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Department History

The Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Tulane has existed under its current name since about 2003.  Prior to that, the department was known as the Department of Geology.  Geology was first studied at Tulane within the chemistry department.  In 1926 Prof. Reinhard A. Steinmayer founded the Department of Geology, which grew during its early years along with the development of the oil and gas industry along the Gulf Coast.

For much of our department’s history, paleontology was a primary area of research. In the mid-1960s a separate PhD program in paleontology was started along with graduate programs in geology.  Those programs existed until the early 2000s.  Since then our PhD and MS degrees have carried the department name.

Tulane Studies in Geology and Paleontology (initially known as Tulane Studies in Geology) was first published in 1962. TSGP published more than 5000 pages of peer-reviewed research, in many cases by faculty members and graduate students of the Department of Geology.  Even though the series was discontinued quite some time ago, the research published in TSGP has had a lasting impact.  The department still houses a considerable collection of original issues of TSGP that are available upon request.  In 2017 Howard Tilton Memorial Library Journal Publishing digitized TSGP and it is now freely-available online.

The department houses extensive collections of minerals, rocks and fossils.  These include the Harold E. Vokes collection of micropaleontological samples. The University of Florida now curates >100,000 lots of the Emily & Harold Vokes Fossil Collection

In addition to the Vokes Collection at Florida, all of the Paleozoic and Mesozoic material, plus a very extensive collection of Paleogene and Neogene fossils from the Dominican Republic are now located at the Paleontological Research Institution, in Ithaca, NY.  All of the non-US materials of that age are at National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution (for detailed info, see TSGP, v. 30, no. 4, p. 156).

An important event in the department’s history was the establishment of the Kent McWilliams Endowment in the 1980s.  McWilliams was one of three Tulane geology alumni who founded McMoRan Exploration Company.  This endowment is very important to the department today in helping to support graduate students and funding our weekly McWilliams Seminar Series.