Our Heritage, Our Future
Read about our 90 years of Geography at Newcastle
Geography is the world discipline; it connects the international with the local, the natural with the human. It appeals to those who want to make a difference and who want to engage, explore and understand the world.
These ambitions have been nurtured by geographers at Newcastle University since its formation in 1928-29. Our heritage is one that staff and students can look back on today with pride and as a source of inspiration. During 2018-2019 we are undertaking a series of activities, events and projects to serve as a small act of recognition and tribute.
Our OriginsOur Origins
The Geography department formed out of a deep-rooted interest in geographical research and teaching in the North East of England. Between the late 1800s and early 1900s, Tyneside became home to one of the United Kingdom’s leading geographical societies, with over 1,300 members and annual lectures from luminaries such as Winston Churchill, Gertrude Bell, Sir Harold Mackinder and Captain R.F Scott. The early momentum of the Tyneside Geographical Society (TGS) emerged from a series of prominent industrialists and trade interests seeking a wider world view of commercial markets and business opportunities in the face of heightened international competition. By the 1890s, the TGS had grown into one of North East’s leading scientific institutions, leading to the acquisition of the impressive Lovaine Hall, to accommodate its expanding library, map rooms and lecture series.
The TGS then became involved the formation of a regional branch of the Geographical Association (GA) focused on promoting the teaching of geography within schools. By the 1920s, such was the popularity and reputation of geography teaching across schools in the North East, that negotiations began between local branches of the Geographical Association, the TGS and the University to develop a Geography department within Armstrong College.
In 1928, J.M.Holmes became the first Geography lecturer before leaving for a Professorship in Australia the following year. In 1929, the University subsequently recruited G.H.J. Daysh from University College London to run the newly formed department. However, until Henry Daysh was able to take up the post in 1930, the responsibility of developing and delivering the new programmes fell single-handily to Margaret Tyrell, a newly appointed part-time research assistant from Glasgow University. The relatively modest resources available to the fledging department was characterised still further by its initial home in one of a series of Army Huts left over from the University’s WW1 conversion into a military hospital. Nevertheless, the youthful nature of the department, and its staff, proved very popular and student numbers tripled in the first 3 years. In terms of staff and resources, two new lecturers were appointed in 1932 and Daysh was elevated to a Readership in 1937, before the department moved to a new home in the Fine Art Building just prior to WWII. During WWII, Geography staff contributed in a variety of ways to the war effort. Amongst others, Henry Daysh became Senior Planning Officer for the Ministry for Town and Country Planning; Ronnie Peel, the first physical geographer at Newcastle, undertook topographical work for the British Army.
In the early post-war period, the department quickly regained its momentum and was buoyed by the popularity of its taught programmes, in particular for ex-service personnel. This period of growth became characterised by a range of new appointments to not just support teaching but to widen and deepen research capacity. In terms of space, the immediate post-war expansion was accommodated by moving the department to 1 and 2 Sydenham Terrace, before eventually moving to the purpose built Daysh Building in 1967.
View the full Daysh Building Chaos 1967 Article
Our ResearchOur Research
We can trace a long thread from our foundation, when the annual departmental budget was £50, down to today, of a commitment to applied and ‘real world’ research. Before the early 1970s the focus in human geography was on regional studies, often making use of the Department’s Map Library and its professional cartographers. In physical geography, climatology and polar research were to the fore.
By 1968, the University described our research interests as “diverse, with strong emphasis on applied geography”, referring particularly to:
- The Northern Region and the European Economic Community
- Physical Geography, notably glaciology and heat and water balance studies
- Economic, urban and historical geography
- 2 major research programmes: Migration and Mobility in Northern England; Accessibility to Work in Northern England
From the early 1970s onwards considerable efforts were made to develop and broaden the research profile of the Department. At the same time the international reach of our work grew; with researchers pursuing area based and comparative field-studies of, for example, the changing climate and changing economic and social conditions, all over the world.
