A History of the University of Georgia Department of Geology

Compiled by L. Bruce Railsback, Department of Geology, University of Georgia,
with the help of Dr. Vernon J. Hurst.



       Geology has been taught at the University of Georgia since 1823, and the modern Department of Geology of the University of Georgia was founded in 1961.  This document first reviews the early history of Geology at the University and then turns to the history of the modern Department.


EARLY HISTORY (1823-1946)
(in part from the research of Dr. Vernon J. Hurst)

       The University of Georgia was chartered in 1785 and thus was the first state-supported university in the United States.  However, the University really only began in 1801, when its location was chosen and the first classes were held.  The first class did not graduate until 1804.  In these early years, the University was known as, and consisted only of, the Franklin College. It had so few professors (for example, six in 1840) that one spoke not of "departments" but instead of "professorships" of given disciplines, or more commonly professorships of combinations of disciplines.

       In 1823, seven years before the publication of the first edition of Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology, the University appointed its first Professor of Chemistry and Geology, James Wayne Delton Jackson, who had been a member of UGA's first graduating class in 1804.  By 1830, a substantial sum had been appropriated to begin a mineral collection for the University.  In the 1850s to 1870s, Geology was taught by a number of faculty members who most noticeably included Joseph LeConte and William Louis Jones, otherwise known as "Old Ichthy" to his students.  The early professors were not a diverse group: Three of five came from one county in Georgia, and two of those were cousins who had studied at the same institutions; two others went to the same medical school, and all came from wealthy and/or powerful families.

            For details about individuals, see the chronological list of UGA Geology faculty members

       In the 1860s and 1870s, geology was taught on the third floor of the library (now the north part of the Academic Building).  The ceiling of the classroom was painted with images of a variety of fossil organisms, including ichthyosaurs.  The University's Bulletin for 1869-1870 reports the "excellent collection of minerals in the museum of the University" which "enables the student to acquire practical familiarity" with mineralogy.  The bulletin also reports that "an elegant hall with enlarged pantings on the walls of representative fossils of all the geologic periods, enabling the student to take in at a glance the successive unfoldings of the life of the globe, has been especially fitted for this department.  Besides, maps, sections, and collections of fossils are constantly employed in illustrating the lectures."  Sadly, none of these collections or paintings has survived on campus.

       Geology's affiliation with Chemistry at UGA continued until about 1872.   In 1888 it was affiliated with Biology, and then it returned to its affiliation with Chemistry.  Among persons teaching in this era were George Little and J.W. Spencer.  These professors represented a transition toward faculty members who were truly geologists rather than chemists or general natural scientists, who had Ph.D. degrees, and who taught only geology.  Sadly, this was also a trend, at least for the next few decades, toward faculty members who only stayed at the University a year or two.

            For details about individuals, see the chronological list of UGA Geology faculty members

       In 1900, the University had a School of Mining and Metallurgy, but the 1918-1919 Bulletin reports that the Geology Department was "temporarily" vacant.  In the 1920's, an attempt was made to revive Geology at UGA, and Dr. Eyolf Cullin taught Geology for one year.   In 1932, it reappeared in the College of Education and in the Department of Civil Engineering.   (Only later did the University cede the study of Engineering to Georgia Tech).

       Geology reappeared as a department later in the 1930s in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, and it was housed in Meigs Hall.  Its courses were taught by Dr. Geoffrey W. Crickmay, a Yale Geology Ph.D.  Crickmay, whom the university bulletins suggest was the Department, left the University of Georgia to serve in the armed forces during World War II.  When he returned, he found that the geological collections had largely disappeared, and he left the University.  Among the students present during Dr. Crickmay's last years here was the young Vernon J. Hurst, of whom more will be told below.



       A Department of Geography and Geology was begun in 1946 under the headship of the newly hired Dr. Merle C. Prunty, Jr.   Prunty was a geographer, but he remembered geology enough to claim much later that he had, through a quirk of administration, "initiated both geography and geology departments at both the University [of Georgia] and at Georgia State" (Prunty, 1979, AAAG 69, 53-58).  The Department of the late 1940s nonetheless consisted of five geographers and just one or two geologists.   The principal geologist was Eldon Parizek, whose Ph.D. was in petroleum geology and thus who had to retrain himself for the geology of the Piedmont and Blue Ridge during his seven years on the faculty (~1949-1956).  During these years, the Department was housed in LeConte Hall, an appropriate place in light of Joseph LeConte's role in teaching geology in the Franklin College in the 1850s.

