Professors heat up the press with a flood story

A little over a month ago, Ooligan Press published a revised second edition of Cataclysms on the Columbia in collaboration with two professors at Portland State.

A little over a month ago, Ooligan Press published a revised second edition of Cataclysms on the Columbia in collaboration with two professors at Portland State.

Scott Burns, Geology Department chair, and Marjorie Burns (no relation), co-author of the first edition, came together for the second edition.

Dennis Stovall, coordinator and head publisher at Ooligan Press, said it is relatively rare for a Portland State professor to approach the school’s teaching press—run by English graduate students—in seeking publication. 

Despite minimal precedence, Stovall gathered that Ooligan was the first publisher Burns consulted while considering a second edition of Cataclysms. Previous Ooligan projects involving Portland State faculty include Speaking Out: Women, War and the Global Economy by Jan Haaken, a psychology professor, in 2005.

Ellery Harvey, a member of the Cataclysms publishing team, expressed satisfaction with the pairing. Harvey asserted that both Scott Burns and Marjorie Burns were very willing and flexible collaborators, dedicating time and effort throughout the publication process and often scheduling two to three meetings per week.

Scott Burns reiterated the benefits of working with the established not-for-profit Ooligan Press, clarifying that the income, split evenly, supports scholarships for students in the English and Geology departments at Portland State.

Burns also commended Ooligan’s strides toward increased sustainability noting the biodegradability of every piece of the book.

With Ooligan Press’ distribution range encompassing North America, and its availability through online vendors such as, Cataclysms may prove a success.

“It has been the big seller,” Stovall said.

Burns estimated that within three weeks of publication, Cataclysms sold over 900 copies.

Stovall asserted that a large percentage of buyers were among university students and faculty acquiring textbooks and teaching materials, but another significant audience is in travelers and tourists to the Pacific Northwest—geological sites in particular.

“All of the visitor centers were anxious for the second edition,” Burns said.

Originally distributed by Timber Press in 1986, taken out of print three years ago, the first edition was co-authored by Marjorie Burns and John Eliot Allen, a former Portland State professor. As Allen recently passed, the geological portion of the book was revised and updated by Scott Burns for its republication.

Burns stressed the necessity for revision was mainly due to the amount of new information integral to a complete book that needed to be incorporated.

Cataclysms is a book in two parts. The first illustrates the life of geologist J. Harlen Bretz, whose theories on the Missoula floods were controversial at the time of his first propositions in the 1910s and ’20s.

Nevertheless, Bretz outlived many of his adversaries to witness his notions become widely accepted in the scientific community before passing away at the age of 98 in 1981. The second part of the book covers the science behind Bretz’s theories.

Burns explained the history of the Missoula floods. In an event that took place 15,000–18,000 years ago, 90 floods ran down through Spokane, Wash., depositing a tremendous amount of soil before running out into the Pacific Ocean—providing for and creating what is now considered the fertile Northwest. Forty of those floods made their way to what is now the downtown Portland area, reaching 400 feet in elevation.

According to Burns, the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail, currently in the stages of final approval to become the newest national park, can be attributed to this phenomenal occurrence.