Paper No. 9
Presentation Time: 3:00 PM
GILBERT’S (1890) LAKE BONNEVILLE MONOGRAPH, A CLASSIC THEN AND NOW
By the time of the American Civil War (1861-1865), U.S. Army topographers had determined from relict shoreline and sediment evidence that the terrain occupied by Utah’s Great Salt Lake had held a much larger lake sometime in the geologic past. After the war, geologists with the Western Field Surveys (1867-1879), including G.K. Gilbert, studied the extent, age, and outlet nature of the paleolake more closely. Gilbert named the paleolake and its major shorelines and provided the first map of its extent. The amount and quality of Gilbert’s Lake Bonneville work from this period, published in articles and sections of annual reports, soon eclipsed the Bonneville-related contributions of the other geologists. After joining the U.S. Geological Survey in 1879, Gilbert had less and less time to devote to his paleolake studies, but he eventually completed his Lake Bonneville monograph, U.S. Geological Survey Monograph 1, for publication in 1890. At 438 pages, Lake Bonneville
(1890) is Gilbert’s longest publication, and he considered it his magnum opus. Indeed, virtually nothing was published on Lake Bonneville for almost 50 years after the appearance of Monograph 1.
Today, Gilbert’s Lake Bonneville monograph is widely considered one of the masterpieces of geomorphic literature. It is not the only publication by Gilbert held in high regard, but it attained its stature quickly, being designated as a classic in American geology within four years of its publication. It has since been referred to as a classic many times. A classic work is enduring, inspirational, ground-breaking, important, of recognized excellence, a standard, or historically significant. Compelling qualities of the monograph include attention to geomorphic and sedimentary processes as well as landscape change through space and time; topical depth and comprehensiveness; logical explanations; abundant evidence; excellent illustrations; clear writing; and lucid organization.