Gerald M. and Susan T. Friedman


Clifford M. Nelson

History and Philosophy of Geology Division, Geol. Soc. of America

 Minneapolis 2011

Citation by Ken Aalto:

Today we honor Clifford M. Nelson, geologist and historian at the U. S. Geological Survey, for the extraordinary service that he has committed to over the decades in behalf of the history of geology in general, and of the GSA History and Philosophy of Geology Division in particular. He earlier served our division as secretary-treasurer, newsletter editor, vice-chairman, and chairman; he chaired the U. S. Committee for History of Geology (National Research Council) from 1985-90; he is a fellow of GSA and the Linnean Society of London, and a member of the History of Earth Sciences Society, the International Commission on the History of Geological Sciences (INHIGEO) and the History of Science Society. Dr. Nelson received his doctorate at Berkeley in 1974. He has published over fifty articles in refereed books and journals, principally on the history of ideas and institutions in the earth sciences, especially U. S. Geological Survey and its predecessor agencies. He has recently cowritten Minerals, Lands, and Geology for the Common Defence and General Welfare, Volume 4, 1939-1961, and will continue with volume 5 (1961-1982) of this series, started by Mary Rabbitt. Aside from history of science he has research interests in the evolution and distribution of Cenozoic northern marine mollusks, especially Neptunidae. In the spirit of the Gerald M. and Sue T. Friedman Distinguished Service Award, we have chosen Cliff Nelson as an excellent exemplar of service to the community of historians of geology.

Response by Clifford M. Nelson:

Thank you, Ken, for your kind words. But this award really should go to the U.S. Geological Survey, the agency that has enabled me during the past 35 years to practice and serve, mostly under the aegis of other duties as assigned, the history of the earth sciences.

This year also marks the more important anniversary of the History and Philosophy Division’s founding in 1976. The Division’s establishment followed by more than a decade the creation of the International Commission on the History of Geological Sciences (INHIGEO) under the umbrella of the International Union of Geological Sciences. Gordon Craig and Endre Dudich recalled in Episodes in 1988 that INHIGEO was conceived at New Delhi in 1964 and born three years later during a symposium at Yerevan.

George White and other U.S. historians of geology returned from Yerevan and subsequent INHIGEO symposiums hoping that the Geological Society of America might also wish to actively promote the history of the earth sciences. White led the long effort to establish a new History of Geology Division and the GSA’s Council approved it as a formal unit on November 7, 1976. Claude Albritton, Gordon Winder, and Bob Dott served as the Division’s original Management Board; they, Cecil Schneer, and their successors took me along for what proved to be an eight-year ride as Secretary-Treasurer and Newsletter Editor and then three more years of service elsewhere on the Management Board. The Newsletter began with Volume 1, Number 1, in February 1977, but the issues currently reproduced on the Division’s web site do not predate 2001.

Thanks to the Friedmans for establishing the Distinguished Service Award in 2005 and to the Division’s present Awards Committee and Management Board for enabling me to join Bob Ginsburg and the other awardees in receiving this honor. Thanks, as well, to George White for beginning during 1958-60 my interest in the history of geology; to Jim Fisher, for insisting in 1961 that his graduate students join the GSA; to Joe Gregory, for encouraging me to turn my term paper into my initial history article in 1968; and to Jim Balsley, for providing in 1976 the opportunity for me to practice in the history of the earth sciences without the benefit of a formal license in history.

So kindly join me in a toast to the continued health and productivity of the History and Philosophy of Geology Division. I regret only that I cannot do so in one my favorite beverages. To the Division, then, esto perpetua!