Alexander von Humboldt Chair

In April 1996, Henry J. Bruman made a large donation to the department to fund the Alexander von Humboldt Endowed Chair, also funding UCLA’s Map Library. Bruman joined the UCLA faculty in 1945, chaired its Department of Geography from 1957-62 and retired in 1983, specializing in Latin American cultural-historical geography, plant geography and land use in the American West. He described his donation as follows:

“I am pleased to establish the Alexander von Humboldt Endowed Chair in the UCLA Department of Geography.  A visionary, renaissance man, scientist and humanist, von Humboldt epitomizes my desire to provide a base of support for a distinguished scholar to simulate a synthetic, integrative approach to geography.  It is my wish that the von Humboldt Chairholder also use the interest from the fund for research, student support, materials acquisitions and other activities deemed appropriate to promote programming that looks at the fundamental interdependence of humans and the environment.”

Realizing Bruman’s wishes, the Department has used the endowment to provide research funds in support of the Alexander von Humboldt Chair, and to fund Humboldt Day each year, when the department celebrates its achievements an annual Humboldt Lecture and dinner.

Alexander von Humboldt portraitThe polymath Alexander von Humboldt was a geographer and naturalist, known best for his travels through the Americas between 1799 and 1804, during which he meticulously recorded his observations of the biophysical world and to some degree the human societies he was in contact with, also meeting with President Jefferson. He was against slavery and Spanish colonialism, and strongly critical of how indigenous peoples were treated.  His major published work was Der Kosmos, a five volume work that sought to unify the sciences and provide a compendium of the world’s biophysical environments. He thus embodied Geography’s disciplinary scope, from the earth to the social and human sciences.

Alexander von Humboldt Chairs

Denis CosgroveThe founding Chair was Distinguished Professor Denis Cosgrove (2000 –2008)– until his untimely death. A historical cultural geographer, Professor Cosgrove studied the changing meaning of landscape in Europe, especially how visual images were used to shape geographical imaginations.

Eric Sheppard headshotThe second Chair was Distinguished Professor Eric Sheppard (2012-2022), a political economic geographer with interests in uneven geographies of capitalist globalization, more-than-capitalist practices, southern urban theory, urban politics and land transformation, environmental justice and geographic thought and methods.



Annual von Humboldt Lectures