How it all began

Otto Stoll was the GIUZ founding father. Originally a physician, he was appointed the first full professor of Geography at the University of Zurich in 1895.

Otto Stoll
Otto Stoll (1849-1922)

To define the foundation of a university department is not so easy. This is because usually departments are not formally constituted, with foundation documents and ceremony. Often the time of the inauguration of the first full professor marks the beginning of the department's history. In 1895, Otto Stoll received the first full professorship in Geography at the University of Zurich. That's why we can now celebrate 125 years GIUZ!

Otto Stoll's life path was tortuous and intertwined with his many interests. He studied medicine at the University of Zurich and worked as a medical doctor in Switzerland and at the university hospitals in Vienna, Leipzig and Prague - and learned Czech and Russian on the side. Languages were among his many interests. He was also fascinated by zoology, especially molluscs such as snails and mussels.

In 1878 he emigrated to Guatemala to collect zoological material and to do ethnographic studies. After five years he returned to Europe and habilitated at the University of Zurich in Ethnology and Anthropology. In 1891, he was given an associate professorship in Geography, and in 1895 the first full professorship in Geography at the University of Zurich.

In the first years, the GIUZ founding father had to start everything from scratch, as he stated in a letter to the cantonal education authorities: "There was virtually no map, no photography, no geographical instrument and no book available yet, except what I had acquired in the years of my private lectureship from my own, at that time still very meagre means".

Bernhard Brunner: Zur Geschichte des Geographischen Institutes der Universität Zürich. Diplomarbeit 1999