Davis, William Morris

Davis, William Morris,

1850–1934, American geographer, geologist, and teacher, b. Philadelphia; B.S. Harvard, 1869. He founded (1904) the Association of American Geographers and served three terms as its president. He was on the Harvard faculty from 1879 to 1912 and was visiting professor at the Univ. of Berlin (1908–9) and at the Sorbonne (1911–12). In 1912 he led a transcontinental excursion across the United States sponsored by the American Geographical Society. Davis is responsible for enlarging the scope and systematizing the study of geography; his methods of description and analysis and his use of maps and block diagrams revolutionized the teaching of geography. His major works include The Coral Reef Problem (1928) and Geographical Essays (1909, repr. 1954).

Davis, William Morris


Born Feb. 12, 1850, in Philadelphia, Pa.; died Feb. 5, 1934, in Pasadena, Calif. American geologist and geographer.

Davis graduated from Harvard University in 1870 and began teaching there in 1876, becoming a professor in 1890. He founded the Association of American Geographers (1904) and was president of the Geological Society of America (1911). He was an honorary member of a number of geological and geographical societies, including the Russian Geographical Society. Davis worked in the US Geological Survey from 1890 to 1915. He pursued research in various regions of the USA as well as in many countries of South America and Western Europe. In 1903 he visited the desert regions of Turkestan.

In the 1890’s, Davis worked out the theory of geographic cycles, introducing the idea of the development of landforms by stages. He distinguished the following cycles: normal (water-erosion), glacial, karst, arid, and marine. His ideas on geographic cycles spread rapidly and played an important role in the development of geomorphology. The shortcomings of his theory are that the development of landforms is examined without due relationship to the total geological history of the given region, and it does not provide a sufficiently complete picture of the connection between internal and external forces in the formation of landforms. Davis created a school of geomorphologists and completed a series of works devoted to teaching physical geography. He introduced a new way of depicting relief—block diagrams and relief models.


Physical Geography. Boston-London, 1899.
A Journey Across Turkestan (Pumpelly’s Explorations in Turkestan). Washington, D.C., 1905.
Grundzüge der Physiogeographie, 2nd ed., vols. 1-2. Leipzig, 1915-17. (With G. Braun.)
Die erklärende Beschreibung der Landformen deutsch bearb. von A. Rühl, 2nd ed. Leipzig, 1924.
In Russian translation:
Geomorfologicheskie ocherki. Moscow, 1962.


Gerasimov, I. P. “O roli V. M. Devisa v razvitii sovremennoi geomorfologii.” Izvestiia AN SSSR. Seriia geograficheskaia, 1965, no. 1.