A Brief History of LSU Geology and Geophysics

Teaching of geology began at LSU on January 2, 1860. LSU was then known as the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning, and was located in Pineville, LA. During the Civil War, all teaching was suspended, but following the war, on October 2, 1865, classes resumed under the direction of a new president, David F. Boyd. President Boyd was very interested in geology and maintained his own mineral and  fossil collection. On October 15, 1869, the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning was destroyed by fire, but fortunately the library and geological collections were saved and later moved to Baton Rouge. Classes resumed on November 1, 1869, in the School for the Deaf in Baton Rouge. The Seminary was renamed Louisiana State University in 1870. In 1876, LSU and Louisiana A&M College were merged and the name was changed in 1877 to Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College, the formal name used today. In 1893, LSU played its first football game, thus becoming a modern, big time public university.

Geology was formally established at LSU during the period from 1892-1898 and designated the Department of Geology, Mineralogy and Botany. By 1922, the Department had been renamed the Department of Geology. That year, the arrival of a young Ph.D. from Stanford University, Henry V. Howe, marked the beginning of what would become a comprehensive program of teaching and research in the earth sciences at LSU. Dr. Howe came with a mandate from Governor John M. Parker to build a department "to train Louisiana boys for the oil industry."

Prof. Howe started from scratch, building on the ruins of a minor department that had collapsed some four years earlier, leaving only scattered heaps of rocks, minerals, and fossils. His sheer enthusiasm for his subject attracted a number of students, and gradually the foundation of a geology department was laid. In 1928, Howe brought Richard Russell (Berkeley Ph.D.) to LSU, his colleague and friend. Russell’s addition made it possible to expand the department into the area of physical geography. Howe subsequently brought in B.C. Craft to train students in petroleum engineering and Fred B. Kniffen as a cultural geographer and anthropologist. From this strong academic nucleus, the departments of geology, geography-anthropology, and petroleum engineering were combined in 1931 to form the School of Geology, with H.V. Howe as its director. Two major LSU research institutes, Coastal Studies and Basin Research, also were born within the Department.

Always a proponent of field geology, Howe initiated summer field camps for LSU geology students, first in Oklahoma and then in the later 1920’s in the Front Range of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. A permanent camp was established in 1929 on the Keeton Ranch, about 15 miles south of Colorado Springs, and ultimately some 1400 acres of this property were bought by LSU to maintain the Howe-Russell tradition of field training for students.

By the early 1930’s, School of Geology faculty and students were conducting statewide geological research under the auspices of the Louisiana Department of Conservation. In addition to performing his academic responsibilities, from 1934 to 1940, Prof. Howe served as the Director of Research for the Louisiana Geological Survey. An active survey provided many advantages for the Department: it supported additional geology faculty and graduate students, primarily through subsidized field work; made possible the geological mapping of the state’s parishes; and established the Bulletin publications of the State Survey. With his students and faculty, Howe personally authored or coauthored the first eight parish Bulletins in the three years following. In these volumes, he became the first author to emphasize the importance of the thick, elongate sedimentary sequence paralleling the coast—the main source of Louisiana’s petroleum wealth today. He also developed concepts of salt dome growth and recognized the significance of subsidence under deltaic loading, Pleistocene terrace formation, and the Quaternary deltaic history of coastal Louisiana. 

The early development of the School of Geology reflects the broad earth-science interests of both Howe and Russell. Prof. Russell considered himself to be an earth scientist rather than specifically a geographer or geologist. He was responsible for three of the early Survey Bulletins, including his classic paper, "Physiography of the Mississippi River Delta." This was just the first of many publications on the geomorphology of deltaic, fluvial, and coastal landforms that made Russell’s reputation - nationally and internationally. He taught courses and conducted research in both fields and held the unique honor of serving as president of both the Association of American Geographers (in 1948) and the Geological Society of America (in 1957).

During the 1950s he served on various committees of the National Research Council and as chairman of the Division of Earth Sciences. In 1962 he was chairman of the Earth Sciences Section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The professional and scholastic contributions of both men were recognized by the University in awarding each the distinguished faculty rank of Boyd Professor; Russell in 1962 and Howe in 1965. After the new geology building was completed in 1987, they were honored by naming the two building geology complex, the Howe-Russell Geoscience Complex.

