Gerald M. and Susan T. Friedman


Robert H. Dott, Jr.

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


Citation:  [pdf]

The History and Philosophy of Geology Division, Geological Society of America (HPG-GSA) is privileged to present its 2014 Gerald M. and Sue T. Friedman Distinguished Service Award to Robert H. Dott, Jr., Emeritus Professor of Geoscience, University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Bob’s long record of service to the history and philosophy of geology includes a term as Chair, U.S. Committee on the History of Geology, National Research Council (1981-1983); President, History of the Earth Sciences Society (1990); and Chair, History of Geology Division GSA (1990). In addition, Bob was a member of the ad hoc committee to determine guidelines for the Mary C. Rabbitt Bequest, HPG-GSA (2006). In his capacity as a founding member of GSA’s Rock Star Series and in additional papers, Bob published on such historically important figures as Lyell, Hutton, Chamberlin, Van Hise, Twenhofel, Sloss, Davy, and Kay. He has also published papers countering creationists’ claims of a young Earth and their assertions that geologic history is a series of divinely determined events.

Bob has received numerous awards for his research in sedimentology as well as history of geology. Most relevant here is the History of Geology Award (1995), now known as the Mary C. Rabbitt Award, given by the History and Philosophy of Geology Division, GSA.

Moreover, Bob has had an unmatched ability to get others involved in the history of our science via teaching and mentoring. Numerous chairs of this Division and speakers in our symposia were students of Bob’s at the University of Wisconsin, Madison or were colleagues who associated with him at Madison and elsewhere.

Bob designed a potent seminar course, History of Geologic Thought, in which readings from Geike, Albritton, Kuhn, Collingwood, Playfair, Hutton, Van Hise, Chamberlin, and others engaged students in the drama of the development of our science and its philosophy from biblical to contemporary times. For me personally and for decades after first reading Geike, vignettes on Leonardo da Vinci gestated in my mind and compelled me to explore the nexus of art history and history of geology.

Bob’s respect for the founders and philosophy of geology informs his text, “Evolution of the Earth.” Co authored with Roger Batten and Donald Prothero, “Evolution of the Earth” established itself as contemporary geology’s preeminent historical text from the moment it was first published in 1971. I vividly remember the prototype, the maps and sections that Bob had us work on when I was a student at Wisconsin in the ‘60’s, because they involved us in using facies distributions and structural relationships to recreate the past, to find ancient shorelines, cratons, and mobile belts, and to define sea level changes and ancient environments the same way that the founders of geology discovered how to do.

As publicity for the book states, the key word is “involving” students in, “How do we know?” rather than merely, “What do we know?” That inclusiveness engenders a sense of belonging in the science, a sense of understanding not only how geology’s founders made connections between the rock and fossil record and the history of the planet, but also why they occasionally bumped up against each other in debate and why the our science has not simply progressed in a straight line towards absolute truth about our planet. Our involvement in the process of geology and insight into our founders’ mistakes and triumphs undoubtedly have much to do with the number of us whom Bob inspired.

Bob’s teaching and mentoring are vital to acknowledge in the context of our times. There is a troubling trend to devalue historical geology within geology curricula; historical geology is disappearing as a course offering and as it fades so does appreciation of the history of the science, which is integral to the course. One publisher estimates that approximately 225,000-250,000 undergrads take physical geology at American universities each year, but that only a tenth of those take historical geology and most of those are majors.

This publisher reports a “definite decline” in historical enrollments but an increase in numbers taking “geological hazards,” “global change,” and “environmental geology” although he believes that enrollments in the last of these are leveling off. He reports that the “death and destruction” courses as he calls them have become preferred options for general education requirements in most states. Oddly, one exception appears to be Texas, a creationist stronghold, where historical remains a “gen ed” option in many areas.

The publisher of Bob’s text agrees that institutions are either eliminating historical altogether or offering only small sections of the class. In response, his company is marketing chapters of Bob’s book as separates that instructors can assemble into course packs so that even historical for majors can be squeezed into one or two weeks in physical or environmental geology.

I submit that students cannot internalize the concept of deep time during a week or two in an introductory class, let alone when it is reduced to a brief survey in an advanced geology course for majors. Deep time is what makes our science unique. Historical geology is the one course that shows how the past is key to understanding the web of interrelationships of geologic processes operating today and how that understanding came to generate the ethical structure of our science. It’s imperative to help students begin to understand early in the curriculum that they are successors and conveyors of that tradition. Geologists, not creationists, speak for the ethics of our science.

Take environmentalism for example. Bob tells me that Aldo Leopold is one of his heroes. As I reported at GSA’s 2014 annual convention in Vancouver, Leopold’s, “A Sand County Almanac,” a founding text of modern environmentalism, is imbued with Leopold’s awareness of the long history of the Earth. Leopold uses every mention of deep time to reinforce his assertion that there are profound and unfortunate consequences of the single-minded commodification of the land. As Leopold lamented, the harmony between humankind and nature that has evolved over millennia is being destroyed in a geological instant. Bob reinforces this ethical lesson from Earth history in, “The Best of All Possible Worlds?” the final chapter of his text. And because he has shown that it has taken human beings millennia to comprehend and give voice to this ethic, he compels us not to forget it.

More generally, education in America is suffering a malaise; it has become commodified according to business models that are administratively rather than pedagogically driven and co-opted by political demagoguery that has demonized teachers and diverted resources to privileged groups. All of this runs counter to the role that education has played in American democracy and our democracy will suffer if this trend persists.

