On Tuesday, Nov. 25, at 3 p.m., the Rensselaer Research Libraries will honor Gerald Friedman, professor emeritus of sedimentology and geohistory, at a ceremony and exhibit outside the Institute Archives and Special Collection’s Fixman Room on Folsom Library’s third floor. Speakers will include Frank Spear, department head and professor of earth and environmental sciences, and Friedman’s daughter, Judith Friedman Rosen.
Since his arrival at Rensselaer in 1964, Friedman has been an intensive user of the Folsom Library and has donated many items to its collections. His most recent and important gift totals nearly 250 rare history of geology volumes collected during his career. The Friedman volumes, which will be named the Gerald M. Friedman History of Geology Collection, build on the department’s strength in natural history and the history of geology. The collection constitutes a major research resource for Rensselaer students and faculty and history of science scholars throughout the world.
The collection contains many icons of the history of geology, including William Smith’s famous map, A delineation of the strata of England and Wales, with part of Scotland, and James Hutton’s Abstract of a dissertation read in the Royal Society of Edinburgh, upon the seventh of March, and fourth of April, M,DCC,LXXXV, concerning the system of the earth, its duration and stability.
William Smith (1769-1839) is best known for his development of the science of stratigraphy. While working as a canal-site surveyor, Smith undertook a systematic study of the geological strata and the fossils appearing in each layer. His map, published in 1815, was the first modern geologic map and is the subject of Simon Winchester’s 2001 best seller, The Map That Changed the World.
Scottish geologist, chemist, and naturalist James Hutton (1726-1797) developed one of the fundamental principles of geology uniformitarianism, which explains the features of the Earth’s crust in terms of natural processes occurring over geologic time. Hutton theorized that geologic processes, such as the formation of sediment, erosion, and volcanism, could fully explain current landforms all over the world. These ideas contradicted the commonly held belief, derived from the Bible’s Book of Genesis, that the Earth was about 6,000 years old. The Abstract is the first printed articulation of Hutton’s new theories and a cornerstone of scientific modernity.
Both the Smith and Hutton volumes, along with many other items from the collection, will be on display in Folsom Library beginning Nov. 25.
Friedman earned his M.A. and Ph.D. from Columbia University. He earned a doctorate of science from the University of London and received an honorary doctorate of natural science from the University of Heidelberg in Germany. He taught at Rensselaer from 1964 to 1984 when he was appointed professor emeritus of sedimentology and geohistory. He joined the faculty at the City University of New York in Brooklyn in 1984, where he worked with graduate students and postdoctoral researchers on such topics as carbonate deposits, regional stratigraphy, and the environmental geology of rivers. He retired from CUNY in 2004, but continues his research.
The Gerald M. Friedman History of Geology Collection constitutes a major research resource for Rensselaer students and faculty and history of science scholars throughout the world.
Friedman is the founder and director of the Northeastern Science Foundation in Troy, which hosts symposia and publishes several journals. He has served as an officer for the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, the Geological Society of America, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, and the New York State Geological Association. He is the author or co-author of more than 500 publications; his ability to communicate difficult topics is illustrated by his classic textbook, Principles of Sedimentology, co-authored with J.E. Sanders.
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