Geography soon became home to some of the world's top-cited geographers; a transition that brought with it new intellectual horizons. The ‘quantitative revolution’ hit the Department in the early 1970s, with a new orientation towards socio-spatial statistical modelling. This new tradition was sometimes complimented but also sometimes challenged by other directions, including an expanding concern for political and development geography. 1977 saw the foundation of the Department’s Centre of Urban and Regional Studies; a globally recognised hub for researchers interested in the dilemmas of economic development and governance which celebrated its 40th Anniversary in 2017.
From the early 1980’s, the department began to build a leading research profile in the application of advanced spatial analytical techniques to a range of social and economic phenomena including crime, health, housing and labour markets. Increasingly, these applications were supported by the use of geographical information systems (GIS) and attracted research funding from a range of UK government departments, the European Commission and the ESRC. In parallel, physical geography also strengthened its research profile, including the appointment of Malcolm Newson as the inaugural Chair of Physical Geography.
By the mid-1990s, the department grew to accommodate over 40 research active members of staff (including CURDS) with interests focused around the following research groupings:
- Environmental Change in Rivers and Wetlands
- European Urban and Regional Development Studies (incl. CURDS)
- International Studies and Development
- International Cultural Geography
- Spatial Analysis
Our research has since expanded both in scope and depth over more recent decades. Today our work in physical geography has been organised round three major themes: Water; Cold Regions; and Past Environments. In human geography we have three research clusters: Economic Geographies; Power, Space, Politics; and Geographies of Social Change.
As part of which, our staff have always sought to cultivate international perspectives to our geographical research and knowledge. Without even scratching the surface, this ranges from Ronnie Peel’s work on the Royal Geographical Society survey in the Libyan desert in 1938 to Nina Laurie’s pioneering work in Peru on development in the 1990s and 2000s, and from Janet Momsen’s work on Gender and labour in the Caribbean in the 1980s to Neil Ross’ recent airborne geophysical surveying of the West Antarctic ice sheet.
Our research is not led by league-tables or rankings but from a passion for the pursuit and communication of geographical knowledge. It is, nevertheless, worth pausing to look at how far we have come. The 2014 Research Excellence Framework rated 80% of Newcastle's geography research output graded as 4* or 3* ('world-leading' or 'internationally excellent'), making us 4th nationally overall for output quality. As a result, Geography at Newcastle has grown to be in in the top 60 of the world’s major institutions of geographical research by the QS World University Rankings.
Our TeachingOur Teaching
At the heart of our story are our students. In 1928 Armstrong College had a roll call of no more than 600 students. By the 1960s there were still only about 60 single honours geography students. Regional study was at the heart of their curriculum. The geography degree culminated in ‘regional dissertations’, long essay-based portraits of a defined locale which often integrated environmental and social knowledge. Students were also instructed in cartographical skills and surveying.
Some of the teaching from these early years may seem a little eccentric today. For many years the Third Years were required to pass a course titled ‘Special Region’, which would focus on a specific part of the world. Henry Daysh would announce what the year’s special region was at the start of each academic year, immediately followed by something of a rush to the library by both staff and students.
A decisive shift towards more a broader and more academically au courant curriculum began in the early 1970s. We began to offer teaching that was informed and led by research expertise, a tradition that remains central to our provision today. New courses in quantitative, economic, political and development geography, as well as in environmental and climate change, began to be offered; courses that sought to integrate our undergraduate programmes and our research ambitions. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s our courses have grown both in terms of the range of modules offered and in terms of the number of students we teach, which now exceeds the size of the then Armstrong College in our founding year.
