The History of the Study of Landforms or The Development of Geomorphology 1890-1950 - Vol. 3

The History of the Study of Landforms or The Development of Geomorphology 1890-1950 - Vol. 3

The History of the Study of Landforms or The Development of Geomorphology 1890-1950 - Vol. 3

The History of the Study of Landforms or The Development of Geomorphology 1890-1950 - Vol. 3

Synopsis

This volume provides a global treatment of historical and regional geomorphic work as it developed from the end of the nineteenth century to the hiatus of the Second World War. The book deals with the burgeoning of the eustatic theory, the concepts of isostasy and epeirogeny, and the first complete statements of the cycle of erosion and of polycyclic denudation chronology.

Excerpt

In volume 1 of our History of the Study of Landforms (1964) we dealt with major contributions in this field up to the later years of the nineteenth century, and in volume 2 (1973) we dealt with the life and work of William Morris Davis, whose concepts dominated so much of world geomorphological thought until long after his death in 1934. Davis’ work was primarily concerned with regional and historical interpretations of landforms, and the present volume 3 explores these themes in some detail on a worldwide basis during the period from about 1890 until the middle of the twentieth century. Volume 4, on which we are presently engaged, will concentrate on the large number of studies in process geomorphology and in Quaternary landforms during the same period, but will carry these themes forward into the second half of the twentieth century, which has been so dominated by them.

History seldom allows itself to be disarticulated into timespans which are convenient for students of history but, in the study of landforms, the years 1890-1950 do provide such a reasonably distinct timespan. The last few years of each century seem impatient to cast off the attitudes of preceding decades and to reach forward towards the new ideas of the new century. Just as the publication of James Hutton’s Theory of the Earth (1788, 1795) (see volume 1, chapter 4) set the stage for much of nineteenth-century geomorphology, so the years 1888-90 must surely rank as one of the major turning points in the earth sciences. Within this short span were formally stated for the first time four of the concepts which have given twentieth-century geomorphology much of its distinctive character. In 1888 the second volume of Eduard Suess’ Das Antlitz der Erde set out the eustatic theory; in 1889 Clarence Dutton named the concept of isostasy and William Morris Davis gave the first complete statement of the cycle of erosion and of polycyclic denudation chronology; and in 1890 G.K. Gilbert formulated the concept of epeirogeny. The Second World War provided a similar hiatus in geomorphology. By this time regional description and the speculative basis of much of historical geomorphology were losing their appeal, and both were soon to be overwhelmed by studies attempting to relate landforms to the operation of detailed processes, commonly climatically dominated. Of course, such process studies had always been present in geomorphology but, despite their inhibition by the influence of W.M. Davis and his supporters, they grew apace during the first half of the present century, as our volume 4 will demonstrate.

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