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Overview of the Department of Geography at the University of Hong Kong

(Last Updated on January 16, 2020)

The history of Geography teaching in the University of Hong Kong (HKU) goes back to 1915, when a course in Commercial Geography was included in the University’s 1913-14 Calendar. At the time, Geography was taught by part-time tutors and lecturers from other Departments, notably Economics, English and History, in the Faculty of Arts. Mr F.M.H. Holman, who held the title of “Tutor in English and Lecturer in Economic Geography” since 1916, was among the first teachers who taught Geography courses at HKU. 

Figure 1 here shows the University of Hong Kong in the 1930s (Source: Xu, P., 2016. Pictorial memories of the Jesuits in Hong Kong 1926 to 2016. Hong Kong: CLIC Limited, p.24)

Figure 2 here shows a room in the Tang Chi Ngong Building was used for housing the Department of Geography (Source: Mellor, B., 1980. The University of Hong Kong: an informal history, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, p.47)

In 1931, Geography became independent of Economics, and the Department of Geography was formally established under the Faculty of Arts. It was housed in a room on the top floor of the Tang Chi Ngong Building with the provision of facilities for the display of materials including a selection of maps and equipment. Rev. Fr. D.J. Finn was recommended by the Senate as a part-time lecturer in Geography on 30 April 1931 and approved by the Council on 16 September 1931. Later, he became the first permanent lecturer in Geography. As a member of Irish Missionary, Fr Finn started his life in Hong Kong in February 1927 with a keen interest in archaeological studies on Lamma Island. He published 13 articles to initiate archaeological studies and research in Hong Kong. Although Archaeology was never included as a degree course, Geography students were encouraged to develop interests and expertise in it as well. The student society today is still called the Geographical, Geological and Archaeological Society. In 1940, Rev. Fr. G. Casey, was appointed as lecturer in Geography. However, the plan of expanding the teaching of Geography was suspended due to the Second World War. It was not until 1946 that Geography teaching resumed in the University. At that point, the Department started to replenish all equipment lost during the war.

Figure 3 here shows Rev. Fr. D.J. Finn (right) represented Hong Kong in numerous international archaeological conferences. (Source: Xu, P., 2016. Pictorial memories of the Jesuits in Hong Kong 1926 to 2016, Hong Kong: CLIC Limited, p.24)

Figure 4 here shows Archaeological Collection of Rev. Fr. D.J. Finn (Source: Ricci Hall, The University of Hong Kong. Ricci Hall, A Decade 1929-1939, Ricci Hall Archives Conservation and Acquisition Project, Ricci Hall, The University of Hong Kong)

Figure 5 here shows the Portraits of Fr. D.J. Finn and Fr. G. Casey (Source: University of Hong Kong. Ricci Hall, 1954. Ricci: souvenir record of the silver jubilee of Ricci Hall, Hong Kong University, 1929-1954, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University, p.60)

In 1954, the Department expanded to include Geology with its official title changed to the Department of Geography and Geology. Professor S.G. Davis was appointed as the inaugural Chair Professor in 1955 to guide the department’s teaching and research development. Given the interests of Professor Davis in geology, minerals and physical geography, the earliest research activities and outputs from the Department in the 1950s reflected these concerns. In the 1950s and early 1960s, the post-war baby boom and the influx of population from China led to a period of rapid transformation and growth in Hong Kong. In response to the emerging demand for Geography teachers, the curriculum further expanded with a balanced emphasis on Physical and Human Geography. In 1967, Professor D.J. Dwyer was appointed as the new Head of Department. Greater emphasis on Human or Social and Urban Geography was necessitated to investigate urban problems due to population pressures. The Department therefore helped train future government officials in planning, housing and resettlement, endowing them with the knowledge of human-environment relationships. New staff with expertise in the rapidly emerging field of Urban Geography were appointed to develop new courses and pursue research on the problems of urbanization. In 1977, Professor C.J. Grant became the Head of Department. Through a very lengthy effort, the Department also successfully built up a Map Library, which is today one of the best equipped in the region. It possesses a sizable collection of maps, with particular emphasis on Hong Kong and East and Southeast Asia, and air photos to support ongoing research and teaching.

Figure 6 here shows the photo of Spring Dinner with Professor S.G. Davis (Source: Department of Geography, The University of Hong Kong)

Figure 7 here shows the old Senate Room in Main Building served as the Map Library in the 1960s. (Source: Mellor, B., 1980. The University of Hong Kong: An Informal History, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, p.181)

Figure 8 here shows the photos of field excursion to Geohe, Guangdong in 1981 (Source: Department of Geography, The University of Hong Kong)

With the Department growing rapidly in both staff and students, in December 1981, the Department moved to the Hui Oi Chow Science Building to accommodate the variety of laboratory and other facilities needed in modern Geography. Mr. Stephen Hui, a well-known consulting geologist and mining engineer, has since supported the Department with many collections of mineral and rock specimens, as well as financial support to aid the construction of the building.