We are thus obliged to laud great teachers and fortunately we can say that geology has Bob Dott as preeminent exemplar for historical geology and history of our science. We can confidently assert that Bob’s teaching and mentorship serve as paradigms for a bright future for the geosciences because they build on vital lessons from the past and we are delighted to assert this recognition of Bob with the Gerald M. and Sue T. Friedman Award.

Gary D. Rosenberg


Acceptance: [pdf]

I am very flattered to be the 2014 recipient of the Division’s Gerald M. and Sue T. Friedman Distinguished Service Award. At the same time, I am also puzzled to have a second award from the division after receiving the Mary Rabbit Award in 1995. Gary Rosenberg rejected my protest that “I must not be eligible” by presenting the exaggerated arguments that you have just heard. (I should have engaged Gary years ago to be my publicity agent.)

I attribute my initial interest in history to both of my parents. My mother majored in history in college. My father grew up on Missouri River in Sioux City, Iowa and as a youth dreamt of the passage by there 100 years before by Lewis and Clark on their great exploration. As an adult he was a voracious reader of exploration history. My PhD dissertation fieldwork in northern Nevada introduced me to Clarence King and his 1878 geology of the route of the future transcontinental railroad, the only significant publication on the area in 1952. Later research in the upper Midwest introduced me to pioneer work by David Dale Owen, Josiah Whitney before he went to California, Charles Whittelesy, and even James Hall. Around the eastern states I followed Charles Lyell’s extensive travels. Still later in Tierra del Fuego I stumbled over outcrops first studied by none other than Charles Darwin. The list goes on. History is all around us – how could one not get interested?

Soon after I came to the University of Wisconsin, a tall, lanky fellow named Robert Siegfried darkened my door. He had just joined the department of the History of Science. He was a fellow Unitarian and somehow had heard of me so had dropped by to get acquainted. Bob’s specialty was Chemistry with a great interest in Humphry Davy. After discovering Davy’s handwritten notes for a series of geological lectures given in London in 1805, Bob enlisted my help in transcribing the lectures. He introduced me to the pleasures of the microfilm reader. Somehow we persuaded the University of Wisconsin Press to publish the lectures, but in spite of our brilliant commentary, it was never a big seller. Siegfried also convinced me to create a course in the history of geology, which proved more successful -- enough to eventually bring seven of its alumni into this Division. Bob was my history mentor and inspiration.

In preparing for this occasion, I reviewed my files about the history of the Division and also about HESS, the History of the Earth Sciences Society. It made no sense to consider the one without the other as they have developed as hand maidens and the Friedmans were important to them both. Gerry began organizing meetings about the history of geology in the 1960s. These were low-key affairs held at his base in Troy, New York with proceedings produced in a low-cost format. Around 1970, Gerry and Ellis Yochelson began floating the idea of a national organization dedicated to the history of our field and in 1976 the History Division was formed within GSA. By 1977 there were 231 Affiliates. The list included some of the people here today. The 1979 celebration of the 100th anniversary of the U.S. Geological Survey soon provided a boost to our fledgling Division, especially through the monumental summaries of the history of the Survey then being prepared by Mary C. Rabbitt aided by Clifford Nelson. Two symposia organized by Cecil Schneer in 1967 and 1976 had also stimulated interest in the history of geology in America.

Meanwhile, the Friedmans continued their labor of love publishing low-budget articles on the history of geology, which they edited and produced themselves. By 1982 there was a groundswell of support for a professionally-produced journal of top quality. This effort was pressed primarily by Ellis Yochelson, who adroitly convinced the Friedmans that they should welcome relief from all of the production chores while still keeping their hands in the editing process. Like Michele Aldrich, Claude Albritten, Kennard Bork and a few others, I was recruited by Ellis (a former classmate at Columbia University) into his little conspiracy and in 1990 I became simultaneously President of HESS and Chair of this division – something else that ever-persuasive Yochelson talked me into. So it was I who visited the Allen Press in Lawrence, Kansas in 1990 and negotiated the contract to publish Earth Sciences History as we now know it. But why HESS rather than the Division as publisher? The structure of GSA could not accommodate its Divisions as publishers, for that would produce competition with GSA’s publications. There were other problems as well, such as who would hold the copyright and the fact that some potential members could not qualify for GSA membership.

And so we have the two parallel, closely linked organizations. Happily this initially tenuous arrangement has served us very well in spite of a few growing pains. Our symbiotic relationship has been symbolized with the publication in 1985 of the first volume in the GSA’s Centennial D-NAG Publications about the history of geology in America edited by Division members William Jordan and Ellen Drake. In 1992 GSA published Memoir 180, a collection of articles derived from a Division-sponsored symposium on the important concept of eustasy. And in 1994 the organization by Naomi Oreskes of a GSA Penrose Conference titled From the Inside and the Outside: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the History of the Earth Sciences helped bring together historians of geology, the Insiders, with professional historians, the Outsiders. Then in 1995 we initiated the very successful Rock Stars series of short profiles of important Earth scientists, which are published in GSA Today. Rock Stars was the brainchild of Robert N. Ginsberg, a man of great vision and abilities of persuasion rivaling even those of Ellis Yochelson. I hope that Rock Stars will continue to thrive. Yet another volume sponsored by the Division was Gary Rosenberg’s GSA Memoir 203 about geology from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment published in 2009.

It is sad that the Friedmans, Ellis Yochelson, Kennard Bork, Robert Ginsburg, and others of our Division’s pioneers could not be with us today to share credit for Service to the Division. I am honored to represent them.

Robert H. Dott, Jr.