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Robert Balk papers

Identifier: MS-0215

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  • No requestable containers

Scope and Contents

The papers of geologist, Robert Balk, include research files, photographs, writings, correspondence, and approximately 50 field notebooks. The materials date from 1922 to 1956. Dr. Balk's early career as a field geologist is largely represented in this collection. Field notebooks in Series 4 document his extensive surveys and mappings of quadrants in New York state and Massachusetts in the 1930s and 1940s. The notebooks cover his work in the central Adirondacks and work for the Massachusetts Geological survey. Specific areas include the Peekskill, Clove, Taconic Lake, Bernardston, and Mt. Holyoke quadrants. Other field notebooks relate to areas in western and southwestern United States and Balk's study of salt dome structures at Jefferson Island, Louisiana. In Series 5: Research Materials are Balk's photographs which illustrate many of the landscapes and geologic formations observed in these same areas. Dr. Balk's later work with the New Mexico Bureau of Mines is not documented in this collection nor is his personal life well represented. Correspondence is included in three series. In Series 1: Personal, are mostly letters of condolence received by Mrs. Balk, 1955-1956. In Series 2: Correspondence, there are some letters from former students and letters in which there are very general exchanges of information with fellow geologists. Correspondence, 1934-1940, in the Writings Series details the professional and political problems Balk faced as editor of Geology of North America, published in 1939. The collection does include a selection of Balk's writings and his contributions to the literature of geology. Writings related to Balk's work in Massachusetts and Louisiana are included. Balk taught for over twenty-five years before an appointment to the New Mexico Bureau of Mines enabled him to concentrate only on field research. A few files in this collection relate to his teaching career, and they are specific to Mt. Holyoke, 1936-1941. These files have been combined with other items in Series 5: Research Materials. There are instructions for field trips, and clippings which describe the work of students at the Quabbin reservoir site in Massachusetts. Work at the site was reported by the New York Times. It is possible that particular attention was given to this student project because it was the work of women geology students. Apparently, Balk recognized that Geology was a non-traditional career choice for women in the 1940s, and he prepared an outline of job possibilities to encourage students in the field. The outline and some departmental notes are among the Mt. Holyoke files. The final items in the collection are the nearly 1000 photographs that illustrate some personal and professional activities in Dr. Balk's career.


  • Creation: 1922-1956


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is housed off-site and requires 48-hours' notice for retrieval. Please contact Special Collections for more information.

Collection is open for use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. Researchers are responsible for determining any copyright questions. It is not necessary to seek our permission as the owner of the physical work to publish or otherwise use public domain materials that we have made available for use, unless Johns Hopkins University holds the copyright.

Biographical Note

Robert Balk, college professor and geologist, was born May 31, 1899 in Reval, Estonia. In 1904, the family moved to Dusseldorf where Balk received his early education. After World War I, Balk began graduate studies at Greifswald and eventually entered the University of Breslau where he received his Ph.D. in 1923. At Breslau, Balk was a pupil of Hans Cloos and a classmate of Hans's younger brother, Ernst Cloos. Ernst and Robert remained friends throughout their careers in the United States. During his career, Balk applied techniques taught by Hans Cloos to his (Balk's) study of intrusive rocks and to a wide variety of geologic materials. Balk also studied the origin of anorthosites, the mode of intrusion of salt domes, and the relationships of ancient thrust faults in metamorphic terranes.

Dr. Balk was dedicated to what he considered "pure research." He believed that geology was his calling, and he did not allow his work to be subsidized by the interests of field industries.

In 1924, Balk came to the United States and assumed a position as assistant in the Department of Geology, Columbia University. Balk used the weekends and holidays to pursue independent field work and to acquaint himself with the geology of New York city and the immediate environs. He financed his own structural survey of the Cortlandt norite, 38 miles north of the city. In 1926, he was hired by the New York State Museum to map a quadrangle in the central Adirondacks. Balk taught at Hunter College, 1928-1935, but the teaching load was heavy and limited his time for field research. In 1934, Balk drove across the United States and spent the winter at Stanford University.

In 1935, Balk moved to Mt. Holyoke College as chairman of the Geology Department, a position which allowed more time for field work and research. Balk completed several major projects during this period. He published "Structural Behaviour of Igneous Rocks" (Memoir 5 of the Geological Society) and edited Geology of North America, published by Borntraeger in Germany. In the field, he undertook to map several quadrangles for the Geological Survey in Massachusetts. Balk was always eager to have students go into the field and learn geology first hand. At Mt Holyoke, he organized field trips and set up practical laboratories away from the classroom.

In 1947, Balk left Mt. Holyoke for the University of Chicago, but the remoteness from the field was an ever-present problem. In 1952, Balk accepted an offer to join the New Mexico Bureau of Mines as Principal Geologist. Balk was president of the section of Tectonophysics of the Geophysical Union and participated in activities of the National Research Council. Balk was enroute to a meeting of a National Research Council committee in Washington when the plane in which he traveled crashed. Robert Balk died, February 19, 1955.


8.08 Cubic Feet (2 record center cartons, 2 letter size document boxes, 6 legal size document boxes, 2 flat boxes, 1 pamphlet box (7.25 x 4 x 10 inches), 3 telescoping multi-roll boxes)

Language of Materials



The papers of geologist, Robert Balk, include research files, photographs, writings, correspondence, and approximately 50 field notebooks. The materials date from 1922 to 1956.


The collection has been artifically separated into five series - Series 1: Personal; Series 2: Correspondence; Series 3: Writings; Series 4: Field Notebooks; Series 5: Research Materials.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers were sent to Ernst Cloos in 1955 by Mrs. Christina Lochman Balk. In 1989, the papers were given to The Johns Hopkins University by Mrs. Balk.

Related Materials

For more information on Robert Balk, see the Ernst Cloos Papers, MS.0124, in Special Collections.

Processing Information

Finding aid prepared by Joan Grattan in April 1991.

Robert Balk papers
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

The Sheridan Libraries
Special Collections
3400 N Charles St
Baltimore MD 21218 USA