Human geography is the field of the discipline of Geography that is principally concerned with the spatial organization and differentiation of human activity, and its interrelationships with the "environment", broadly defined.
Human geography has a long history at UW-Madison. The first human geography course ("Economic Geography") was offered on the Madison campus in 1896, in what was then known as the School of Economics, Political Science & History. Following the formal establishment of the Department of Geography in 1928, human geography at UW-Madison would emerge as a key intellectual force in the development of the discipline in the United States, and in the Global North more generally.
From the mid-1930s onward contributions in historical geography, political geography, the history of geographical thought, area studies, quantitative theoretical economic geography, humanistic geography, and urban geography shaped the course of ideas in the discipline. Throughout this period a considerable breadth of interests was evident in the department, as was an interest in building bridges between human geography and physical geography. In this context the human geographers collaborated to establish the People-Environment stream in the department during the 1970s, forming a range of productive alliances at the border-zones of what we now more popularly call "nature and society" studies.
In the contemporary era, established interests in urban-historical geography (Ostergren), urban-economic geography (Cadwallader), geographic theory and philosophy of geography (Woodward) have deepened and been augmented by new emphases in areas like political geography (Kaiser), social geography, urban-economic geography (Olds), and political-economic geography (Peck). Bridges between human geographers and people-environment geographers in the department are also evident, especially with respect to graduate student advising. "Area studies" expertise in Western Europe (Ostergren), Middle East, Africa (Wong), Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union (Kaiser), Southeast Asia (Olds), and Canada (Olds) are also evident in the human geography faculty. We are currently attempting to chart out future directions, aware of the long history of human geography at UW-Madison, though cognizant that we are operating in qualitatively different local, national, and global contexts (in substantive and intellectual senses) at the start of the 21st century.
Ian Baird, apart from having interests linked with People-Environment (see above) is also engaged in research related to identities, including indigenous ones; upland peoples in mainland Southeast Asia; Hmong Studies; Lao Studies; development studies; post-colonial studies; qualitative methods; social theory; boundaries; social and spatial (re)organization; social movements; Theravada Buddhism; and 19th and 20th century history in mainland Southeast Asia.
Martin Cadwallader is currently the Dean of the Graduate School and Vice Chancellor for Research. His teaching interests are in the areas of urban geography and quantitative methods. He has published three books on urban geography and migration, and his current research involves using structural equation models to explain interregional migration flows.
Robert Kaiser specializes in political geography, ethnic geography, population geography, and Eurasian area studies. He is also the director of the Center for Russia, East Europe and Central Asia at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is particularly interested in the geography of nationalism, and is currently researching the ethno-politics of scale and the rescaling of place and identity in the former Soviet Union.
Sarah Moore research is in urban geography, postcolonial studies and development, and space and social theory (including Marxian, post-structural and psychoanalytic approaches). She has pursued these interests through projects on the politics of waste in Oaxaca, Mexico and the history of urban gardening in the United States.
Kris Olds is an urban-economic geographer and urban planner. His research primarily focuses on the geographical organization of power in relation to contemporary urban transformations. The geographic context for his research is the broad Asia-Pacific/Pacific Rim region, and the interdependent skein of global cities spread around the globe.
Robert Ostergren's work in historical and cultural geography focuses on processes of migration and settlement, and on the production, preservation and meaning of cultural landscapes and regional identities. He teaches intermediate and advanced courses that explore these topics largely in the European or North American context.
Keith Woodward brings a strong philosophical and social theory background to the department. His research explores the role of affect, direct action, and the spatialities of site ontology. These approaches overlap with radical and critical geography, particularly as it relates to social movements and social change.