George W. White Collection

Like the Thordarson Collection, Duveen Collection, and Cole Collection, the George W. White Collection was acquired by the University of Wisconsin-Madison to enrich its library holdings in support of historical studies of science and technology – in particular, history of geology and glaciology.


George Willard White (1903-1985) earned his M.S. (1925) and Ph.D. (1933) degrees in geology from Ohio State University, and began his teaching career at the University of New Hampshire. He returned to Ohio State as professor of geology  in 1941, served also as State Geologist of Ohio, and moved to the University of Illinois in 1947 to head the department of geology. He was also research affiliate to the Illinois State Geological Survey for three decades. His many publications focused on glacial, economic, and engineering geology and on history of geology. He served as American Representative to International Commission for History of Geological Sciences and Vice-President for North America, International Committee for History of Geology.

White’s personal collection of early works on geology was a distinguished one, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison libraries began discussions with him in 1977 about the possibility of acquiring some of those titles for our own collection. White was eager “to have them go to a major library,” as he wrote John Neu, bibliographer for history of science here.

Negotiations were hastened by a fire on the Urbana campus that threatened the safety of the books in White’s office; and through the generosity of the UW-Madison Anonymous Fund and the Lewis G. Weeks Bequest to the UW-Madison Department of Geology and Geophysics, the libraries were able in 1979 to acquire more than 200 rare titles to constitute the George White Collection here. As David Cronon, then dean of the College of Letters and Science, put it, the Anonymous Fund Committee was pleased to support “what is certain to be a valuable part of the cultural life of the University community”; and Neu drove to Urbana to pack the books and bring them back to Madison.

The George W. White Collection of geology and glaciology now forms part of the holdings of the Department of Special Collections.

Finding Titles in the George W. White Collection

The George W. White Collection in Special Collections contains some 260 works on glaciology and geology, primarily English and French, of the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. The books are cataloged in the online library catalog in a call number sequence from CA 6361 through CA 6624. A shelf-list is also available in Special Collections.


The George W. White Collection contains many works by the noted geologist Abraham Gottlob Werner (1749-1817) or based upon his writings, including A treatise on the external characters of fossils (1805); “Tabular view of the different generic and subordinate special external characters of minerals”; Auswahl aus den Schriften der unter Werner’s Mitwirkung gestifteten Gesellschaft für Mineralogie zu Dresden (1818-1819); and Werner’s nomenclature of colours, with additions, arranged so as to render it highly useful to the arts and sciences, particularly zoology, botany, chemistry, mineralogy, and morbid anatomy by Patrick Syme (1821).

Other highlights include

  • two 17th-century editions of Thomas Burnet’s Telluris theoria sacra;
  • Robert Plot, The natural history of Oxfordshire (1705);
  • Marc-Théodore Bourrit, A relation of a journey to the glaciers in the dutchy [sic] of Savoy, translated by Charles and Frederick Davy, 2nd ed. (1776);
  • The natural history of volcanoes: Including submarine volcanoes, and other analogous phenomena by the abbé Nicolas Ordinaire, translated from the original French manuscript by R. C. Dallas (1801);
  • Ancient sea-margins, as memorials of changes in the relative level of sea and land (1848), by Robert Chambers, whose Vestiges of the natural history of creation is represented in the collection by the tenth edition (1853) and an edition of 1890, the latter as part of Morley’s universal library; and
  • a volume of papers (1829-1865) by or associated with Sir Roderick Impey Murchison.

Additional Resources

For more about George W. White and his interest in history of geology, see

  • the series Contributions to the history of geology, which White edited for Hafner Press;
  • George W. White, “The history of geology and mineralogy as seen by American writers, 1803-1835: A bibliographic essay,” Isis, 64:2 (June 1973), 197-214; 
  • George W. White, Essays on history of geology, with a foreword by Claude C. Albritton, Jr. (New York: Arno Press, 1978);
  • the Illinois State Geological Survey Heritage Memorial for George W. White by David L. Gross
  • the George W. White Papers, 1904-1990, at the University of Illinois Archives.