Department History


The National University of Singapore was founded in 1905 with the establishment of the King Edward VII Medical College. Over the years, the University changed its name several times according to the political realities: Raffles College (1928-1949); University of Malaya (1949-1961); University of Singapore (1962-1980) and National University of Singapore (1980-present) which was a merger of Nanyang University and the University of Singapore.


In 1928, the Faculty of Arts was established under Raffles College and Geography has the distinction of being among the three initial subjects to be offered. The first faculty member of the newly formed department was H. Amon (d. 1944) a Reader, who began teaching in 1929. Under Raffles College, the Geography “Department” followed the British academic terms: Trinity, Michelmas and Hilary. Students from both Singapore and Peninsular Malaya were taught mainly by three British lecturers before World War II: H. Amon, T. W. Morray and E.G.H. Dobby. The syllabus for Geography at this time reflected colonial underpinnings and hence there was a strong regional emphasis on the British Isles, Europe, Africa, Australia, the Americas and Asia. In addition to regional Geography, there were several courses in systematic geography based on Physical Geography (geomorphology, climatology, oceanography) Human Geography (economic, political) and ‘Practical’ Geography (map reading).

The foundation of the Department owes a great debt to Ernest George Henry Dobby who joined the Department in 1939 with a BA and obtained his PhD from London University in 1945. Dobby was the first lecturer to have a PhD, who became Head of Department in 1946 and first Professor of Geography in 1947. After the Second World War, Dobby helped to institutionalize the Department in the University. He was instrumental in bringing in a whole host of young faculty members in the early 50s who later became well known geographers: Donald Fryer (1950-1952); James Blaut (1952-1953); B.W. Hodder (1952-1956) and Paul Wheatley (1952-1959). Dobby also established the Department as a major contributor to the regional geography of Southeast Asia. His book Southeast Asia first published in 1950 by the University of London Press ran into 11 editions and was translated into seven languages. Dobby also established a field study pedagogical system where field trips in Singapore and Malaya were part of the Department’s teaching forte. In fact, many of these field trips to Malaya provided important academic articles.

Under his leadership, Dobby established the Department’s journal, The Malayan Journal of Tropical Geography (MJTG) which was first published in October 1953 with Paul Wheatley as its first editor. The MJTG went through several name changes and in 1990 became The Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography (SJTG). Through its 50-year history, the journal has remained one of the few Internationally Refereed journals dealing specifically with the tropical world. It continues the Dobby tradition of accepting articles both in Physical and Human Geography. It also maintains a tradition of accepting articles that reflect both “fieldwork” and “armchair” geographical research.

Between 1946 and 1961 total faculty members in the Department fluctuated between four to eight members. In the 1957-58 academic year, Asian faculty members for the first time outnumbered expatriates faculty. In 1960, Rudolph Wikkramatileke, a Sri Lankan was the first Asian to be appointed Head of Department. Since then, subsequent Heads have been Singaporeans.

Over the years, the University’s Arts degree has gone through several changes. Up to the 1968-69 academic year, students still followed a three-year BA Honours degree programme. Between the 1969-70 and 2000-01 academic years, students went through a three-year BA programme and an exclusive additional one year Honours programme. Between 1949-1950 and 2000-2001, the Department awarded 592 Honours degrees of which 524 were between the years 1958-1959 to 2000-2001.Over this period class size for the Honours year varied from one student in 1950-1951 to 35 students in 1998-1999. In both the three-year and four years Honours programmes, the Department paid emphasis to the Honours Thesis. In the 2001-02 academic year, the Faculty initiated a new four years Honours system.

Between 1954-2003, the Department awarded Masters degrees to over 35 students and PhD degrees to 11 students. The first MA degrees were awarded in 1954 to Arthur Lim Joo Jock and Ooi Jin Bee. The first PhD degree was awarded to Rudolph de Koninck (now Professor at the University of Montreal, Canada) in 1970.

Since the Raffles College days, the Department has maintained a strong tradition of student activities. The Geographical Club of Raffles College established in the mid-1930s became the Geographical Society in the 1960s. Like the Geographical Club, the Geographical Society has embarked on field trips in the region, Asia. Africa and Australasia as well as organized various social, educational and sports functions for students and faculty (such as talks, film shows, exhibitions, competitions, dinners).

A/P Victor R. Savage (retired)


