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Understanding geological structure and structural evolution requires imagination, and the ability to see simple patterns in complex data and make the simplicity evident. It requires the transfer of insight and approach from one area of discipline (geographical or scientific) to another. To Mike Coward it was second nature to do these things, and he stood out as one of the most innovative structural geologists of recent years. He was a great exponent of what is currently referred to as ‘up-scaling’: understanding the significance of small-scale, local observations and datasets then using them to elucidate geological evolution on a crustal scale.

This introductory paper is a brief review of some key themes in the study of the deformation of the continental crust, and how Coward influenced them. It focuses particularly on thinking in structural geology during the past 50 years or so, but does not cover such topics as seismicity, geodetic data or microstructural approaches in deformation studies. The emphasis is on the importance of understanding medium- to large-scale structural geometry. This was Mike Coward’s forté, for it emphasizes the key role of field geology. The discipline of field mapping is a great aid in the interpretation of 3D relationships in seismic data volumes. It is no coincidence that this account begins in the field but leads into seismic data. It is a journey followed not only by Mike Coward but also by many of the authors contributing to this volume.

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