        By the 1950s, the faculty of the Department of Geography and Geology included a few more geologists, some of whom would be part of the Department of Geology in 1961.  The curriculum in the 1950s looked like that of the late 1900s and 2000s, but without a hint of water underground or in the oceans.  In 1958 or 1959 the Department moved south from LeConte Hall to the new Math-Geography-Geology Building in the "Science Loop" that consisted of Physics, M-G-G, Chemistry, Biosciences, Poultry Science, and Food Science.  Later the Math-Geography-Geology Building would be Geology-Geography-Math (as in the 1966-1967 Bulletin) and Geography-Geology-Speech (in the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s) before becoming the Geography-Geology building.

       Vince Matthews recalls being an undergraduate as the Department(s) of Geography and Geology began to divide.  He began as a student at the University in the fall of 1960, taking engineering courses but deciding that he wanted to major in Geology.  He went to the G&G department office in the fall of 1960 to register as a major, but the staff seemed nonplussed by someone wanting to major in geology and essentially said, "There's a guy up on the third floor who can probably help you, Dr. Power."  Thus Bob Power was his advisor for his first year, before Power left to become Chief Geologist for Georgia Marble in Tate.  After spending the fall of 1961 working in New Mexico, Vince began taking Geology courses in the new Geology Department in the fall of 1962 with Larry Ramspott's Physical Geology class and then Ken Hamblin's Historical Geology class.  Vince went on to take a long series of courses from Ramspott: Physical Geology, Mineralogy, Petrology, Structure, Optical Mineralogy, Igneous and Metamorphic Petrography, and Geotectonics.  After finishing his BS in 1965, Vince went on to earn his MS at UGA and Ph.D. at UC-Santa Cruz, and ultimately to be State Geologist of Colorado.

        The Department of Geography and Geology was divided into a Department of Geology and a Department of Geography on July 1, 1961.  Merle Prunty, who had been head of the Department of Geography and Geology for fifteen years, became head of the new Department of Geography and held that position until 1970.  It is perhaps because of Prunty's continuity as head from Geography and Geology to Geography that the myth emerged that Geography was the department of longer standing and that "Geology was split off from Geography", rather than the other way around, In fact, in reading Prunty's later accounts, one might infer that the Department of Geography (and only of Geography) was founded in 1946.  However, so far as the University of Georgia and the rest of the world were concerned (and as is evident from the University's Bulletins), the Department of Geography and Geology was founded in 1946 and divided into two departments of equal standing, a Department of Geology and a Department of Geography, in 1961.  However, the myth allowed the Department of Geography to claim more than half of the space in the building, and well into the 21st Century the Department of Geography willfully called the Geography-Geology Building "the Geography Building".  The myth may have survived because Prunty, as Geography's head from 1961 to 1970, was "a person of strong will and firm decision . . .[who] could be formidable" (Aiken, 1983, Southeastern Geographer 23, 1-9).  However, Prunty was soon faced with a head of the Geology Department who was "a person of strong will and firm decision" too.


THE MODERN DEPARTMENT (1961 to present)

The Department's early years

       The modern Department of Geology of the University of Georgia began in July, 1961, with the division of the previous Department of Geography and Geology.   Dr. Vernon J. Hurst was recruited from the Georgia Geological Survey to be Head of the new Department of Geology.  Dr. Hurst brought to the department not only his academic credentials but also his credentials as a native of Georgia, a graduate of the University of Georgia, and an expert on the geology of Georgia.  The new Department of Geology began the fall quarter of 1961 with three or four professors (Hurst, Charles Salotti, John Schlee, and perhaps Vernon James Henry, although he may have arrived a year later) and one secretary. Its resources were few but included the X-ray diffractometer that Dr. Hurst somewhat controversially brought with him from the Georgia Geological Survey.