Year Milestones
1936 The Geography Society was formed
1945 Dr Ernest George Henry Dobby was the first lecturer in the Department with a PhD
1949 E.G.H. Dobby was the first Professor of Geography in the newly-formed University of Malaya
1953 The Department's Journal, The Malayan Journal of Tropical Geography, was established.
1957 The Geographical Society Gold Medal (for Honours students) was initiated
1958/59 Mr Robert Ho was the first local Head of the Department
1958 The Department's Journal was renamed the Journal of Tropical Geography
The first geographer to be Dean in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Dr Ooi Jin Bee
1980 The Department's Journal was renamed the Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography
1979 The first time that the Department had 2 first class Honours students: Ang Siew Hong and Chia Eng Hock
1990 The Department's Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Lab was set up
1993-98 The first female Head was appointed: Dr Teo Siew Eng
1997 The SPH Geography Challenge (a Geographical quiz for Secondary Schools) was initiated
2000 A/P Victor R Savage was elected President of the Commonwealth Geographical Bureau
2001-02 The Field Studies Module was initiated. The six-week long fieldwork provides students firsthand experience in data collection and onsite observation in field sites in the region.
2000-04 Prof Lily Kong became the first female Dean of the Faculty
2004- 2007 Prof Lily Kong was the first Vice-Provost appointed from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
2006 Prof Lily Kong was awarded the Public Administration Medal (Silver) during the 41st National Day
2006 The University of Loughborough conferred an Honorary Doctor of Science on Professor Lily Kong in recognition of her contributions to Human Geography and for professional achievement and public service in Singapore. The ceremony took place in Singapore on 27 August 2006.
2007 - 2014 Prof Lily Kong became the first woman Vice-President, University and Global Relations.
2007 A/P Wong Poh Poh was the only Singaporean on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which shared the Nobel Peace Prize with former US Vice President Al Gore
2008 - 2010 Prof Lily Kong was appointed as Director, Asia Research Institute, NUS
2009 Prof Lily Kong was awarded the Association of American Geographers Robert Stoddard Award for Distinguished (Geography of Religion and Belief Systems) in March at the AAG.
2010 A/P Victor Savage was awarded the Long Service Medal during the 45th National Day
2011 - 2012 Prof Lily Kong, Acting Executive Vice-President (Academic Affairs) Yale-NUS College.
2012 - 2015 Prof Henry Yeung was appointed as Deputy Director, Global Asia Institute, NUS
2014 - 2017 A/P Victor Savage was appointed as Director, Office of Alumni Relations
2015 - present Prof Henry Yeung appointed as Director, JY Pillar Comparative Asia Research Centre, NUS
2015 Launch of Global Production Networks Centre, NUS
2016 - present Prof Jonathan Rigg appointed as Director, Asia Research Institute, NUS
2017 Prof Brenda Yeoh appointed as Vice-Provost (Graduate Education), NUS
2017 Prof Henry Yeung awarded the Murchison Award by the Royal Geographical Society – Institute of British Geographers

Awards Won


1997 Prof Lily Kong
1998 A/P Henry Yeung Wai-Chung
2000-01 A/P Brenda Yeoh Saw Ai
2008 Prof Henry Yeung


2003 A/P Henry Yeung Wai-Chung received the Outstanding Overseas Researcher Award by the Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources, the Academy of Sciences, China


2006 A/P Chang Tou Chuang


2000-01 Dr Carl Grundy-Warr won the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Outstanding Educator Award


1997-98 A/P Chang Tou Chuang
1998-99 A/P Chang Tou Chuang
1999-00 A/P Chang Tou Chuang
2001-02 A/P Chang Tou Chuang and A/P Henry Yeung Wai-Chung won the NUS Excellent Teachers (Top 100) Award
2002-03 A/P Chang Tou Chuang, Dr Carl Grundy-Warr and A/P K Raguraman
2003-04 A/P K Raguraman
2005 A/P Chang Tou Chuang
2006-07 A/P Tim Bunnell
2008-09 A/P Chang Tou Chuang
2010 Dr Pow Choon Piew
2014-16 Dr Dan Friess


2006-07 A/P David Higgitt, A/P Tim Bunnell, Dr Carl Grundy-Warr
2007-08 A/P Tim Bunnell, A/P David Higgitt, Dr Wang Yi-Chen
2008-09 Dr Pow Choon Piew
2009-10 Dr Pow Choon Piew, Dr Harvey Neo, A/P Alan Ziegler
2010-11 A/P James Terry, Dr Harvey Neo, Dr Pow Choon Piew
2011-12 A/P Alan Ziegler
2012-13 A/P Alan Ziegler
2013-14 Dr Woon Chih Yuan, Dr Dan Friess, Dr Harvey Neo
2014-15 Dr Woon Chih Yuan, Dr Dan Friess
2015-16 Dr Dan Friess, Dr Harvey Neo, Dr Kamalini Ramdas
2016-17 Dr Dan Friess, A/P Harvey Neo, Dr Kamalini Ramdas


2011-12 A/P Alan Ziegler



2010-11 Dr Pow Choon Piew
2011-12 Dr Harvey Neo
2014-15 Dr Woon Chih Yuan
2014-15 Dr Dan Friess
2016-17 Dr Winston Chow



2007-08 Dr Carl Grundy-Warr (GEK1022: Geopolitics: Geographies of War and Peace)



2010-11 Ms Kamalini Ramdas
2011-12 Ms Kamalini Ramdas, Mr Jared Wong Wei Ming
2012-13 Ms Chin Wei Jun
2013-14 Ms Chua Cheng Ying
2014-15 Ms Clara Ang, Ms Chen Jinwen, Ms Chua Cheng Ying, Ms Olivia Tan (both semesters), Mr Benjamin Thompson, Mr Shaun Teo (both semesters)
2015-16 Mr Benjamin Thompson, Ms Chen Jinwen, Ms Chua Cheng Ying, Ms Khairun Nisha Binte Mohamed Ramdzan, Ms Olivia Tan, Mr Tan Xuan Kai, Mr Shaun Teo, Ms. Shona Loong (both semesters)
2016-17 Mr Andy Tan, Mr Tan Xuan Kai, Ms Shona Loong