A Foot in Each Camp: The Two Geomorphologies of I.C. Russell

Authors: Dorothy Sack*, Ohio University
Topics: History of Geography
Keywords: G.K. Gilbert, W.M. Davis, history of geomorphology
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

The professional career of American geologist, geographer, and explorer I.C. Russell (1852-1906) consisted of two major phases of approximately equal duration. In both, his work emphasized Quaternary geology and geomorphology. Russell was a field geologist for the U.S. Geological Survey in the first half of his career, which began in 1880 in the Great Basin Division under the supervision of G.K. Gilbert. Russell's work mirrored Gilbert's in writing style and in emphasizing field data, scientific analyses, and geomorphic processes even when dealing with long-term landscape change. In 1892, Russell joined the faculty at the University of Michigan, whereupon his published work changed dramatically in style and approach. Russell's contributions from this part of his career, which are primarily aimed at students, use W.M. Davis's theoretical geographical cycle and its distinctive life-cycle terminology to describe and explain landforms and their development through time. Russell's shift from Gilbert's to Davis's geomorphic approach seems counterintuitive today, given that Davisian geomorphology was abandoned as a viable approach beginning in the mid-twentieth century. This paper explores possible reasons for Russell's change in approach as well as the tendency beginning in the second half of the twentieth century to portray the geomorphic approaches of Gilbert and Davis as antithetical.

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