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The Geological Society was the world’s first formal learned society to be devoted to the earth sciences, but these sciences were already flourishing in other social forms. In Continental Europe, state-supported ‘academies of sciences’, natural history museums, mining schools and universities all supported many ‘savants’, who would now be classed as professionals. In Britain and Ireland, in contrast, mineral surveyors and managers of mines worked entirely in the private sector. Throughout Europe, however, all such professionals relied on an infrastructure of ‘amateur’ observers and collectors (often very far from ‘amateurish’), including groups of lower social status such as miners...

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