History of Palaeobotany: an Introduction
This volume concentrates on selected historic aspects of palaeobotany that are, perhaps, hard to find elsewhere. In writing historical accounts it is often of much greater value to provide fresh material concerning little known personages and events rather than re-invent the wheel by going over well-trodden paths more expertly tackled in other works. Therefore we have not endeavoured to include all those who have made substantial contributions to the science, so that there are inevitable gaps and omissions. Instead, we hope that the compilation presented in this volume will be of interest to those who wish to explore some of the byways of our palaeobotanical heritage. A full history of ‘Palaeobotany’ has yet to be written, but we hope that this volume may help to spur such future activity.
The history of palaeobotany contains fascinating insights into scientific endeavour. In the past it has been too easily dismissed as the ‘Cinderella’ of palaeontological studies in which many of the early workers were pursuing personal interests rather than a full-time career.
This publication falls into several broad sections with a couple of minor themes occurring throughout. The first two papers serve as an introduction into the early developments of selected aspects of palaeobotany. Wilding briefly examines the work and setting of Robert Plot and Edmund Lhwyd, who laid down foundations for what would eventually become the sciences of palaeontology and Palaeobotany. Torrens looks at the life and work of the Moravian minister, Reverend Henry Steinhauer, who became a disciple of William Smith’s stratigraphic methods. Steinhauer’s tragic premature death from consumption in 1818 may have contributed to his subsequent obscurity.
Figures & Tables
Often regarded as the ‘Cinderella’ of palaeontological studies, palaeobotany has a history that contains some fascinating insights into scientific endeavour, especially by palaeontologists who were perusing a personal interest rather than a career. The problems of maintaining research facilities in universities, especially in the modern era, are described and reveal a noticeable absence of a national UK strategy to preserve centres of excellence in an avowedly specialist area. Accounts of some of the pioneers demonstrate the importance of collaboration between taxonomists and illustrators. The importance of palaeobotany in the rise of geoconservation is outlined, as well as the significant and influential role of women in the discipline. Although this volume has a predominantly UK focus, two very interesting studies outline the history of palaeobotanical work in Argentina and China.