After 1931, the School of Geology resided in the College of Arts and Sciences. In 1960, the Department of Petroleum Engineering, headed by Craft, left the School of Geology. During the period 1969 to 1970 a major reorganization established two independent departments, Geology and Geography-Anthropology, within the School of Geoscience. During this period, the Museum of Geoscience was added to the School of Geoscience. In 1981-82 the School of Geoscience was dissolved and the Department of Geology moved to the College of Basic Sciences, while the Department of Geography and Anthropology stayed within the College of Arts and Sciences. The Museum of
Geoscience became part of the Museum Complex, which included many museum elements at LSU.

During the period 1983-85, the Basin Research Institute was formed by Clyde Moore and was loosely aligned with the Coastal Studies Institute, under James Coleman, and the Department of Geology, renamed the Department of Geology and Geophysics in 1985, now headed by Lyle McGinnis. Later in 1985, McGinnis resigned from the University, with the result that these three units were restructured back into the School of Geoscience, under Coleman, and the Louisiana Geological Survey was moved into the School of Geosciences. By 1991, the Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences was added to the School. Oceanography had within it the Coastal Studies Institute, a Wetlands Biogeochemistry Institute, a Coastal Fisheries Institute and a Coastal Ecology Institute. The Basin Research Institute was moved out of the School and placed under control of the LSU Office of Research and Economic Development. 

In 1992, the School of Geosciences was dissolved and the Department of Geology and Geophysics became a stand-alone entity within the College of Basic Sciences. The Department of Oceanography and Coastal Studies was moved under the LSU Office of Research and Economic Development, within a coastal center for energy and environmental research.


LSU Geology Milestones

1861 - Professor Francis W. Smith, Chair of Chemistry, Geology, and Infantry Tactics

1908 - Geology among founding departments in College of Arts and Sciences

1922 - Dr. Henry V. Howe joins the LSU faculty

1926 - First Masters Degree in geology conferred

1928 - LSU Geology Field Camp established at Colorado Springs

1931 - School of Geology formed

1937 - First Doctorate degree in geology conferred

1939 - East and middle wings added to Geology Building

1948 - First woman receives geology Bachelors Degree

1952 - Coastal Studies Institute (soft money) established by Profs. Russell and Morgan

1966 - LSU received National Science Foundation’s Centers for Excellence Grant to Geology, Physics and Chemistry

1970 - School of Geology dissolved and the School of Geoscience formed

1975 - Geology Endowment established by Geology Alumni Advisory Council

1982 - Geology joins College of Basic Sciences

1982 - School of Geoscience dissolved

1983 - External Chair hired – Prof. Lyle McGinnis

1984 - Basin Research Institute established by Prof. Moore

1985 - Department renamed the Department of Geology and Geophysics

1985 - School of Geoscience formed within College of Basic Science

1985 - Internal Chair assigned after resignation of Prof. McGinnis

1986 - Freshman Field Camp established

1986 - Campanile Charities Professorship established

1987 - New Geology Building dedicated

1989 - Charles T. McCord, Jr. Endowed Professorship established

1992 - School of Geoscience dissolved leaving the Department of Geology and Geophysics in the College of Basic Sciences – no longer aligned with any other units, institutes or schools

1993 - CENEX (Center for Excellence in Palynology) was established

1993 - Charles L. Jones Endowed Professorship established

1997 - AG Gueymard Professorship established

1998 - Mary Jo Klosterman Professorship established

1999 - External Chair hired - Prof. Brooks Ellwood

1999 - Geology and Geophysics named one of twelve priority departments by LSU

1999 - Dr. Henry V. Howe Distinguished Professorship established

2002 - Frank W. and Patricia Harrison Family Professorship established

2002 - AASP Professorship in CENEX established

2002 - Ernest and Alice Neal Professorship established

2004 - Billy and Ann Harrison Endowed Chair established

2004 - John Franks Endowed Chair established

2004 - Robey H. Clark Distinguished Professorship established

2004 - Harrison Family Field Camp Distinguished Professorship established

2007 - Charles Barney endows the LSU Field Camp 

2007 - Houston Energy, LP Distinguished Professorship established

2008 - Clarence P. Cazalot, Jr. and Marathon Oil Corporation pledge $1.5 million to the department to establish the Marathon Lectureship Series, the GeoDE program, and renovations of the Howe-Russell Atrium.

2008 - Department held the 80th Anniversary Celebration od the Field Camp in Colorado Springs and dedicated the new dining hall facility.

2009 - External Chair hired - Prof. Carol Wicks

2019 - External Chair hired - Prof. Jonathan Snow