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Gilbert F. White collection

Identifier: COU:1709

Scope and Contents

Gilbert Fowler White’s papers are divided among several discrete collections. His Haverford College materials are at Haverford College. His water resources materials and the bulk of his correspondence are at the Institute for Water Resources of the Army Corps of Engineers in the Casey Building, Fort Belvoir, Virginia. The University of Colorado at Boulder’s Gilbert F. White Collection, first accession, consists primarily of professional materials related to the University of Colorado and other significant scientific, educational, and governmental organizations.

The first accession of the Gilbert F. White Collection consists of eight series named according to the organization or project involved. The first series pertains to White’s tenure (1969–1986) with the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE), which is charged with producing “state-of-the-art scientific reviews of key environmental topics.” SCOPE was formed as a committee of the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU), now the International Council of Sciences. As the representative for the International Geographic Union, Dr. White took part in the committee’s initial discussions. He went on to chair the preparation of several reports. He also served on the SCOPE executive committee and the steering committee for the Environmental Consequences of Nuclear War project (ENUWAR); he was SCOPE president from 1976 to 1982. The SCOPE series of the White Collection contains correspondence and other papers related to SCOPE meetings, projects, publications, early history, and finances. The series also includes books on nuclear war, the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), military policy, and arms control.

The second series is focused on the Commission on Natural Resources (CNR) of the National Research Council (NRC), part of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Dr. White was active with CNR from 1972 to 1980. He was a member of the International Environmental Programs Committee (IEPC), the Environmental Studies Board (ESB), and the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CRWM). The series’ twelve boxes contain correspondence, reports, proposals, and meeting notebooks.

The third series includes correspondence and meeting minutes related to Resources for the Future, 1955–1986. Dr. White was a member and chair of the organization’s board of directors as well as a member of several Resources for the Future advisory groups. He received a grant for his work on floodplains; in turn, he helped to raise money to sustain the organization.

The fourth series contains correspondence, meeting minutes, and reports related to the Egyptian Academy of Scientific Research and Technology, a National Academy of Sciences project to promote the application of scientific research to problems in Egypt. Dr. White worked with the Egyptian Academy from 1978–1986. He was a member, and later chair, of the U.S. section of the project’s Joint Consultative Committee. Topics referenced include insulators, more and better food, energy, new crops, phosphates, pharmaceutical chemicals, and Red Sea fisheries.

The material in the fifth series stems from Dr. White’s involvement with the Technology Assessment Advisory Council (TAAC) of the U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment (OTA). During Dr. White’s term of service, which began with the First TAAC in 1973, the organization set its policies and made general reviews of scientific activities in the United States.

The sixth series concerns the High School Geography Project (HGSP), 1962–1974. The two boxes in the series contain administrative records, memos, presentation material, a bibliography, reports, and other papers. The second box includes a number of books aimed at educators as well as books in German, Spanish, and Hebrew.

The seventh series holds general correspondence and reports under two headings: University of Colorado Correspondence and Geography Correspondence. University of Colorado Correspondence topics include academic committees, the Big Thompson Flood, the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), the Climatology Publications Program, the Commission on Environmental Studies, planning for the Denver Winter Olympics, research parks, and an evaluation of the Youth Conservation Corps. The geography correspondence primarily concerns the American Association of Geographers (AAG), the HSGP, the International Geographical Union (IGUE), and the National Council for Geographic Education (NCGE).

The eighth series is a notebook on the Boulder Creek Flood which consists of approximately 114 photographs.

The nineth series relates to the State of Nevada Socioeconomic Study of the proposed high-level radioactive waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. Gilbert White served on the Technical Review Committee of the Socioeconomic Study from 1985–1990. The series is divided between correspondence and the Yucca Mountain Socioeconomic Study 1985–1990; the first portion of the latter is organized according to the numbered tasks of the study design, followed by reports, studies, and the First Year Socioeconomic Progress Report. The last box in the series contains the State of Nevada Comments on the U.S. Department of Energy Consultation Draft Site Characterization Plan, including State of Nevada documents, related publications, and U.S. Department of Energy documents.

Please note that the second accession of the University of Colorado at Boulder’s George Fowler White Collection consists of additional material related to the proposed Yucca Mountain high-level nuclear waste repository.


  • 1955 - 1986

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for access.

Copyright Statement

The University Libraries do not own the copyright to this collection. Researchers are responsible for contacting the copyright holder(s) for this material and obtaining permission to publish or broadcast. The University Libraries will not grant permission to publish or broadcast this material and are not responsible for copyright violations resulting from such use.

