Geomorphology has been an integral part of geological science since the inception of the Geological Society of America, even though different investigative goals have existed continuously in the discipline. The dichotomy of purpose began with the vastly different perception of landscape analysis embraced by William Morris Davis and G. K. Gilbert. Historical and physical geomorphic studies have always been conducted simultaneously, but one of these research activities has dominated the field at any given time. During the first half of this century, most geomorphic work was devoted to the interpretation of long-term, evolutionary history of regional landscapes. In the past four decades, however, research has concentrated on the study of geomorphic processes. This revised direction placed greater emphasis on the physical component of geomorphology and provided a more complete understanding of the time factor in landscape analysis. Historical geomorphology is now less concerned with theories of cyclic-time landscape development and more involved in determining the time and sequence of shorter episodes of geomorphic disequilibrium caused by tectonism and/or climate change.
The tenor of future research in surficial geology will require input from both physical and historical geomorphology, and therefore a greater unity of purpose among geomorphologists can be expected. Geomorphologists will have the opportunity to provide geologists and engineers with useful data about major scientific and technical problems related to plate-tectonic theory, interpretation of the stratigraphic record, and prediction of landform stability for environmental planning.