Figure 9 here shows a group photo outside the Hui Oi-Chow Science Building in 1983 (Source: photo from C. K. Kwan, Alumni of Department of Geography, The University of Hong Kong)

Figure 10 here shows the opening of the department office in the Hui Oi-Chow Science Building in 1981 (Source: Department of Geography, The University of Hong Kong)

Figure 11.1 and 11.2 here show the Geology Laboratory, later renamed Geomorphology and Hydrology Laboratory (left) and the Soils and Biogeography Laboratory (right) in Hui Oi-Chow Science Building (Source: University Archives, The University of Hong Kong. Ceremonials & Conferences, file no. 4/2/3/12, Opening of the Hui Oi Chow Science Building, ‘Booklet of Opening Ceremony, Hui Oi-Chow Science Building’, dated 10 December 1981)

In 1988, Professor C.K. Leung became the first Head of Department of Chinese ethnicity. Under the leadership of Professor Leung, Professor Victor S.F. Sit and Professor C.Y. Jim, the Department made another leap forward in providing postgraduate teaching since the 1990s. In 1992, the Master of Arts in Transport Studies was launched. In 1997, it was replaced by the Master of Arts in Transport Policy & Planning. This programme has since become the leader in its field in Asia, providing professionals in the transport sector with multi-disciplinary knowledge and practical skills. In addition, in response to the rapid and dynamic development of China, the Master of Arts in China Area Studies (later renamed Master of Arts in China Development Studies) was established in 2002. Through this programme, students gain a comprehensive understanding of contemporary China issues and are trained to engage in China-related development.

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Prof. C.K. Leung

1988-1993

Prof. G.C.S. Lin

2006-2008

Prof. S.G. Davis

1954-1967

Prof. F.S. Sit

1994-1997

Dr. J.J. Wang

2011-2013

Prof. D.J. Dwyer

1967-1974

Prof. C.Y. Jim

1998-2002

Prof. D. Zhang

2014-2017

Prof. C.J. Grant

1977-1988

Dr. M.R. Peart

2003-2005, 2009-2010

Prof. B.P.Y. Loo

2017-present

Former & Currents
Heads of Department, Department of
Geography

In 2000, the Department of Geography and Geology was renamed the Department of Geography again after the establishment of the Department of Earth Science. As the Faculty of Arts was undergoing restructuring, it was also named the School of Geography briefly. Since the 21st Century, the Department has further reformed its curriculum and research approaches to meet emerging demands. Under the leadership of Dr Mervyn Peart, Professor George C.S. Lin and Dr James J. Wang, more focus has been placed on cultivating further expertise in recreation and leisure studies, the development of China and Pacific region, and urban and transport studies. In 2007, the Department joined the Faculty of Social Sciences to further strengthen academic synergy and collaborations with the other disciplines in the Social Sciences. In 2012, the Department moved to the Jockey Club Tower in Centennial Campus, with more teaching space and facilities to meet the expanded teaching and learning demands from the new four-year undergraduate programmes. Professor D. Zhang became the Head of Department in 2014. Upon his retirement, Professor Becky P.Y. Loo succeeded him to lead the Department since 2017. Under her leadership, the Department celebrated its 88th Anniversary in 2019, and has further consolidated and formulated a solid research strategy to reflect new developments of the academic discipline, the evolving needs of the local society, and the most pressing challenges for humanity. Colleagues in the Department are ready to continue the excellent tradition of Geography@HKU and to further advance the academic discipline as one that sees human beings and the environment as inseparable.

Figure 12 here shows the opening of department office in the Jockey Club Tower in September 2012 (Source: Department of Geography, The University of Hong Kong)

Thus far, the Department has already conferred over 3,500 bachelor degree graduates in Geography, over 230 higher research degree awards for PhD, MA (Research) and MPhil, and over 900 graduates in different taught postgraduate programmes. Many of these graduates have now become distinguished academics in their specialities, occupying prominent positions both locally and overseas. Other than the Map Library, specialist laboratories in aspects of physical geography, photogrammetry, GIS, cities and mobility have been established at different time to support the specialist developments in the discipline. Currently, the Department is supported by the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Laboratory, the Geomorphology & Hydrology Laboratory, Soils & Biogeography Laboratory, and the Urban & Transport Laboratory. Any interested prospective student or visitor who would like to visit and/or support the Department may contact geog@hku.hk.

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