History of the Institute

Rhonegletscher anfangs 20. Jahrhundert
On the Rhone Glacier. Glass slide from the collection of the Geographical Institute, early 20th century.

For a long time, there was no professorship for geography in Switzerland. It was not until 1886 that a professorship was created in Bern, which in retrospect can be regarded as the founding of an institute (Link). Initially, geomorphology and climatology were the most important topics of Bernese geography. Eduard Brückner (who was also rector), one of the most internationally renowned geographers, taught here from 1888 to 1904. In 1909, a reorientation followed with the appointment of Hermann Walser (Link). Geography now had the main task of serving teacher training in the Canton of Bern. Walser and his successor Zeller were human geographers. In 1944, geomorphologist Fritz Nussbaum (Link) became professor, followed by hydrologist Fritz Gygax. In the 1950s, Georges Grosjean, a cultural geographer, joined the Institute and the orientation became broader. In the 1960s Bruno Messerli became associate professor (Link), and Klaus Aerni strengthened cultural geography from the 1970s. This period was formative for the Institute for the next 50 years. A whole generation of assistants of Bruno Messerli and Georges Grosjean became lecturers or professors themselves during this phase of unlimited growth of the Institute: Matthias Winiger (Link), Christian Leibundgut (Link), Heinz Wanner (Link), Paul Messerli, Hans Hurni, Urs Wiesmann, François Jeanneret (Link), Heinz J. Zumbühl (Link), Hansruedi Egli, Hans Kienholz and Rolf Weingartner. The "Man and Biosphere" programme and the "Bern Model" of geography that was developed in this context were also influential. For a long time, the Institute was entirely in male hands. Elisabeth Bäschlin was the first female lecturer, Doris Wastl-Walter the first female professor (later vice-rector) from 1997. Heinz Veit continued palaeoecology as Bruno Messerli's successor. In 2001, two National Centres of Competence in Research – Climate and North-South – were hosted at the Institute, both of which became University centres of competence (the Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research OCCR (Link) and the Centre for Development and Environment CDE (Link) ). The Institute of Geography is still very closely related to both, as well as to the Center for Regional Economic Development CRED (Link) and the Interdisciplinary Centre for Gender Studies ICFG (Link). A major generation change took place between 2009 and 2023. During these years, all professorships were replaced, and the majority of professorships are now held by women. Today's team at GIUB works on a wide variety of research topics; our website (Link) provides an overview.

More information

Grosjean, Georges: 100 Jahre Geographisches Institut der Universität Bern 1886 – 1986. Georges Grosjean. Jahrbuch der Geographischen Gesellschaft Bern. Bd. 56/1986 – 1990.
Messerli, Paul; Rey, Lucienne: Die Welt in Bern – Bern in der Welt. 125 Jahre Geographie an der Universität Bern (1886 – 2011). Jahrbuch der Geographischen Gesellschaft Bern. Bd. 63/2011.