History of the Department of Human Geography and Regional Development

There have been two geography departments at the University of Ostrava since the mid-1990s. Both date back to 1953, when the College of Education (Vyšší pedagogická škola, VPŠ) in Opava was founded as a branch of the College of Education in Brno with the newly established Department of Natural Sciences, joined the following year by the first geographer Radim Prokop and a year later by Ladislav Zapletal. Zapletal, however, left for Olomouc in 1958 and geography teaching was mainly provided externally by staff from Palacky University in Olomouc and J.E. Purkyně University (UJEP) in Brno. After the move of the College of Education to Ostrava in 1959 and its renaming to the Pedagogical Institute (and from 1964 to the Faculty of Education), geographers were about to face a significant change. First, in 1961, teaching of geography was transferred to the newly opened Department of History and Geography and a year later three new geographers were hired – Miroslav Havrlant, Ladislav Buzek and Vladimír Svárovský. The joint department only lived shortly; in 1963 two separate departments were established, with Radim Prokop becoming the first ever head of the Department of Physical Geography. A short time after, another three lecturers were hired – geographer Jaroslav Bílek, geologist František Řehoř, and economist Emil Šustek.

The Soviet occupation in 1968 and the subsequent communist politics of normalisation also affected the then Department of Physical Geography. Its head was dismissed from the faculty in 1971 for his political views. Miroslav Havrlant became the new head of the renamed Department of Geography. He managed to maintain a decent quality level of the Department during extremely difficult times of normalisation, even though there were significant personnel changes. Not only R. Prokop left the Department, but also E. Šustek, who moved to another department of the Faculty of Education. J. Bílek moved out of the region. The staffing losses were finalized by the passing of V. Svárovský. In their place came Alois Matoušek, Arnošt Wahla and Jaroslav Vencálek, so that in the 1970s the Department of Geography had six internal lecturers, who worked with several external geographers. Teaching was focused on preparing teachers for primary and secondary schools with teaching qualifications in geography and physical education, geography and Russian, and geography and Polish.

The year 1974 became a significant milestone for the Department in the area of geographical research. Together with the Geographical Institute of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences in Brno, the Ostrava Department was entrusted to coordinate geographical research on the environment in selected model regions of Central Europe, of which Ostrava region was one. The involvement of the Department in international cooperation resulted in the expansion of contacts with geographical departments abroad, e.g., the Soviet Union (Volgograd), GDR (Leipzig), Hungary (Eger), Poland (Katowice), Bulgaria (Burgas), as well as Yugoslavia (Zagreb) and Austria (Vienna). The period of cooperation within international environmental research in the countries of the former Council for Mutual Economic Assistance is documented in numerous research reports, studies, proceedings, methodologies for the assessment of environmental changes and cartographic outputs.

The strengthening of the research activities allowed the Department to expand its team with new staff members – Petr Šindler, Jaromír Kaňok, Vladimír Baar, Jan Havrlant and Jan Prášek joined the Department while A. Matoušek left the team. In 1987, a great deal of research success led to the establishment of the Environmental Division, where geographers Václav Holuša and Hynek Adámek worked side-by-side with biologists Josef Vondřejc and Bohumír Lojkásek. After his retirement, M. Havrlant was replaced by Arnošt Wahla in 1986.

The fall of the communist regime brought new changes not only to the Department, but to the entire Faculty, which was transformed in 1991 into today’s University of Ostrava. Its Vice Rector for Science and Research became Miroslav Havrlant. In terms of organization, the Department of Geography was transferred to the new Faculty of Science, whose vice deans became L. Buzek and F. Řehoř. Radim Prokop returned to the Department, but Ladislav Kříž, an existing external lecturer from the Hydrometeorological Institute, was appointed the new Department head. The Environmental Division dissolved with its geographers having left for the private sector and biologists for the Department of Biology and Ecology. The team was expanded by Lubomír Müller and Petr Rumpel, and the Department was accredited to implement not only teaching study programmes in all combinations not only within the Faculty of Science, but also within the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Education, and newly also non-teaching study programmes.

