The Department of Geography was established in 1948 as one of the foundation departments of the University. It was in both the Faculties of Arts and Science between 1948 and 1967. It moved administratively from the Faculty of Arts to the Faculty of the Social Sciences in the 1967/68 session.
The foundation Head of Department was Keith Buchanan. Nigerian academics have assumed the headship of the department with Professor Akin Mabogunje being the first Nigerian professor of Geography and Head of the Department.
The structure of the undergraduate degree programme in the early years was patterned after that of the parent University of London with students graduating with a general Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degree. However in 1962, when the University became a full - fledged University, students started enrolling for the honours degree programme in Geography. Presently, the department offers courses leading to the award of Bachelor degree in both the Faculty of the Social Sciences and the Faculty of Science. The emphasis of the undergraduate programme has been on imparting to students those principles and techniques/skills of geographical investigation which will help them to fit into several fields of human endeavour at the national and international levels.
At the postgraduate level, the Department is well known all over the world for its depth and quality of the training of postgraduate students. It has the foremost postgraduate Programme in Geography in Africa and its products constitute the bulk of the staff of Department of Geography in Nigerian Universities, Colleges of Education and Polytechnics.
The first Ibadan-based M.A./M.Sc. graduated in 1963 and the first PhD graduate was produced in 1966. By the end of 1977, the department had produced 69 Ph.D. graduates altogether, made up of 41 in human geography and 28 in physical geography. The defunct Master of Planning Science (MPS) is the first professional Masters degree programme in the department. It was established in collaboration with the Department of Economics in the 1972/73 session. Later the Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) was established in the 1981/82 academic year to produce professionals in Urban and Regional Development. The programme was later transferred to the Centre for Urban and Regional Planning (CURP) following the approval of the centre by the University Senate.
In 1994, the Department set up a GIS Laboratory under the Nigeria/Iowa University Department Linkage Programme (UDLP). In the 1995/96 session, the department started the professional programme in Geographical Information Systems (GIS) at the Masters level. GIS is being taught under the programme as a decision – making tool not only on natural resources and the environment but also in the areas of urban management, transport facilities location and various social services delivery systems. The Disaster Risk Management laboratory was set up in 2009 with the assistance of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). The first set of students were admitted in the 2010/2011 session to the professional masters in Disaster Risk Management.
The department offers courses leading to the award of B.Sc. degrees in both the Faculty of the Social Sciences and the Faculty of Science. The programme in the Faculty of the Social Sciences usually lasts six-eight semesters and admits candidates who have the required passes in the Ordinary and Advanced levels of General Certificate of Education and equivalent examinations.
The undergraduate programme is intensive and covers virtually all aspects of Geography. The main areas of specialization of the academic staff include geomorphology, climatology, bio-geography, hydrology, cartography, land resources evaluation, transport geography, theoretical geography, industrial geography, population geography, urban geography, medical geography and urban and regional planning. The different courses taught in the Department, apart from providing theoretical insights into the discipline, also reflect the needs of the wider society.