The History of the Study of Landforms - Vol. 2

The History of the Study of Landforms - Vol. 2

The History of the Study of Landforms - Vol. 2

The History of the Study of Landforms - Vol. 2


This volume is entirely devoted to the life and work of the world's most famous geomorphologist, William Morris Davis (1850-1934). It contains a treatment in depth of Davis' many contributions to the study of landforms including:

  • the cycle of erosion
  • denudation chronology
  • arid and karst geomorphology
  • the coral reef problem.


Volume Two of The History of the Study of Landforms needs no further preface than that which was provided by the publication of Volume One some nine years ago. In the latter we showed how, towards the end of the nineteenth century, many of the hitherto disparate themes in geomorphology were beginning to converge, and the present volume attempts to evaluate the central role of William Morris Davis in this synthesis. This task has been neither a rapid nor an easy one.

The lack of any previous substantive biography of Davis has meant that much labour and space has had to be devoted to assembling and presenting the mass of personal information relating to his long and varied life, which has up to now remained scattered and unpublished. If we have been generous in the inclusion of this original material it is in an attempt to redress the surprising lack of biographical interest in Davis since his death almost forty years ago. Davis, who provided a massive biography of G.K. Gilbert for the National Academy of Sciences, clearly expected a similarly elaborate treatment for himself. The obvious scholar to produce this was his loyal student Douglas Johnson, but only eight years after the death of Davis he himself suffered a heart attack and died two years later, leaving undone the task which undoubtedly he had planned for his retirement. Ironically, the preparation of Davis' official biography fell to R.A. Daly who, although a colleague at Harvard, did not share Johnson's undiluted admiration for the Master. The biography, which appeared in 1945, was perfunctory and made little use of the considerable personal material which was then available. The present authors have been fortunate in securing much of this material from a variety of sources, to which the length of our acknowledgements attests. Richard Chorley was particularly fortunate in being able to interview Davis' eldest son only three months before the latter died in his eighty-first year.

A further difficulty facing anyone attempting an analysis of the work of W.M. Davis stems from the very magnitude of his achievement. Not only is the sheer productivity of his scholarship, which was sustained for over half a century, daunting to the would-be analyst, but the strong and extreme views which are held by contemporary workers regarding Davis' contributions constantly force the assessor back to the source material. We have tried in this volume to judge Davis' work within the temporal context of its original production, without, we hope, succumbing to either the attacks of his hostile

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