US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



The Journal of Geology, Vol. 37, No. 4 (May - Jun., 1929), pp. 293-319


So prominent did Thomas Chrowder Chamberlin become in the field of glacial geology that it is a matter of some interest and importance to consider what was the status of the science at the time he turned his attention, as a student and a teacher, to it. So voluminous is the literature of this subject that it is obvious that one cannot in a sketch of this kind give even a general summary of the many books and papers on the subject published in this country, even were it desirable to do so. The intention is to indicate only what were some of the most notable investigations and publications. Some of Professor Chamberlin's most important contributions are undoubtedly woven into the warp and woof of the productions of the numerous men who were closely associated with him and carrying on field observations under his direction. So intimate were these relations that, as the writer himself found, it was sometimes difficult in the end to discriminate between the ideas which the student might feel were his own and those which he had absorbed from contact with the professor.

About fifty years before the birth of Thomas Chamberlin, which occurred in Mattoon, Illinois, in 1843, references to scattered erratics, and what was later recognized to be glacial drift, began to appear in the scientific literature of North America. For a long time this material was regarded as diluvium, or the product of transportation by Noah's flood of biblical note, and many curious explanations were offered as to how this debris was transported and left scattered over hill and dale. The theory of transportation and deposition of the drift of Northern Europe by a continental ice sheet, as postulated by Louis Agassiz in 1837, was put on a firm foundation by the publication, in 1840, of Agassiz' Etude sur les Glaciers, which set forth the results of his own studies, together with those of Charpentier, Venetz, and Hugi. In 1846 Agassiz came to America and he very soon began the application of the theory of field studies of the drift in the United States. By the time Mr. Chamberlin had completed his undergraduate studies at Beloit College, in Beloit, Wisconsin, in 1866, the caution with which the theory of continental glaciation was received, both in Europe and America, had given place to rather general, though not unanimous, acceptance among geologists.