Our current undergraduate programme offers opportunities across the following degrees: Geography BA Honours (L701); Geography BSc Honours (F800); Physical Geography BSc Honours (FH82) and Geography within joint and combined programmes: Geography and Planning BA Honours (LK74); Combined Honours BA Honours (Y001)
Equally significant has been the development of Geography at Newcastle as a centre for postgraduate teaching and research. Our vibrant research environment attracts people from very diverse backgrounds, ensuring you are part of an international community of researchers. We have a community of over 50 PhD, MPhil and MA students. We offer three MA programmes which can be studied full-time (one year) or part-time (two years). Our MA programmes offer students an excellent choice of modules and provide research-led teaching of the highest quality. We have been running successful postgraduate programmes for many years and have a very strong track record of research council collaborative funding through the NINE DTP, the Northern Bridge DTP and the IAPETUS partnership.
Test yourself with a 1972 Exam Paper
Our ImpactOur Impact
A founding principle of the department has been to build a bridge between high quality academic work and the major environmental and societal challenges of the day. As part of the department’s formation, Henry Daysh applied his regional geography approach to the economic and industrial challenges facing the North East in the wake of the Great Depression in the 1930s. In perceiving the role of geographical studies as a means of focusing attention upon regional, and ultimately national, problems, Daysh actively engaged in the formation of new policy institutions, such as the North East Development Board (1934), and initiatives, such as the development of first ever government funded factory-building scheme at the Team Valley Trading Estate (1938).
Building on these traditions, Geography at Newcastle has developed an internationally renowned reputation for the impact of its research beyond academia. In the recent 2014 Research Excellence Framework, Geography at Newcastle was equal third best the of 57 UK Geography units of assessments for the wider impact of our research. More broadly, Geography at Newcastle has also drawn upon its strong record of impactful research by pioneering the conceptualisation and guidelines to embrace universities as key players in their local social, environmental and cultural realms. Led by CURDS, our concepts, guidelines and measures to better harness the interactions between universities and local, national and international contexts, have been adopted by the OECD, UNESCO-Global University Network for Innovation, EU and UK Government.
Sir Henry Daysh: our Inaugural ProfessorSir Henry Daysh: our Inaugural Professor
Henry Daysh was appointed to Geography at Newcastle in 1929. Daysh claimed to have been attracted by the collective efforts of Armstrong College to redevelop in the aftermath WWI and the unfolding Great Depression. Daysh followed the principles of both Regional and Applied Geography which helped mould the department’s tradition for impactful research. Having led the fledging department during the initial ‘Army Hut’ days, Daysh remained Head of Department for 36 years until his retirement in 1966. He became Reader of Geography in 1937 and our inaugural Professor in 1943. Daysh’s ability and influence in terms of management and administration was further apparent with his appointment to Senior Research Officer in the Ministry of Town and Country Planning during WWII. In so doing, Daysh’s appointment gave official recognition to the role of a geographer in the field of regional planning and his influence on the great Planning Acts of 1943 and 1944.
Following WWII, Daysh led the expansion and development of the Geography department, and latterly the University itself. Daysh would have the distinction of being Pro-Vice Chancellor (1963-65), and the first Deputy Vice Chancellor (1965-66), during the transition to the University of Newcastle from Kings College under the former federal Durham University structure. During this time Daysh also acted as the Chairman of the University Site Development Committee, successfully negotiating with Newcastle’s City Council and Freeman for the expansion into the modern day campus and surrounding areas. However, despite Daysh being a driving force of campus modernisation in the 1960s, when looking at the new Geography building (Daysh Building) nearing completion he remarked to his colleague Sir Saddler Foster, ‘ That is to be my Department’s new home and I shall never work in it’.
Read the full 1954 Kings Courier Henry Daysh Article
Inspirational WomenInspirational Women
Student research sponsored by a University Research Scholarship explored the rich archives of the Tyneside Geographical Society (established in 1887). A souvenir publication was produced that was launched at the Tyneside Geographical annual lecture on 26th April 2018. Unlike previous histories of this foremost regional scientific and educational institution, this publication reveals the hidden figures of 'inspirational women' whose stories have previously been overshadowed.