            If you can provide corrections, please send an email message to Bruce Railsback

       The new Department of Geology was housed with the new Department of Geography in the recently-constructed building on Field Street now called the "Geography-Geology Building". The building had been planned by Prunty with one large office complex for the Department of Geography and Geology, a suite complete with a balcony looking toward (and, in those days, perhaps into) Sanford Stadium. The new Department of Geography took that space, forcing the new Department of Geology to carve an office complex from a jumble of rooms on the third floor. Elsewhere in the building, competition for space was the norm, and legend tells of locks on doors changed by one department and then by the other.  Dr. Hurst sketched plans in the 1960s for a large multi-story Geology Building to be located west of Sanford Stadium, but it was never built.  In the split between Geology and Geography, the new Geography Department claimed more than half of the space in GGS (or GG).  That division of space remains, despite the subsequent growth of the Geology Department. 

       Another long-term result of the division of one department into two arose when geomorphologist James Woodruff decided to be in Geography rather than Geology.  The result was that geomorphology as a discipline has stayed in the Geography Department, rather than in Geology, to this day. Much later, a sort of rapprochement began in the 1990s when Geography's George Brook, who was trained in karst geomorphology, and Geology's Bruce Railsback, who was trained in carbonate petrology, began thirty years of collaboration to understand stalagmites as records of past climate. A similar but not geomorphological collaboration began in 2009 between Geography's Andy Grundstein, a climatologist, and Geology's John Dowd, a hydrologist.

       Faculty members in the new Department of Geology were not a randomly selected group with regard to their graduate education, a trend that can be traced back into the previous Department of Geography and Geology.  Charlie Salotti, Ken Hamblin, and Armando Giardini all received their Ph.D.s from University of Michigan between 1955 and 1960, and John Hoyt had a 1952 M.S. from Michigan, the institution from which Jim Woodruff (who stayed in Geography) had earned his Ph.D. in 1952.  In a similar vein, Norm Herz, Vernon Hurst, Gilles Allard, John Schlee, and Bob Power all earned their Ph.D.s from John Hopkins between 1950 and 1960.  Thus Johns Hopkins Ph.D.s. (Hurst, Allard, and Herz) were the first three heads of the Department of Geology, spanning the years from 1961 to 1977.

       The Geology Department went through stormy years in the late 1960s, and in the late 1970s and early 1980s disputes within the Department reached the point that many younger faculty members left permanently (e.g., Elwood, Ciesielski, Ledbetter, Stormer and Pemberton) or took leave to work elsewhere temporarily (e.g., Whitney and Wenner).  By the 1970s, the Department was housed in parts of four buildings (Geology-Geography-Speech, Riverbend Research Labs, Barrow Hall, and the Hydrothermal Lab).

Graduate Degrees

       The Department's first M.S. thesis was defended in June 1964 by Jack Harold Medlin, who went on to earn a Ph.D. from Penn State and to teach at West Georgia College before a long career with the U.S. Geological Survey.   The Department's first Ph.D. dissertation was defended in October 1970 by Robert B. Cook, Jr., who went on to a professorship and headship at Auburn University.  The Department's third M.S. thesis and second Ph.D. dissertation were defended by William H. McLemore, who went on to be State Geologist of Georgia.  The Department's sixth M.S. thesis was defended by Vincent Matthews (who was the first graduate student not to have Vernon Hurst on his MS committee or as his advisor); Vince went on to be State Geologist of Colorado.

       The first three, and five of the first eight, M.S. theses that were defended were supervised by Dr. Vernon J. Hurst, as was the first dissertation to be defended.  Most early theses dealt with geologic areas or problems in Georgia, but by the 1970s and 1980s thesis topics included geologic work around the world as well as in Georgia.  Theses and dissertations in the Department have dealt with geologic problems in or on Bermuda, the Bahamas, the Cayman Trough, the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, Mexico, Costa Rica, Venezuela and the Venezuelan Basin, Brazil, Argentina, the South Atlantic, Morocco, Ethiopia, Namibia, South Africa, Madagascar, the Indian Ocean, the Australian Basin, the East Pacific Rise, the Eastern Equatorial Pacific, Thailand, Russia, Greece, Italy, England, Norway, Iceland, Quebec, the United States, and Mars and Mercury.