The year 1995 was a key milestone for Ostrava Geography, when the Department was divided into the Department of Physical Geography and Geoecology, which was headed by V. Kříž, and the Department of Human Geography and Regional Development, whose head became P. Šindler. M. Havrlant and R. Prokop retired and were replaced by Petr Wilam, Petr Žufan, Tadeusz Siwek, Martin Kovář and by the first women – political scientist Monika Šumberová and sociologist Eleonóra Hamar, who was replaced after two years by Kateřina Janků. The great interest in geography study programmes sparked the accreditation of many new study branches at both departments. The personnel development was unfortunately slowed by the system of “socialist” funding that persisted from the previous period. Finally, a fundamental change in 2003, reflecting actual teaching and research performance, allowed the Department to recruit new teachers and to implement a number of changes in its activities.

In the first decade of the new century, geographers continued to play an active role in the management of the University of Ostrava and the Faculty of Science – Petr Šindler was the Faculty Dean in 2000–2006, Tadeusz Siwek was Vice-Rector for Science and Research (2001–2004) and Vladimír Baar was Rector of the University of Ostrava (2004–2007). The Department of Human Geography and Regional Development changed its head several times as a result of these personnel changes after P. Šindler it was V. Baar, then T. Siwek (2004–2006) and P. Rumpel (2006–2008). After ending his Rector's office term, V. Baar (2008–2019) again became the Department head, followed again by Petr Rumpel in 2019.

The turn of the millennium was very important from several respects. The profession-oriented Bachelor’s study programmes (Tourism, Public Administration and Development), which were of enormous interest, but were too demanding in terms of teacher staffing, were reduced. There continued to be strong interest in teacher training and in new Master’s programmes – Human Geography and Regional Development (accredited 1998) and Political and Cultural Geography (accredited 2000). Thanks to the activities of Petr Rumpel, cooperation with foreign institutions began to develop as the base for a dense network of partner schools within the Erasmus programme, and scientific research and publication activities registered a rapid development. Despite the decline of the aforementioned Bachelor’s study programmes, the Department provided teaching for more than 500 students in both Bachelor’s and Master’s study programmes each year, but this number gradually decreased to approximately 300.

The personnel composition underwent significant changes in the first and second decade of the new millennium. Both senior researchers (A. Wahla, J. Vencálek, P. Šindler, J. Havrlant) and young researchers (P. Wilam, M. Kovář) had left, while new colleagues had arrived, some of whom eventually left for various reasons (Pavel Bednář, Tomáš Boruta, David Walter Novák, Robert Ištok, Přemysl Mácha, Zuzana Houdková, Eva Tenzin, Miroslava Ištoková, Andrej Sopkuliak, Aura-Luciana Istrate), while others remained (Tomáš Drobík, Ondřej Slach, Luděk Krtička, Vincenc Kopeček, Tomáš Hoch, Jan Ženka, Barbara Baarová, Lukáš Laš, Martin Solik, Kateřina Rudincová Ženková, Alexandr Nováček, Jan Macháček, Petr Dvořák, Vojtěch Bosák). This personnel change was aimed at improving a professional structure, while the teaching staff was also significantly rejuvenated.

Due to the quality of scientific and publication results, the PhD programme in Political and Cultural Geography was accredited in 2007, and in 2014 the programme was also accredited for habilitation and professorship appointment procedures. The following year, PhD accreditation was also granted to the Economic Geography and Regional Development programme. New accreditations for all study programmes and for the habilitation and professorship appointment procedures were granted in 2018–2020. In 2021, our PhD study programmes were merged into a single study programme entitled Political and Economic Geography.

Today, the Department continues to develop – new teams are being formed with different research specialisations and focuses, and the Department’s current focus is on the development of our region through consultancy and third role.

Updated: 08. 02. 2022