Tyneside Geographical Society LecturesTyneside Geographical Society Lectures
This newly restored book dates back to 1887. The signatures recorded in this digitised 'turning page' rendition of the original offers a partial account of the meetings, lectures and widespread influence of the Tyneside Geographical Society (TGS) (1887 – 1944) and the University-led TGS annual lecture which remains the only surviving feature of what was once one of the region’s foremost scientific and educational institution. The annual Tyneside Geographical lectures continue to this day and invited speakers are asked to sign this same book. The turning pages stop at 1954, but more information on the Tyneside Geographical Society and origins of Geography at Newcastle can be gathered from the 'Inspirational Women' project and publication.
View the Tyneside Geographical Society Lectures Visitor book via this link
The Geography SocietyThe Geography Society
The Geography Society represents a tradition of Geography at Newcastle, acting as focal point around which a true geography community coheres. By 1968, the Geography Society was publishing its own Geog Along Magazine, and pursuing an active programme of social, sporting and community related events (including running a Christmas party for a local school in Elswick).
In its 90th Anniversary year, our Geography Society continues to thrive, with its 400 strong membership benefiting from an array of social events (even overseas!) and academic related activities. In 2018, the Geography Society hosted a public lecture by alumnus Professor Danny Dorling, Oxford University, titled ‘'The Global Race: Peace, Justice and Understanding'’
The Dissertation TraditionThe Dissertation Tradition
Since the department’s formation, the Dissertation represents a rites of passage for all Geographers at Newcastle. Whilst the challenges and rewards of producing this defining piece of independent research endure, the topics, methods and approaches have certainly changed.
A very early example of a dissertation is that of Connie Ayre who graduated in in 1935 (BSc Geography DThPT 1936) having completed ‘A Dissertation on Upper Weardale (with special reference to development during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries)’. Our records also show a very favourable reference from Henry Daysh in support of Connie’s application for teaching, which was to be her chosen profession on graduating from the College.
Up until the late 1960’s, students continued to produce ‘regional dissertations’, long essay-based portraits of a defined locale which often integrated environmental, social, economic and political knowledge. In terms of methods, students were also instructed in cartographical skills and surveying.
In recent decades, of course, our commitment to research-led teaching has broadened and deepened the array of dissertation topics. Moreover, for some students the dissertation connects to a long tradition of expedition-based research. As a result, today’s dissertation topics vary from “Changes in glacial lakes in the Bhutan – China border region of the Himalayas between 2010 and 2016” to “Corporate Social… who’s responsibility?: The influencers and managers in creating an ethical fashion production network”. Indeed, Alicia Souter’s dissertation in 2017 on the “Problematic Nature of Drunkenness and Excessive Alcohol Consumption for the City of Newcastle” achieved national recognition with the best dissertation award from the RGS-IBG Geographies of Health and Wellbeing Research Group.
Polar Research TraditionPolar Research Tradition
Physical Geography at Newcastle University has a long tradition of polar scientific exploration and research. Dr Hal Lister, a former Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography, exemplified this tradition, being one of the first people to overwinter on both the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets as a scientist employed to make glaciological measurements on the British North Greenland (1952-1954) and Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expeditions (1955-58). Hal was also a strong advocate of undergraduate experience of fieldwork through expeditions, supporting undergraduate expeditions to locations including Arctic Norway and Iceland.
Many current members of physical geography staff have undertaken polar fieldwork research in the Arctic (Rachel Carr, Andy Russell, Emma Pearson, Steve Juggins, Neil Ross, Andy Henderson, Maarten van Hardenbroek) and the Antarctic (Neil Ross, Stuart Dunning, Rachel Carr, Emma Pearson), whilst in recent years there have been numerous undergraduate expeditions, including those continuing the longstanding polar theme (e.g. to Greenland and Svalbard). Polar research underpins our research-led undergraduate teaching, with honours-level modules in both Glacial Environments and Polar Environments.