulgeschichte der RWTH. In: RWTH Themen, Heft 2/2005, S. 94-95.

Kalkmann, U. (2003): Die Technische Hochschule Aachen im Dritten Reich (1933 – 1945). Aachener Studien zu Technik und Gesellschaft, Band 4, Verlag Mainz, 602 S.

Meine, K.-H. (1968): Zum 100. Geburtstag von Max Eckert. Kartographische Nachrichten, Band 18, Heft 3, S. 77-80.

Wardenga, U. (1996): Geographie im Dritten Reich, Ergebnisse der jüngeren Forschung. Marburger Geographische Gesellschaft e.V. - Jahrbuch 1995, Marburg, 233-239.