The year 1895 marks the beginning of Geography at Heidelberg University. Since then lectures in physical and mathematical geography were held on a regular basis within the Faculty of Sciences (thus the 100-year-celebration in 1995). The first professorship for Geography was however not established until 1899, but then was filled with one of the most renowned and internationally most quoted German geographers of the 20th century, Alfred Hettner. (The Hettner Lecture, held from 1997 to 2006, was in his honour). His successor from 1928 to 1935 was Johannes Sölch. In 1906, the ‘extra-ordinary’ professorship was given the full (‘ordinary’) status of a chair. In 1928, the Institute of Geography was founded within the Faculty of Philosophy. In 1969, Geography became part of the Faculty of Earth Sciences, which in October 2002 was combined with the Faculty of Chemistry to form the Faculty of Chemistry and Earth Sciences.
As in most Geography institutes there was only one single chair up into the 1960s. During the post-war years the position was held on an interim basis, until in 1953 it was occupied again by Gottfried Pfeifer, then Werner Fricke in 1971 and Hans Gebhardt in 1996.
A second Chair for “Geography with a special focus on Physical Geography” was created in 1961. It was assigned to Hans Graul, who had been teaching as extra-ordinary professor in Heidelberg since 1957. His successor in 1975 was Dietrich Barsch, who had previously worked in Basel and Kiel. In 2001, Bernhard Eitel was appointed to the Chair of Physical Geography. His election to the position of Rector of Heidelberg University in 2007 has resulted in his duties being taken over by Olaf Bubenzer (previously in Cologne).
A third Chair for Economic and Social Geography was established in 1982. It was held by Peter Meusburger from Innsbruck until 2008 and is now occupied by Johannes Glückler (previously Eichstätt). In addition there is a Chair for Physical Geography, which until 2001 was held by Heinz Karrasch and from 2001 to 2004 by Rüdiger Glaser (previously Würzburg, now Freiburg). Between 2004 and 2008 it was temporarily filled by Martin Gude and Hans-Jörg Barth. In 2009, the chair was reoccupied by Lucas Menzel (previously Kassel).
Within the University Extension Program 2012, the Institute was granted a Chair of GIScience, which was assigned to Alexander Zipf at the end of 2009. The C3 professorships of Fritz Fezer (Physical Geography) and Werner Mikus (Economic Geography, 1979-2002) were discontinued on their retirement as were the C2 professorships of Helmut Völk (Physical Geography) and Ursula Ewald (Human Geography).
In 2011 a new joint professorship “Geography of North America” was established together with the Heidelberg Center for American Studies. This position was filled with Prof. Dr. Ulrike Gerhard. In the same year Dr. Bernhard Höfle got the new position of a junior professor for GIScience.
Until the 1970s the Institute of Geography of Heidelberg University was located in the “Hexenturm” in Heidelberg’s old city. Due to a shortage of space it was then moved to the campus “Im Neuenheimer Feld”. Since 1999 the Institute has been spread over two sites: Physical Geography remains at Im Neuenheimer (INF) 348 while Human Geography has moved to Berliner Straße 48. In December 2007, the Heidelberg Laboratory for Luminescence was reopened as a part of the Institute of Geography in the building INF 348.
Closely associated with the Institute is the Heidelberg Geographic Society, founded in 1985. It follows the tradition of the “Society of Students and Patrons of Geography at Heidelberg University” founded in 1948 and is now one of the largest geographic societies in Germany.
Further publications on the history of the Institute in general and also on the role of individual professors in colonialism and National Socialism:
- Ute Wardenga: Geographie, in: Wolfgang U. Eckart, Volker Sellin, Eike Wolgast (Hgg.): Die Universität Heidelberg im Nationalsozialismus, Heidelberg 2006, S. 1213-1244.
- Werner Fricke: Alfred Hettner – Forscher und Stubengelehrter. Reflexion über seine Rezeption anlässlich des Alfred-Hettner-Jubiläums, in: Bertil Mächtle, Peter Dippon, Marcus Nüsser, Alexander Siegmund (Hgg.): Auf den Spuren Alfred Hettners – Geographie in Heidelberg (= HGG-Journal 23), Heidelberg 2010, S. 5−21.
- Eitel Bernhard: Jubiläumsbeitrag: Zum 125. Jahrestag der Gründung des Geographischen Instituts der Universität Heidelberg 2020, in: Alexander Zipf, Anna Growe, Susanne Schmidt, Janina Schüßler (Hgg.): Klimawandel - Herausforderungen für die Menscheheit (= HGG-Journal 35), Heidelberg 2022, S. 9-22.
- Nils Jochum: Ein politischer Hochschullehrer zwischen Kaiserreich und Nationalsozialismus: der erste Heidelberger Geographie-Professor Alfred Hettner (1859-1941). 2023, S. 1-18. Preprint: https://www.academia.edu/102381738/Ein_politischer_Hochschullehrer_ zwischen_Kaiserreich_und_Nationalsozialismus_der_erste_Heidelberger_ Geographie_Professor_Alfred_Hettner_1859_1941_