Nonhydrated obsidians are quenched magmatic liquids that record in their chemical compositions details of the tectonic environment of formation and of the differentiation mechanisms that affected their subsequent evolution. This study attempts to analyze, in terms of geologic processes, the compositional variations in the subalkalic silicic obsidians (Si02≥70 percent by weight, molecular (Na2O+K20)>Al2O3). New major- and trace-element determinations of 241 samples and a compilation of 130 published major-element analyses are reported and interpreted. Obsidians from five different tectonic settings are recognized: (1) primitive island arcs, (2) mature island arcs, (3) continental margins, (4) continental interiors, and (5) oceanic extensional zones. Tectonomagmatic discrimination between these groups is successfully made on Nb-Ta, Nb-FeOt and Th-Hf-Ta plots, and compositional ranges and averages for each group are presented. The chemical differences between groups are related to the type of crust in which magmas were generated. With increasingly sialic (continental type) crust, the obsidians show overall enrichment in F, Be, Li, Mo, Nb, Rb, Sn, Ta, U, W, Zn, and the rare-earth elements, and depletion in Mg, Ca, Ba, Co, Sc, Sr, and Zr. They become more potassic, have higher Fe/Mg and F/Cl ratios, and lower Zr/Hf, Nb/Ta, and Th/U ratios. Higher values of total rare-earth elements are accompanied by light rare-earth-element enrichment and pronounced negative Eu anomalies. An attempt is made to link obsidian chemistry to genetic mechanlism. Two broad groups of rocks are distinguished: one generated where crystal-liquid processes dominated (CLPD types), which are the products of crustal anatexis, possibly under conditions of low halogen fugacity, ± crystal fractionation ± magma mixing; and a second group represented by rocks formed in the upper parts of large magma chambers by interplays of crystal fractionation, volatile transfer, magma mixing, and possibly various liquid-state differentiation mechanisms, or in other words a complex interaction of petrogenetic processes (CIPP types). Such rocks may also form by volatile-fluxed partial melting of the wallrocks, and subsequent mixing into the magma reservoir. Compositional ranges and averages for CLPD and CIPP obsidians are given. It is shown by analogy with well-documented, zoned ash-flow ruffs that obsidians fractionated by CIPP have very low Mg, P, Ba, and Sr contents, flat rare-earth-element patterns with extensive Eu anomalies, low K/Rb and Zr/Nb ratios, and relatively high Na2O/K2O ratios. There is, however, considerable compositional overlap between CLPD and CIPP obsidians. The effects of magma mixing, assimilation, and vapor-phase transport in producing compositional variations in the obsidians are briefly assessed. The geochemistry of the subalkalic silicic obsidians is described on an element-by-element basis, in order to provide a database for silicic magma compositions that will hopefully contribute to studies of granitic rocks. Attempts are also made to isolate the geochemical effects of tectonic environment and genetic mechanism for each element, by comparison with data from crystal-liquid equilibria-controlled systems, from ash-flow sheets zoned by CIPP, and from mixed-magma series. A final tabulation relates the complexities of obsidian geochemistry to all the tectonic and genetic variables.