2021 Mary C. Rabbitt History and Philosophy of Geology Award

Presented to Stephen Rowland

Stephen Rowland

Stephen Rowland
University of Nevada, Las Vegas


Citation by Ken Bork

It is a deep pleasure to recognize Dr. Stephen M. Rowland as the winner of the Mary C. Rabbitt Award for 2021. Steve is presently Professor emeritus of Geology (University of Nevada, Las Vegas) and Manager of the paleontology lab at the Las Vegas Natural History Museum. En route to retirement he has won teaching awards and plaudits from many groups.

A zoology major at UC-Berkeley (1967), his Ph.D., at UC-Santa Cruz (1978), focused on paleontology. His important work on Archaeocyathids is honored by having three taxa bear his name. In 1990, Steve won an "Outstanding Paper" award from the journal Palaois. But the big event for 1990-1991 was serving as a Fulbright Lecturer in Novosibirsk, Siberia.

An appreciation of Russian geology led Steve and a colleague to translate On the Strata of the Earth by Mikhail Lomonosov (1763). It appeared as GSA Special Paper 485 (2012). Steve subsequently contextualized Lomonosov's work relative to Buffon, Hutton, and Werner, creating a valuable analysis of the "Father of Russian Science." It is impressive to see Steve and his wife DeeAnn converse with Russian colleagues, making for a smaller and friendlier world.

Steve remains active in research, as well as serving numerous professional and community organizations. He has chaired our Division, and is currently INHIGEO Vice President for North America. GSA Memoir 218 (2021), on paleontological art, includes his insights. Steve's description of reptilian tracks in Grand Canyon rocks attracted worldwide coverage in 2020. Numbers don't tell all, but Steve’s productivity is impressive. There is the Lomonosov translation, plus thirty noteworthy peer-reviewed papers concerning the history of geology. In paleontology and geology he has generated two co-authored books, 45 peer-reviewed papers, geologic maps, field guides, and numerous book reviews and published abstracts.

Beyond dry geo-facts and international recognition, Dr. Rowland is a wonderful colleague and a worthy recipient of our Division's highest award.


Response by Stephen Rowland

I thank my colleague and good friend Ken Bork, himself a recipient of this award, for his generous citation. Deep thanks to the History and Philosophy of Geology Division, and especially to the awards committee, Gary Rosenberg, Renee Clary, and John Diemer, for honoring me with this year’s Mary C. Rabbitt Award. It is the greatest honor of my career.

I am humbled when I look down the list of prior recipients of this award, most of whom, in recent decades, I have had the pleasure of knowing. Like most of us in this division, I came to the history of geology as a geologist, not as a historian. Of course, in a sense, geologists are inherently historians. We study the history of the Earth. It is in our metaphorical DNA to be interested, not only in whatever geological phenomenon we happen to be engaged in studying, but also in how previous workers, or ancient peoples, interpreted such phenomena. But the caveat is that we geologists are trained as historians of rocks, not of people, and there is a difference. So, in terms of methodology and epistemology, we have much to learn from our colleagues in the history department. For that reason, I have greatly valued the insights I have gained from colleagues such as Ken Taylor, who came into our field from the humanities.

During my formative years, when I was wandering in the academic wilderness, seeking a niche in which I could find intellectual fulfillment and make a contribution, I was extremely fortunate to have had two mentors who helped me find a productive direction. The first was Edward A. “Sandy” Hay at DeAnza College in Cupertino, California. I was teaching high school at the time. Sandy Hay was a very instrumental mentor to me, not only because he helped me decide to go to grad school in geology, but also because he introduced me to a book titled The Fabric of Geology, edited by Claude C. Albritton, who was the second recipient of the Mary C. Rabbitt Award, in 1983. The two most influential books in my search for a career path were Charles Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle and The Fabric of Geology. The latter book opened up to me the world of the intellectual examination of what it is that geologists do, and in what ways it is similar to, and different from, what other scientists do? Prior to reading key chapters in The Fabric of Geology, I had no idea anybody thought about such things.

My second very influential mentor was my PhD advisor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Léo Laporte, also a recipient of the Rabbitt Award. I was a student of Léo’s when he was researching and writing about the life and work of the enormously influential American paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson. So I saw firsthand that a geology professor could balance scholarship in the history of the geosciences with ongoing research in mainstream geology. That model has served me well during my own career.

It is surreal to me that I’m now on a list of Rabbitt Award honorees that includes such scholars as Claude Albritton, Stephen Jay Gould, Ken Bork, Ken Taylor, Bob Dott, and Léo Laporte, among many, many others. Thank you, indeed, for this enormous honor.