Geology, 1888-1938: Fiftieth Anniversary Volume


Fifty years encompass the development of Physiography and also its absorption into the general body of geographic and geologic knowledge The main principles were dimly perceived much earlier, but many of the facts are still to be gathered and some of them need reanalysis. Yet in the swift progress of human thought we are on the verge of developments by which Geomorphology is to absorb the purely geologic aspects of Physiography, Geography is trying to repudiate the genetic description of landscape and a new aspect of Geology, the Geography of the Pleistocene is to occupy the attention of a large scientific group.


Physiography as a term is merely a contraction of Physical Geography. In this sense it is still in use in England. In France, also, "Geographie Physique" even yet includes, besides an elementary treatment of the earth as a planet and an equally elementary treatment of climatology, the body of fact and principle about the origin of land forms.

The development of physiography in America was largely dominated by William Morris Davis whose scientific career extended from the date of his first paper in 1884 to his last in 1938 published 3 years after his death. Davis received his first appointment at Harvard in Physical Geography and always listed his courses under this title. His first important work was in Meteorology, in which subject he published 40 papers. As he matured, his interest in geologic matters grew. He applied himself to the explanation of the character and origin of land forms and gradually developed a body of principles, Physiography in the American sense, which his geological contemporaries considered to be wholly geologic in character and purpose. In this development Davis was essentially the definer and analyst. His interest lay largely in the deduction from a few available facts of the possible and probable origin of land forms assuming that our knowledge of current process is essentially adequate. The inferential method he used but rarely and he left the patient assembling of field facts to others. In deduction he was singularly successful and at times intuitively chose the one correct answer. His expositions were so clear, his chain of reasoning so precise and neat that his papers elicited wide attention. A host of adherents gathered facts, filled in detail, and rarely questioned his leadership. The necessity for the study of process was so evident that a great revival of such study began, comparable to the work of Lyell and unparalleled except for the present-

Additional information

Includes content by:
  • Henry C. Stetson
  • Percy E. Raymond
  • Alfred S. Romer
  • Chester Stock
  • Edward W. Berry
Publisher: Place of publication:
  • New York
Publication year:
  • 1941


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