Biographical Note

Gilbert F. White was a geographer, consultant, and advisor to boards, commissions, agencies, and institutions on the local, regional, state, federal, and international levels. Early in his academic career, he became president of Haverford College (1946¬–1955); he went on to serve as a professor of geography at the University of Chicago, Oxford, and the University of Colorado (1956–1980). His expertise included water resources, floods, water quality, natural hazards, nuclear waste, and environmental topics.

In the early 1980s, Dr. White led an international scientific body studying possible environmental effects of nuclear war. The study concluded that an all-out nuclear war would cut off sunlight sufficiently to produce a “nuclear winter.” A 1985 report, which he drafted, said the danger was real.

Gilbert White was born November 26, 1911, in Hyde Park, Chicago. He married Anne Elizabeth Underwood in 1944 in Washington, D.C. She died in 1989. In 2003, he married Claire Sheridan.

He received bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in geography from the University of Chicago. From 1940 to 1942, he delayed the completion of his doctoral work in order to serve in President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration; he was a staff member of the Bureau of the Budget, Executive Office of the President, as well as a geographer with the Mississippi Valley Committee, the National Resources Committee and the National Resources Planning Board.

“Floods are ‘acts of God,’ but flood losses are largely acts of man,” he said in his 1942 doctoral dissertation. While studying recurrent Mississippi River floods, he challenged the then-pervasive notion that natural hazards were best controlled by engineers and construction. His point of view was radical at the time, but land-use planners, scientists and government officials around the world today look at the landscape the way Dr. White did: balancing a range of alternatives that includes upstream watershed treatment, flood-proofing of buildings, emergency evacuation procedures and dams. His research laid the foundation for the federal flood insurance program. He is known as the “father of flood-plain management.”

His initial interest in floodplains soon broadened to how humans live with the natural world. Dr. White helped forge international cooperation on water systems in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Africa, fought the spread of deserts and warned in the 1970s about the impact of human behavior on the global climate.

Dr. White, who as a college student was attracted to his grandparents’ Quaker beliefs, listened to his father’s recommendation that he try ROTC for two years to understand another point of view. Dr. White did so, but when World War II started, he registered as a conscientious objector. He became a relief worker with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in France and was taken prisoner in 1943. He was interned in Germany for a year until a prisoner exchange freed him to return to the United States, where he worked for the AFSC until the end of the war. He later chaired the AFSC from 1963 to 1969.

In 1946, Dr. White became the youngest college president in the nation when he joined Haverford College in Pennsylvania at age 34. Nine years later, he returned to the University of Chicago. In 1970, he moved to the University of Colorado, where he was director of the Institute of Behavioral Science and founded the Natural Hazards Research Center.

The increasing loads of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere began to worry him in the 1970s. Late in that decade, he issued a declaration with Mostafa Tolba, head of the United Nations Environment Programme, suggesting that human activity might cause a change in global climate. Dr. White was then the president of the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment, which published the first serious book on the subject and sponsored a 1985 conference mobilizing concern about greenhouse gases.

Dr. White was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the Cosmos Club. Among his many awards were the 1987 Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement and the Association of American Geographers’ Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1994, he received the Hubbard Medal, the National Geographic Society’s highest honor. President Clinton awarded him the National Medal of Science in 2000.

Dr. White died October 5, 2006, in Boulder, Colorado.


68.5 linear feet (46 Boxes)

Language of Materials



Gilbert Fowler White (1911–2006) has been called the “most renowned geographer internationally of the twentieth century” and the father of floodplain management. He served as president of Haverford College (1946¬–1955); professor of geography at the University of Chicago, Oxford, and the University of Colorado (1956–1980); and geographer, consultant, and advisor to boards, commissions, agencies, and institutions on the local, regional, state, federal, and international levels. His expertise included water resources, floods, water quality, natural hazards, nuclear waste, and environmental topics. Papers in the first accession of the Gilbert White Collection consist of minutes, organization papers, correspondence, reports, and publications. Dr. White’s many honors include University of Colorado Gustavson Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Geography, the National Medal of Science, Association of American Geographers’ Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Hubbard Medal, the National Geographic Society’s highest honor.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

This collection was given by Gilbert White in 1987 and his fmaily in 2007.

In Progress
Preliminary Inventory by David M. Hays, 1990 Edited by Jessica Roeder, July 2008
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Colorado Boulder Libraries, Rare and Distinctive Collections Repository

1720 Pleasant Street
184 UCB
Boulder Colorado 80503 United States