       The number of M.S. theses defended peaked in the early 1980s, with a high of twenty-three in 1982 (just after the price of crude oil reached its pre-1990 high). Defenses of M.S. theses declined in the early 1990s and reached a post-1974 low in 1993, when only five were defended.  However, by 1996 that number had rebounded to fifteen, well over the average for years since 1974.  By May 2019, at least 518 M.S. theses and doctoral dissertations had been successfully defended in the Department. Those students were variously advised by virtually every faculty member in the Department, but some faculty members have stood out with regard to number of students advised.  Faculty members with fifteen or more advisees who completed degrees include the following:

  Advisor / Major Professor 
 Ph.D. students 
 M.S. students 
Jim Whitney
Vernon Hurst
Gilles Allard
Bob Frey
Steve Holland
John Dowd
Bob Carver
Mike Roden
Doug Crowe
Norm Herz
Dave Wenner
Valentine Nzengung
Erv Garrison
Mark Rich
Grand total:
These fourteen faculty members thus account for the advisement of more than half of all the Department's graduate students who have completed their degrees.  Ten of the fourteen are faculty members who have retired or sadly passed away.  By contrast, no present faculty member has advised to completion more than 24 students, in part because the University severely reduced the number of graduate assistantships during the 1990s and never restored them. Another result of that reduction was that UGA-supported research assistantships, a common phenomenon in the Department before the 1990s, were eliminated except as a compensatory aid to department heads.


       The history of early research published by faculty members in the Department of Geology is difficult to trace because Web of Science does not list addresses of authors for papers before 1973.   One well-known early paper was Allard and Hurst (1969) Brazil-Gabon Geologic Link Supports Continental Drift, published in Science v. 163, pp. 528-532, which grew out of Gilles's work in Brazil before coming to UGA but was still cited in 2018.   Web of Science reveals that, beginning with papers published in 1973, the most prolific publisher on the faculty in the early-to-mid-1970s was geochemist Lois Jones.  Among her first-authored publications were Jones, Hurst, & Walker 1973 Strontium Isotope Composition of Amphibolite of the Cartersville-Villa Rica District, Georgia published in Geological Society of American Bulletin v. 84, pp. 913-918, and Jones Walker & Allard 1974 Rubidium-Strontium Whole-rock Age of Major Units of Chibougamau Greenstone Belt, Quebec, published in Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences v. 11, pp. 1550-1561.

       For the years after 1972, Web of Science provides data that include author addresses, but one must remember that Web of Science is incomplete, and any author or group of authors will report more publications than are listed in Web of Science.   With that caveat, one finds that Web of Science report that, in the years from 1973 to 2018 inclusive, 840 papers were published for which the Department of Geology of the University of Georgia is listed as the address of at least one of the authors.   The most prolific publisher on the faculty was Dave Dallmeyer, for whom Web of Science lists 159 article, reviews, and proceedings papers (by comparison, the second and third most prolific faculty members in that category over that time were Bruce Railsback and Steve Holland, each with about 57 such publications while at UGA).   The most widely cited papers on which a UGA Geology faculty member was first author were published by Alberto Patino Douce, who published three papers that each had been cited more than 400 times by the end of 2018.   Alberto produced eight papers cited more than 130 times by the end of 2018, Bob Frey and Dave Dallmeyer had five meeting that criterion, Steve Holland and Jay Stormer had three, Jim Whitney and George Pemberton had two, and Al Erickson, John Ertel, J. Howard, Bruce Railsback, Mike Roden, Paul Schroeder, and Dave Wenner each had one published during their residence at UGA.

       A final caveat about the above is that Web of Science does not report books, like those by Vernon Hurst, Bob Carver, Steve Holland, Alberto Patino Douce, Sally Walker, Paul Schroeder, and Norm Herz and Erv Garrison. It also does not report published field guides and maps produced by many Geology faculty members, perhaps most notably Gilles Allard.

