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A conference held at the London Geological Society, Burlington House, London, on 28 November 2005, hosting over 70 participants, was the first to deal solely with the role that women played in the history and development of the science of geology. Sixteen papers were read and there were two poster presentations. Prior to this, there have been individual articles written and papers published on the historical role of women in the history of the geosciences, but this collection of conference papers is, surprisingly, the first time a book has been published bringing the evidence together and giving an overview and a selection of detailed case histories.

In carrying out this project the authors ask: ‘Can we really analyse the situation for women in the geosciences today without knowing what happened in the past?’ Consequently, the collection of papers in this book mainly deals with the late 1700s to early 1900s, but also offers some links to the present day. It attempts to evaluate the contribution of women, and their changing roles, in the development of geology as a science. This undertaking has allowed a number of themes and common issues to emerge and be identified, which will be drawn out and discussed in this introduction. This work suggests that, in relation to our question, the past is the key to the present.

It is interesting to note that it is not only women who have researched these case histories; there are valuable contributions from respected male colleagues. The mix includes review papers referring not only to the development of geology in Great Britain, but also in other European countries, Australia, and North America. There are papers that look at a particular role, such as women as museum curators, or at a particular issue, such as travel for women during field studies. There are also several papers that focus on the contribution of a particular individual. The conference was publicized using the image of Etheldred Benett (1776–1845), and so an introduction to this early pioneer, originally submitted as a poster, is included in this book.

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