The 1990s and 2000s

       The early 1990s saw the retirements of six faculty members (Drs. Mark Rich, Vernon J. Hurst, Gilles O. Allard, Robert E. Carver, George S. Koch, Jr., and Norman Herz) who had each served the Department for more than 20 years.  In 1992, the Department also mourned the untimely passing of Drs. Robert W. Frey and J. Hatten Howard III, each of whom had also served the Department more than 20 years.

       These departures led to the hiring of several new faculty members in the early and middle 1990s. If the Department's faculty members in the 1960s and 1970s were concentrated in economic geology, igneous petrology, marine geology, and paleontology, hiring in the 1990s made hydrogeology one of the Department's areas of focus, along with continuing concentrations of faculty in igneous petrology and paleontology.  Almost all of the faculty members hired in the 1990s were recent Ph.D.s, leading to a relatively young and active faculty.

            If you can provide corrections, please send an email message to Bruce Railsback

       The 1990s also saw major changes in the curriculum.  For graduate students, one milestone was the end of the GLY 800 requirement in the summer of 1992.   GLY 800 was a one-quarter course on the intricacies of igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic petrology, and it had been required of all M.S. students, regardless of their area of study.

       A major change in the undergraduate curriculum in the 1990s was the elimination of the traditional sequence of courses required of Geology majors under the quarter system.  That sequence had consisted of Mineralogy, Petrology, Structural Geology, Paleontology, and Sedimentation & Stratigraphy.  Instead, beginning with the transition to the semester system in Fall 1998 under Head Samuel E. Swanson, the Department instituted a more modern curriculum requiring four "core" courses for Geology majors.  Those four courses were Earth Materials; Surficial and Near-Surficial Processes; Life, Environments, and Ecologies of the Past; and Internal Earth Processes.  In about 2003 two more courses, Sedimentary Geology and Structural Geology, entered the core curriculum, giving it a content nearer that of the old curriculum.

    The six pre-1998 quarter-system courses
        required of geology majors
     The six post-2002 semester-system courses
        required of geology majors
Mineralogy and Crystallography (GLY 321)  Earth Materials (GEOL 3010)
Optical Mineralogy and Petrology I (GLY 322)  Earth Materials (GEOL 3010) & Internal Earth Processes (GEOL 4020)
Petrology II (GLY 323)1  Internal Earth Processes (GEOL 4020)2
   Surficial and Near-Surficial Processes (GEOL 3020)
Structural Geology (GLY 332)  Structural Geology (GEOL 4060)2
Invertebrate Paleontology (GLY 403)  Life, Environments, and Ecologies of the Past (GEOL 4010)3
Sedimentation and Stratigraphy (GLY 405)  Sedimentary Geology (GEOL 4500)3
1GLY 323 included sedimentary petrology,
which was not included in GEOL 4020.
2Structural geology and plate tectonics were
were originally topics in GEOL 4020.
3GEOL 4010 originally included sedimentology and stratigraphy,
which later became the topics of GEOL 4500.

       The 1990s also saw a corresponding change toward an environmental focus in the Department's offerings for non-majors.  At the beginning of 1994, GLY 115 changed from "Earth Processes and Resources" to "Earth Processes and Environments".  In the change from the quarter system to the semester system in 1998, GLY 116 or "The Earth Through Time" changed to "Earth's History of Global Change" (GEOL 1122).  Other environmental courses, including "Introduction to Environmental Geology", "Geologic Hazards", and "Applied Environmental Geology", also joined the undergraduate curriculum at the 200, 300, and 400 levels, respectively.  In the early 2000s, a new basic course titled "Environmental Geoscience" (GEOL 1120) was added to the curriculum.

    Pre-1994 quarter-system courses
        largely for non-majors
     Post-2004 semester-system courses
        largely for non-majors
   Environmental Geoscience (GEOL 1120)
Earth Processes and Resources (GLY 115)   
   Earth Processes and Environments (GEOL 1121)
The Earth Through Time (GLY 116)   
   Earth's History of Global Change (GEOL 1122)

       In the early 2000s, the Department began a series of renovation projects to update classrooms that had undergone little change since the Geography-Geology building was built in the late 1950s. One milestone was the renovation of Room 200A, the Department's large lecture hall, and another was the renovation of Room 327, the room for classes needing microscopes.

       The Department also made history in 2000 when it appointed Dr. Susan T. Goldstein as its Head and thus as the first woman to be head of a department in the Physical Sciences at the University of Georgia.  Dr. Goldstein was also the first head who was not a member of the "hard-rock" faculty of the Department.  She also introduced the innovation of an associate headship, a position to share the growing administrative burden in the era of constant accountability and assessment.  The first associate head, Dr. Michael F. Roden, went on to be head from 2006 to 2012, when he handed over the reins to Dr. Douglas E. Crowe.

The 2010s

       Amidst the ongoing publication of research results in journal articles by departmental faculty and students, two milestones of departmental scholarship in 2011 and 2012 were the publication of major books.  These were Alberto Patiño's 722-page Thermodynamics of the Earth and Planets published by Cambridge University Press in 2011, and Steve Holland's Stratigraphic Paleobiology, co-authored with Mark Patzkowsky, Steve's colleague at Penn State, and published by the University of Chicago Press in 2012.  At the same time, Sally Walker was finishing her book on paleocecology to be published by Cambridge University Press, and Bruce Railsback's Earth Scientist's Periodic Table of the Elements and Their Ions was translated into Portugese, joining previous translations of the Table in Chinese and Spanish and following on the heels of the Table's second re-publication by the Geological Society of America in 2009.

      In a striking recognition of scholarship, Sally Walker became a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science late in 2012.  She joined Norman Herz (and perhaps others) among the Department's faculty members who had achieved that honor. Her honor followed on the earlier award of the Paleontological Society's Schuchert Medal to Steve Holand.

       Another departmental accomplishment in the same time period, but of a different sort, was a trifecta of presidencies of scholarly societies.  In 2011, Paul Schroeder was president of the Clay Minerals Society, in 2013 Sue Goldstein re-assumed the presidency of the Cushman Foundation (the scholarly society of micropaleontology), and in 2014 Steve Holland became president of the Paleontological Society.  During the same period, Sandra Wyld was editor of the Geological Society of America's journal Geology, a post she assumed not long after Sue Goldstein's editorship of the Journal of Foraminiferal Research.

       In 2011, the Department was revitalized when, after fifteen years without an outside search for a new faculty member, it hired Adam Milewski as an assistant (now associate) professor in groundwater resources.   That hire was followed in 2014 by the recruitment of Christian Klimczak as an assistant professor in structural geology, in 2017 with the recruitment of Geoff Howarth as an assistant professor in mineralogy, in 2018 of Charlotte Garing as an assistant professor of groundwater studies, and in 2019 with the hiring of Mattia Pistone an assistant professor of igneous petrology. These hires were an encouraging sign of support from the University as the Department passed its fiftieth anniversary and as it approached the two-hundredth anniversary of the teaching of geology at the University of Georgia.




Other historical webpages constructed to accompany this one include

       A chronological list of UGA Geology faculty members.

       A chronological list of UGA Geology department heads and staff members.

       A table of the number of UGA Geology M.S. theses and Ph.D. Dissertations defended by year.

As noted above, recent research into the early history of Geology at UGA began with the efforts of Dr. Vernon J. Hurst.  The great trove of early history is Thomas Walter Reed 's
History of the University of Georgia, (~1949).  Additional information about William Louis Jones is in part from Tracy Coley Ingram, "Academic Building is two-in-one": Athens Daily News and Banner-Herald June 28, 2000, Hometown page 1. In that article, Ingram cited an article by T.W. Reed in the 1937 Alumni Record and A Pictorial History of Athens by James Reap. Geology's history in Meigs Hall is from a UGA history of Meigs Hall . Some of the information about the Department of Geology and Geography in the 1940s is from articles by Fraser Hart and others in James O. Wheeler and Stanley D. Brunn (eds.) The Role of the South in the Making of American Geography: Centennial of the AAG, 2004

If you can suggest additions or corrections to the material above, please email Bruce Railsback at rlsbk@gly.uga.edu.

To Railsback's main page
To the UGA Geology Home Page